Are you getting tired when you’re running? It’s a common a problem – but it’s also one with a lot of different caues and solutions, so, check out our tips on how not to get tired when running – whether you’re a new runner or a seasoned pavement pounder.
It was therefore time for a blog post explaining all about getting tired when running and jogging!
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Why Do We Get Tired When Running?
The obvious answer to this is that running is actually quite an intense cardio activity.
When you run you use muscles all over your body – but particularly you engage the big, energy-grabbing, leg muscles like the glutes, the hamstrings and the quads.
You also burn around 5-600 calories an hour (more if you run fast, run up hills or are male or a heavier women) which uses us a fair bit of the energy you have stored in your body and, you propel your whole body weight forward – that take some effort.
More blood flows into your muscles which means your heart has to work faster and, your lungs work harder to draw in the air you need.
All of this takes energy and so, it’s not really surprising that running can get tiring – but, there are different types of tiredness associated with running.
The reason why someone gets tired when marathon training is likely to be different from someone who gets tired after running a mile – and, different again for why you might be getting tired after running for just one minute or two, or running in a sport like soccer.
Answering the question of how to run without getting tired therefore means thinking about what you mean by tiredness and narrowing it down a bit.
What Type of Tiredness Do You Have?
Are you too out of puff to keep going for very long?
Do you run out of actual energy half way round and find yourself slowing down or having to stop?
Are your legs getting tired before your lungs?
Do you just generally have low energy levels and find it hard to get started?
Or are you just Bleurgh – and maybe a bit bored with it all
Each of these is a type of tiredness you can develop when running but each is also a different kind problem with a different cause and solutions.
The key to running without getting tired is therefore to have a think about which applies best to you and check out the advice that might help below.
Helping me out with some of the solutions is running coach Graham from UK running coaches Start Running, Stay Running. He came up with his top tips, and I added to those with some other advice I’ve learned from other running coaches, or through simply putting one of my own feet in front of the other for thousands of miles, over the years.
If You – Run Out of Breath
This is the number one reason for getting tired out when you first start running. If you get tired after running for just one minute (or if you’re doing a sport like football where you need to do short, fast sprints), or start off thinking you can run for ever but flake out under a mile, this is likely to be why.
Generally, the reason it happens is that you’ve tried to go out too fast and it’s more than your lungs are ready for which leads to you getting winded.
If this applies to you you’ll find yourself struggling to breathe properly, you can’t get into your stride and you’ll have to stop after quite a short distance – maybe even just a few minutes.
‘We run out of puff because we use more oxygen when running than we do walking – and things like going harder or running uphill etc increases that need further. If this sounds familiar, then slowing down will help,’ says Graham.
‘Simply put, right now your blood stream can’t supply you with enough oxygen.’
Don’t worry though, it won’t last!
‘Your heart is a muscle and training increases its size allowing it to pump more blood per stroke thus giving more oxygen where required,’ explains Graham. ‘Your shortness of breath is the body’s way to try and increase oxygen levels but it also makes it harder to keep moving.’
The longer time goes on therefore the less this will happen. But, also try this trick…
‘Anecdotally I find that when this happens its almost like a panicked state and although breathing is an involuntary process, we can learn to control it ourselves, e.g., slow down and concentrate on longer slower breaths,’ ays Graham. ‘Inhale and exhale fully (really big breaths) to help clear CO2 away and increase oxygen more efficiently.’
In time, your lungs will get used to pulling in more air. and your heart will build up to cope more effectively with the extra work you’re asking of it, but for this to happen you need to keep running at the right pace. So…
Instead of heading out at a rate of knots, slow your pace so you’re running at a pace of what feels like about 4-6 out of 10 – with 1 being walking to the kettle and 10 being running away from a tiger (this is known as your perceived rate of exertion).
If you find that a bit hard to judge, you can also try the talk test. You should be breathing faster than you would at walking pace, but not going do fast that you couldn’t still have a short conversation (not recite War and Peace) – my trick was to sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star – you should have had enough singing by the last bit!
See how far that gets you – it might be one minute, it might be 20 – that’s okay. You’re going to build on it.
How to Build Up
There’s two ways to do this.
If you’re already at what you feel is an okay distance, then start building trying to run longer – again, don’t go mad or you’ll just wear yourself out again. Just increase the time or distance you run for about 10 per cent more each session keeping at that nice steady pace.
Once you’re confident enough to run for say, 30-40 minutes at this slower pace you can start techniques that improve your fitness, speed and endurance.
‘To increase stamina / endurance then adding intervals and hill work into your training will help, and I strongly recommend both,’ says Graham.
