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/ March 2020
Jenna Autuori Dedic, Reebok Contributor

Can You Run Too Much?

If you’re feeling sluggish and the motivation is just not there, it could be a sign you’ve taken this running thing a step too far. Learn how to scale back and still reap the benefits.

Growing up with asthma, running was not something Amy Spiecker did. Ten years ago, the concept of working out was nowhere on her radar. So it might be a surprise to learn that Spieker, 38, has run 12 marathons and around 25 ultras (so many that she lost count), all within the last decade. "When I picked up running as a way to lose baby weight, I never thought I'd turn into this person I am today,” she says. “Yeah, I think I’m probably addicted to running.”
 
Spieker’s obsession with running is familiar to a small but passionate group of fitness fans who started with a simple goal to get in shape and somehow found themselves with an all-consuming hobby. “For so long, these people were fitting their runs and gym visits into a busy life schedule," says Michele Olson, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist and clinical professor of sport science at Huntingdon College. "But now it’s flipped, and they schedule life around their workouts!" 
 
Of course, not everyone who picks up running ends up adding miles over miles. But for those who get hooked, it can become a fine line between passion and obsession. 
 

Too Much of a Good Thing

Spieker's husband Emir, 39, picked up the running bug back in 2010. He and his wife logged the same miles and checked the same races off their bucket lists. But after a while, Emir called for a time out. "I wouldn't say I quit, but I got to a point where I was doing too many miles per week, because the next week I would feel so sluggish," he says. 
 
In the sports science world, it’s known as overtraining and it’s a definite flag you should dial it back on your run sessions. "The warning signs of doing too much include restlessness, trouble with sleep, feeling low on energy and frequently getting sick," says Olson. Sometimes, the first sign of overtraining is simply your reluctance to get out the door for your run. 
 
"I had too many of these weeks put together, and my performance started to decrease rather than improve," Emir says. Not to mention the injuries that started to pop up once he tried to plow through daily workouts while feeling less than ready for it. Today, Emir has scaled back on his running and picked up rock climbing when a move to Colorado opened up a world of new fitness activities for him. 
 
Like Emir, a lot of recreational runners self-moderate their activity—if it sucks, they stop. That’s probably a good thing, since some of the research out there shows that running more than 20 miles per week can potentially put your heart at greater risk. “The heart can experience fiber damage, and your skeletal muscles can become depleted of energy, all of which weakens your body," Olson explains. Even if you feel completely stress-free during your runs, your body could be absorbing the stress for you. Another report in the British journal Heart found that people who work out too hard for too long may be less healthy than sedentary people, and more likely to die than moderate exercisers.
 

In It for the Long Haul

Then again, some people seem like they were just born to run. You might not be the fastest woman in your club, but the accumulation of miles feels awesome, in more ways than one. "There are so many reasons to run, and all of them can be pretty personal," says Heather Hausenblas, Ph.D., a professor of health sciences at Jacksonville University. 
 
Let’s start with a major feeling of bad-assness for gutting out 20 miles in a wicked rainstorm, and that sick feeling of bliss you get when you run your intervals so hard your knees buckle. There’s the pride in hitting a certain number in your running journal (you are keeping score, right?) or knowing that if you strung all your runs together this month, you climbed enough feet in elevation to scale a sizeable mountain.
 
The key is finding balance: If the rest of your life is suffering from your lacing-up habit, it’s time for a re-think. Spieker’s love of running gets a reality check from her devotion to her two kids and passion for winter skiing. And while part of her wishes she could run sun up to sundown all summer long, she learned the hard way, with burnout a few years ago, that she needed a more measured approach.  
 
"I fell in love with how running made me feel, but I had to learn how to do it more efficiently and safely," she says. So she hired a running coach who incorporated strength-training days and workouts like fartleks, sprints and hills. These drills improve running economy and speed while also giving your legs a break from the same repetitive movements, explains Olson. "My running schedule felt more manageable once my runs had a different kind of focus," says Spieker. “It wasn’t just about the miles anymore.” 
 

Should You Change It Up?

You run. A lot. But you’re not injured, never have been, and aren’t feeling tired or unmotivated. You’re good at it and want to keep getting better. Any harm in just carrying on, then? "If you’re operating at a level where your sole focus of exercise is to run, you're essentially putting all your eggs in one basket," Olson says. "You can feel a compulsion to keep running at this level because your fear if you run less you’ll lose fitness.” 
 
