Thursday morning I got up to get in some easy miles. Easy miles are always relaxing to me, but this Thursday my legs were tired. Very tired.
Days like this can be extremely hard because no matter how much you want to just relax and let the miles come, your legs just don’t seem to want to move.
Marathon training in itself is tiring. Some people assume that with easy days and even rest days that your body should be adequately recovered, but don’t be surprised when that doesn’t happen. As marathon training continues and you reach your higher mileage weeks your body can begin to tired.
Of course, there are many different things you can do to help with recovery but this post isn’t about that today. Today is about why it’s beneficial for your body to have tired legs.
As you know running, especially during harder or longer runs, breaks down muscle fibers. After these runs your body is working to repair those fibers which are stronger than before – thus how you will begin to become faster and your running will improve.
This article from Runner’s Connect breaks down the idea of cumulative fatigue really well.
I first got introduced to the idea of running on tired legs when I hired a coach. I knew what it was like to not feel fully recovered after a hard workout, but I had never done workouts that purposely tired your legs out to then push harder.
A lot of my workouts would be worked into my long run. For example:
- 16 total miles: 8 miles easy, 8 miles at marathon pace
- 20 miles: 10 miles easy, 3 x 2 miles at marathon pace with 1 mile easy in between each
- 14 miles: 7 easy, 7 progressive
The idea is that the run would start with easy miles but long enough to get your legs tired. Once your legs begin to tire I would then work in marathon pace work or work to progressively run each mile slightly faster. This taught your body how to run faster even when your legs were feeling tired.
It’s probably pretty obvious how this can benefit you during the marathon. The first part of the marathon you typically are feeling good. You are clicking away at the paces prescribed and your body is feeling strong. Then as the miles continue your body begins to tired. However; if you want to hit that new PR you have to keep going. Running on tired legs prepares your body for the toughest miles of your marathon.
It’s important however that you don’t run these types of runs every single week. While they are great for your body they are also very taxing. If you become too tired and you begin to loose form then you can set yourself up for injury. Work them into your training, but not every week.
Even on my easy days (like Thursday) when my legs are very tired I don’t take the day off. I go out there, run my easy miles, and realize that even on tired legs there is a benefit to the madness. It not be comfortable but I always remind myself – when does a marathon seem comfortable?
It’s the uncomfortable runs that truly prepare you for the marathon itself. It prepares you both mentally and physically to take on the toughest miles. The moments when your body feels like quitting but instead of giving in you keep pushing forward.
While running on tired legs is tough, it is possible! Here are a few ways to help power through:
- Remind yourself of what you are working towards. When I was training to qualify for Boston I always pictured myself crossing that finish line with the time I was working towards and how good it would feel.
- Focus on one section at a time. If you think of a long run with a workout built in whole then it can seem overwhelming. Instead focus on one small section at a time and break the run into smaller segments.
- Repeat your mantra. I try to always have a mantra for every training cycle. My most recent mantra was – Earned Not Given. I repeated this over and over in my head when I would get to the hard sections of my run.
- It’s only temporary. The good thing about the pain that comes from running is that it is only temporary. It will hut for a while but in the end the joy you will feel from hitting that workout or goal race far exceeds the temporary discomfort you may feel.
- Find a training partner. There is a lot to be said for learning to train and push through runs by yourself, but sometimes having a training partner can be a great tool. Find someone who has similar goals as yourself and work together to achieve your goals.
- Have FUN! Yes, running is hard work and sometimes it will feel like a struggle but at the end of the day it’s all about having fun. Your goals are important but if you can’t have fun along the way then it isn’t worth the struggle. Don’t forget to have FUN!
Tired legs are unfortunately and necessarily a part of marathon training. Learn to embrace the pain and discomfort and before you know it you will begin to reap the benefits in your running!