Running off Stress: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Stress and performance

Stress – we’re told it’s bad for us, our waistlines, our health. But is this always the case? And what does it do for your running?

I got interested in the question of stress and running, having lost my mojo earlier this year, and here’s what I found.

Not all types of stress are bad and many experts agree that if we get it right, it can add a real boost to performance, in the short term at least.  It could be those butterflies in the stomach at the start of a race, it’s when your head is buzzing with great ideas – it gets the blood flowing and it’s when we can feel focused and most alive.

And running and other exercise is great for helping manage a little too much stress – it gets the endorphins pumping, those little feel good transmitters in the brain; it can reduce anxiety; support sleeping better; and help with mild to moderate depression.

Katherine – I don’t get stressed about going running… But I do get stressed with my job and find running helps with that.

Shane – I’ve battled depression/anxiety badly the past year….and running (and weights) has helped me big time!!

 

But when stress levels remain elevated over time, it can start to have a negative impact.

Shona – when feeling stressed I run faster! But ultimately stress is draining.

 

Too much for too long and things can get tough – poor sleep, poor digestion, depression – and running can suffer big time.

Chelsea  – everything becomes overwhelming and health and fitness are much harder to control!

Lucja – Stress makes me return to bad binge eating habits and brings energy down.

 

So I guess I’m trying to find that happy place where stress is a positive – where it keeps me focused and feeling alive!

 

My story

 

Earlier this year, my stress levels were through the roof – hovering somewhere between the ‘anxiety’ and ‘breakdown’ zones.  Things were kicking off at work and in life. I was doing marathon training but it was lacklustre. There were runs where I would just stop dead for seemingly no reason. I was sleeping badly, my diet wasn’t great, watching a little too much Netflix – my head just wasn’t in the game.

And then it happened – 3 weeks before lining up at the start of the London Marathon, I began having issues with my lower back – nothing major though it left me at a pretty high risk of slipping a disc again. After seeking my physio, I deferred.

I remember people saying how disappointed I must be, having done all the training. ‘What a shame’…’How frustrating’. I’m embarrassed to say that I was a little relieved. Despite having done the miles in training, not running the marathon was one more thing I didn’t have to worry about.

I went along to marshal instead.  Sometimes when I marshal I’m a little envious – I’d love to be running alongside them. This year, there was none of that.

It’s taken a while. I’ve had quite a few months of running a couple of times a week with the longest run hitting about 4 miles. I would just stop dead in my tracks – there was no energy or joy. What kept me going was in my naively optimistic way, I knew it wouldn’t always be this way and it would get better. I didn’t know how long it would take or what would be the trigger.

Thinking back, there really was no trigger, no ‘A HA!’ moment – I just got tired of being tired and so put on my running shoes and got out the door.  I started moving from the ‘anxiety’ zone to the ‘YAY’ zone.  It’s not been easy – I’ve had so many runs that really suck without feeling like there’s any reward at the end – the endless plod…

I’m a lot less fit than I used to be and even slower than I was but my running will improve. My aim is to get to the point where I could go out for a gentle 10 mile run and still be able to walk the next day. And obviously I have a marathon to train for! I’ve moved back to being in the ‘chill’ to ‘YAY’ zone much of time – a much better place to be!  And I still get stressed, that’s life, but thankfully it’s in that zone where it helps – it keeps me focused and helps me get stuff done.

 

How does stress affect your running?

 

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