Reebok running coach Chris Hinshaw sees another reason to mix things up. "Most people who are going out and running five days a week are running at the same level of intensity for the entire duration," he says. When you do that, your body stops responding to the training stimulus and you cease to see improvement in your pace or fitness level. "It's the muscle, not just the cardio respiratory system, that determines performance," says Hinshaw. 
 
To truly build fitness—for running and for life—you need to diversify. Drop down to three days a week, throw in some cross-training, and do specific running workouts that target your three primary muscle groups: the slow twitch Type 1 muscle fibers (your weakest and slowest but best for endurance); fast twitch Type 2a fibers (these possess a higher level of speed, strength and power as well as moderate endurance), and fast twitch Type 2b fibers (the strongest and fastest but weakest in endurance). "A successful running plan will have workouts that hit these muscle groups separately," says Hinshaw. 
 
The most important thing to know: Any gains you make in muscle strength happen on the days you AREN’T running, when muscle fibers recover and rebuild themselves stronger than they were before. "My definition of too much running is not tied to the number of miles per week or hours per day,” says Hinshaw. “It's really all in the recovery you're allowing yourself. Too much running minimizes the amount of recovery you're able to have."
 
If you’re curious what life might be like running less miles, but not sure you want to back away from high volume for good, check out Hinshaw’s four-week plan, below. It’s fewer days of running, a bigger mix of Pilates or CrossFit and workouts guaranteed to have you begging for mercy. Go on, we dare you to do less.
 
 

Hinshaw’s One-Month Run-Less Training Plan


WEEK ONE

Monday
Do 2x:
1000-meter moderate pace run, 1-minute rest 
600-meter moderate pace run, 1-minute rest
800-meter moderate pace, 1-minute rest 
400-meter moderate pace, 5-minute rest
 
Tuesday
Rest day or active recovery (yoga, spinning, Pilates)
 
Wednesday
Do 3x:
5-minute run at easy pace straight into 400-meter run at fast pace, 3-minute rest
 
Do 4x, no rest between:
100-meter controlled sprint (retain your form)
100-meter walk
 
Thursday
Easy 2- to 3-mile run or rest
 
Friday 
REST
 
Saturday
Morning: Run 4-miles easy pace
Afternoon: Run 2-miles fast pace
 
Sunday
REST
 
 
WEEK TWO

Monday
Do 4x: 
400-meter fast pace run, 75-second rest
200-meter fast pace run, 75-second rest
300-meter fast pace run, 5-minute rest
 
Tuesday
Rest day or active recovery (Pilates, CrossFit, spinning)
 
Wednesday
Do 3x: 
1200-meter moderate pace run, 2-minute rest
200-meter fast pace run, 1-minute rest
200-meter faster pace run, 30-second rest
200-meter fastest pace run, 3-minute rest
 
Thursday
Easy 2- to 3-mile run or rest
 
Friday 
REST
 
Saturday
Run consecutively with no rests between intervals:
2 miles easy pace 
2 miles moderate pace
1 mile fast pace
 
Sunday
REST
 
 
WEEK THREE
 
Monday
Do 4x:
500-meter moderate pace run, 2-minute rest
300-meter fast pace run, 2-minute rest
400-meter moderate pace run, 2-minute rest
200-meter faster pace run, 4-minute rest
 
Tuesday
Rest day or active recovery (spinning, CrossFit, Pilates)
 
Wednesday
Do 6x 5-minute moderate pace runs,1-minute rest between each rep
 
Thursday
Easy 2- to 3-mile run or rest
 
Friday
REST
 
Saturday
Run 7 miles at an easy pace
 
Sunday
REST
 
 
WEEK FOUR
 
Monday
600-meter fast pace run, 2-minute rest
200-meter sprint, 4-minute rest
500-meter fast pace run, 2-minute rest
200-meter sprint, 4-minute rest 
400-meter fast pace run, no rest
200-meter sprint
 
Tuesday
Rest day or active recovery (yoga, spinning, swimming)
 
Wednesday
Rest 3-minutes between all reps:
1600-meter moderate pace run 
600-meter fast pace run
1200-meter moderate pace run 
400-meter fast pace run 
800-meter moderate pace run
200-meter fast pace run
 
Thursday
Easy 2- to 3-mile run or rest
 
Friday
REST
 
Saturday
Morning: Run 3-miles fast pace
Afternoon: Run 5-miles easy pace
 
Sunday
REST
 

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