If neither of those appeal to you then try Fartlek (literally means speed play) it’s a form of interval training but on your own terms, mix up the speeds you are going throughout your run, try short sharp bursts, longer slightly faster than easy pace segments etc.
If you’re not sure what intervals or hill work means, check our runners dictionary here. It explains lots of terms you might hear when you start running.
If you can’t run for more than a few minutes at a time though, then, you might want to try a different approach. Decide on a period of time to head out of and then, start by alternating periods of running and walking.
This gives you a chance to recover a bit between running spurts – and, while you might not be able to run for 10 minutes in one go, you might find you can do 10 one minute bursts with a two minute walk in between them.
We used to refer to this as time on our feet when I was training for half marathons and marathons. Even if we weren’t running all the time we were out there, our legs got used to moving for an hour, or two or three (I was never the fastest runner!)
Every couple of sessions, increase the time you run for by 10 percent, and, when you feel ready, decrease the walking gaps too – and next thing you know you’re running for 30 minutes straight.
Programmes like Couch to 5k are a really good way to help give structure to building up in this way. Or for more personalised support check out the Coached to 5k programme from Start Running, Stay Running.
Once you’ve developed a good base for running distance, then you can start to trying techniques like intervals or Fartlek that help you go faster.
How to Breathe Better
Graham says it’s also a good idea to practise your breathing when you’re not running.
This might sound strange – it’s not normally something you think about doing, but, many of us don’t breathe in a way that gets maximum oxygen into our lungs.
‘You want to get the hang of what’s known as diaphragmatic breathing,’ he explains.
‘This type of breathing, also referred to as belly or abdominal breathing, is the most efficient way to breathe and relies on taking a full breath to make the diaphragm move downward and upward through its full range.
Diaphragmatic breathing is characterised by the abdominal section of your body rising as the breath is inhaled and falling when you exhale.
This is the opposite to chest breathing in which the lungs expand and make the chest rise.
The primary reason why diaphragmatic breathing is more beneficial over chest breathing (especially to athletes) is because more oxygen is inhaled, and more carbon dioxide is exhaled with each breath. This equates to more oxygen to the working muscles.’
If you can get used to breathing from your belly while you run you’ll get more oxygen in your lungs and out to your muscles.
I refer to it as breathing backwards as it’s the opposite thing you do when you’re trying to suck your tummy in… so, when you breathe in, try and breathe deep into your belly and back, your stomach should start to expand.
Then, when you exhale, your tummy goes down.
Watch Out for Other Symptoms
Up to 20 per cent of the population can have a form of asthma that’s triggered by exercise. If this is you, then simply getting fitter won’t help you get more air in, you need a little extra help.
If you find yourself wheezing and/or coughing alongside your breathlessness when you start to run – and the symptoms don’t stop within a minute or two of stopping to walk, have a chat with your doctor as this might be a sign of asthma – and that will explain why you’re getting out of puff.
It doesn’t mean you can’t run, you just need to use asthma medication to help your airways stay open when you workout – Paula Radcliffe is just one famous sportsperson who has exercise-induced asthma and it’s not stopped her clocking up the miles (and fast!)
If You – Start Off Fine, Then Crash
Bonking is what runners call suddenly running out of energy on a run.
It can sometimes feel a bit as if you’re running through mud and no matter what you do, you just can’t seem to speed up.
You might have also called it ‘hitting the wall’ as it can be quite common if you’re running long distances.
The most common reason for this is not having enough energy in your system for your muscles to draw on.
When we exercise, our body uses sugar in the muscles or that’s stored in the liver to keep us moving.
If it runs out of this, it’s like a car running out of petrol. You don’t can’t keep going.
Before this your performance can start to slow down.
We do have quite a lot of energy stored in our body, but if you’re running a really long way – or, if you run first thing in the morning, or after work and haven’t eaten for a few hours, your stores will run out faster and you can start to feel tired or run out of energy.
What to Eat Before A Run for Energy
Carbohydrates fill up the energy stores fastest, but, ideally you want a type of carbohydrate that supplies a fuel you can burn for a while – pure sugar will give you a quick hit, but wont’ last for long.
So go for a mix of wholegrain carbohydrates and a little protein.
Try adding a snack like a banana or some peanut butter on toast about an hour before you run and see what happens.
If you crash regularly, but you have eaten well before your run, start to look at what you ate the day before.
I discovered that I would have a terrible run the night after I ate curry. My legs would just not move.
I still don’t know why it happened, but I learned to keep my curries for the night after my run rather than the one before.
