How To Train When You’re Tired But Not Exhausted

Jannine Myers

Last week I started out on an evening run and knew right from the outset that it wasn’t going to be pleasant. I was plain exhausted after a long day at work and simply couldn’t muster up enough energy. Add to that the cold air and the smoke fumes from surrounding neighbourhood chimneys, and one thing was certain: it was obvious that my planned intervals weren’t going to happen.

In the past, as a novice runner, I would have attempted to ignore how my body was feeling, but I know better now. Learning to discern the difference between actual fatigue and the feeling of simply not wanting to work out, can often be the one thing that prevents the onset of overtraining.

As I think about my years in Okinawa, where year-round training was the norm, I recall how tempting it was to persevere through training sessions even when the body was under duress from either too little rest or extreme heat conditions. I saw many of my athlete friends and acquaintances experience setbacks because adherence to training plans took precedence over listening to body cues.

In many cases however, physical and/or mental fatigue may not be serious enough to warrant taking a day off. On such occasions there’s no need to throw the towel in and give up altogether; some quick modifications can help satisfy the urge to train and more importantly, reduce the risk of injury or illness.

Here are some ways to follow through with your scheduled run without hurting yourself :

1. Easy pace, short runs on a flat route – break up the distance into quarters; fast walk the first quarter, run at your usual easy pace for the second two quarters, and slow jog the final quarter.

2. Easy pace, short runs on a hilly course – run at regular easy pace on flat and downhill sections of the course, and walk the uphill sections.

3. Tempo runs – reduce tempo pace and/or tempo distance, according to how you feel. It’s also a good idea to leave the garmin and other timing devices at home; that way you’re not tempted to try and meet a set pace.

4. Speed workouts (fartlek/interval/track repeats) – reduce intensity (goal time for each repeat) and/or the number of repeats. You can also increase the recovery time between repeats.

5. Long runs – in lieu of a long run, it’s sometimes best to settle for a nice easy run that’s half the distance of your long run distance. If you’re determined to do your long run however, then at least add 20 to 30 seconds to your regular long run pace, and opt for a route that takes you on a double loop so that you have the option to stop after the first loop if it becomes obvious that you won’t be able to complete the full distance.

Train smart, and remain healthy and happy!


“Never be afraid to reevaluate and adjust your goals. It is far more important to be honest with yourself about where you are at than to set unrealistic goals that lead to self-defeat.”
Teri Larsen Jones – US National Waterskiing Champion

“…pro-runners are comfortable with adjusting their expectations…… they have the ability to turn a lemon workout into lemonade”
Greg McMillan – World Class Running Coach

“…..some (workout) sessions are stars and some sessions are stones, but in the end they are all rocks and we build upon them.”
Brett Sutton – World Class Triathlete Coach 

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