Overcoming Hardcore: When to Know if You’ve Gone Too Far

Hardcore only gets you so far. Flickr Commons image.
Hardcore only gets you so far. Flickr Commons image by pixelflake.

We serious runners like to be hardcore. When it comes to mileage we value more. When it comes to pace we value faster. When it comes to rest we value minimal. Prizing the hardcore has helped many a runner become successful, but it has been many a runner’s downfall too. Some runners can thrive on pushing themselves to limits that would break many others–and that’s great for them!–but being someone else’s hardcore is not right for most of us. Doing our best requires that we respect our own individual limits and train within them.

It’s not always easy to know when we’re pushing too hard for ourselves. Here are some signs that it might be time to back off and rethink the intensity of your training. 

1. You are stuck in a cycle of injury. Have you had two or more injuries in a 12 month period? Do you train for a few months only to suffer from another setback? Does the same injury continually pop up over and over?

While one isolated injury here or there might not be an indictment against your training and could be chalked up to a biomechanical issue or something else, repeated injuries often suggest that you may need to back off on your weekly mileage or the intensity of your speed work or easy runs or both.

2. You display signs of overtraining syndrome. The symptoms of overtraining syndrome can vary by individual and with severity of the condition, but the most common symptoms are:

  • fatigue
  • moodiness or irritability
  • altered sleep patterns, could be sleeping more or less
  • depression
  • loss of competitive desire and enthusiasm for running
  • persistent muscle soreness
  • taking much longer to recover from normal training stresses
  • frequent colds and other viral illnesses
  • increased injuries

For more on overtraining syndrome, go here.

I recently noticed that despite sleeping over an hour more each night than usual I felt sluggish, uncharacteristically dreaded running, was feeling sore in many different areas than would be expected and was struggling to run a pace that should have been super easy. This was a huge red flag that I needed to take at least a few days off of all exercise and recover mentally and physically. My body and mind were telling me I needed a break and I listened!

For most of us, it's best to leave hardcore for the race course. Flickr Commons Image by gareth1953.
For most of us, it’s best to leave hardcore for the race course. Flickr Commons Image by gareth1953.

3. Your training has improved, while your race times have not. It feels really good to nail a speed workout at paces you have never been able to run before. Really good! And it feels good to nail those paces week after week, but if you’re doing that your race times should be dropping.  If not, something isn’t right. Sure, some athletes thrive on training at super fast intensities, but most do not.

If you feel like you’re leaving your best performances out on the track during workouts rather than on a race course, it might be time to slow your training paces down in line with the fitness your race paces indicate you have. To determine correct training paces for your current fitness you can input your most recent race times into the McMillan Calculator or the Jack Daniels VDOT table. For more about slowing down training to race faster, go here.

4. You are neglecting other important aspects of your life because you’re focused so much on running. If you are having so much trouble fitting in all the hardcore weekly mileage and finding the time and energy for hardcore speed workouts leaving you with not much left to enjoy the rest of your life, then it’s time to consider backing off.  Running should enhance our lives, not take them over! Obsessing about running, isolating yourself from your nonrunning loved ones or neglecting important nonrunning responsibilities are huge red flags that you’re taking this hardcore thing much too far.

If you feel like you might be going a little overboard chasing down hardcore with your training, consider slowing down, cutting back and reassessing. Not only might backing off help you find a little more balance in your life, but it might very well lead to big PRs down the road.

Have you ever gone overboard with being hardcore with your running?

Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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10 comments

  1. My body always reminds me when I’m doing too much…I had to back off last fall when I developed shin splints! What? I never took time off after the marathon and after several months of still running hard, I paid the price. I’m back on track now. Whew!

  2. This post could not have been any timelier for me! I have been the victim of getting so crazed with my training that I’ve brought on serious injury and depression. I have learned to listen to my body and not push when it’s telling me “Stop it!” Just yesterday I planned on returning to the gym for my regularly scheduled second Wednesday workout, but for some reason I just felt off. A couple of years ago I would’ve ignored that feeling and risked illness or injury, but yesterday I decided to go home, relax, and get to bed early. I woke up feeling 100% better and ready to tackle the day. So, I missed one workout; big deal! I’m better for it. Thanks for posting this reminder to us all that we sometimes need to stop in order to go.

    1. Us type-A athletes have such a hard time with this! I am always afraid to be a wuss, so I have taught myself to push through that voice telling me that I’m overdoing it. It’s so hard to know when to push through and when to back off. As I get older and more experienced I’m starting to realize that it’s best to listen and save the pushing through for racing!

  3. Great piece, Salty. This is often so hard to pull away from. For me, it took a mental break down and then a few months of pretty much nothing. What goes up, must come down and then come up again! If you get past the questionable stage and find yourself deep in the throws of overtraining, it is so hard to see what you are doing but this piece gives one hope. I can’t stress it enough how important this topic is!

    1. Thanks, ginger! It’s soooooooo hard to see when you’re in the middle of it. It’s better to nip it in the bud before you completely burnout mentally or physically. But if you do, with a few changes you can set everything back to rights and keep on improving!

  4. This was me 3 years ago. My husband had a sit-down with me about it and I was very insulted and upset. I put us into counselling about it, I was so upset. I didn’t think he cared about my goals and my ONLY HOBBY. I think I was using running as something I could actually achieve my goals and be good at when I was failing at our fertility treatments and work wasn’t all that great. It was exciting to win age group awards, and I felt like I had to keep up a high level of training and sign up for lots of races.

    Fast forward to now when we have 9-month-old twins and I haven’t run in a serious way well over a year, and don’t see that changing anytime soon. I can’t wait to get back into running (and exercising more regularly), but my available time is prioritized elsewhere. It’s amazing how things can change!

    1. I’m right there with you! Pursing running achievements has been a way for me to channel my type-a-ness (hehe) into something while I’m a sahm. It definitely scratches the itch but sometimes I have been guilty of getting way too sucked in at the expense of the rest of my life. But I have a supportive husband who helps me see when this is happening. In the moment I might be annoyed with him for “not being supportive” but always in retrospective I see he was right and if course was being supportive. Live and learn 🙂

  5. I had a week or so last winter during a marathon training cycle when my legs felt like they had cinder blocks attached to them. I just couldn’t get rid of the slog. I mentioned it to my coach and she immediately told me to take a break from running for a few days. It was hard to abandon my training (type-A here, too) but when I hit the roads after the break, I was light and springy again. Another reason to get a coach!