You might also find your run suffers if you don’t eat enough carbohydrates the night before – or, eat too many of the wrong type.
Using Fuels and Energy Drinks
If you’re running for more than about 90 minutes and find your energy starts to fade later in your session, you might also want to start using sports drinks, or on the run gels like Gu. These provide a quick hit of sugar into your bloodstream for your body to draw on.
Don’t wait until you start to get tired to consume these though, it’s better to give your body the energy to draw on when it’s ready, that have it tell you it desperately needs it and have to wait for it to be processed through your system and catch up.
If you’re going to use fuels, you’ll probably want to take in your first one about an hour into your run.
Practise, Practise, Practise
You’ll need to experiment with all of this though to see what suits your body best.
‘How exactly to fuel your run is a very personal thing and is something that should be trialled throughout training,’ says Graham. ‘As an example, I can run for an hr or 10k ish, straight out of bed with nothing eaten. If I am going further, say two hours, I’ll make sure I have had breakfast. If I’m going further still I’ll plan my fuelling strategy accordingly. E.g., A gel at 10k then every 5k thereafter.’
I can also easily run for an hour on an empty stomach, but if I was going to hit 90 minutes I’d need something to keep me going or the run would just be miserable.
I also learned that I can’t run on bananas – they repeat on me endlessly.
Personally, I only every used Gu when I was training for marathons – for half marathons, I did better with just a sports drink. I found the sugar from gels just a bit too much – but I would carry one just in case.
Check Your Hydration
If you’re dehydrated during your run, moving will feel harder and you’ll get tired more quickly.
Make sure you have a drink about 15 minutes before your run, but, if you’re out for a while or if it’s a very hot day, then you should really carry a drink as well. The best way to do this is via a Fuelbelt that let you hook bottles around a belt around your waist.
This keeps the weight balanced and doesn’t affect your running form (see below).
On shorter runs, you just need to carry some water, but if you’re going longer than an hour you might want to try a sports drink which also helps replenish some of the salts you lose when you sweat.
You don’t have to have a sugary one – something like the sugar-free versions of Lucozade Sport or Powerade, or even a homemade sports drink with just a pinch of salt and sugar will help rehydrate you effectively.
A good sign that you need to up your hydration when you run is if your urine is darker than straw coloured when you get back home, or, if your body weight changes by more than 2-3 per cent before and after your run.
If you’re not drinking on your run because you’re worried about needing to pee when you run, or, leaking when you run, have a look at this post on everything you need to know about running and peeing as it can help solve your problems here.
If You Start Off Fine – But Then Get Tired and Achy
This is slightly different from crashing due to lack of fuel.
You have the energy to keep going but, your back aches and nothing quite works correctly so you seem to need more and more effort to propel yourself forward.
There’s a possibility that this is down to running without good form; ‘Running tight, leaning forwards (closing your diaphragm) will increase tiredness and aches and pains toward the end of your run as you start cutting down the amount of oxygen you take in and using more energy to keep going,’ says Graham.
What is Good Form?
Good running form sees you running with
Your head up
Your jaw relaxed
Your shoulders down and your hands relaxed not clenched
You should be fairly upright
Your core should be lightly switched on
Deviating from this can increase how quickly it takes for you to get tired.
Turning Things Around
‘Practice maintaining your running form. Really concentrate on keeping your head up chest open etc, particularly towards the end of your runs ,’ says Graham. ‘It’s important thoughout your whole run, but towards the end of your run when you’re getting more tired and bad habits slip in.’
Poor form can also be exacerbated by things like not wearing the right sports bra (see why here) or, running holding your phone which throws off how you move your upper body.
A better solution is something like a Flipbelt, or Fuel Belt which holds your phone around the middle of your body.
For more information on why even using an armband when you run with your phone is a bad idea, have a look at our longer post on carrying your phone while running.
Also don’t underestimate the importance of a strong set of core muscles in helping keep your form good. They help ensure the right leg muscles are working and stop you slumping into your steps. Many runners add a Pilates workout into their weekly exercise mix to help keep the core muscles firing well.
You could also start adding a daily plank move to your routine. We’ve got some great tips on how you can hold a plank for longer here.
You might also want to check your shoes. If the cushioning starts to wear down you can also find yourself getting tired or achy more quickly.
If Your Legs Get Tired
If you’re done other types of exercise before you might have really good lung stamina, but, when you start to run, you find your legs just quite cut it for as long you might think before they get tired.
Again, this is no big mystery – running might be working a completely different set of muscles to your normal workout and they need building up to keep you going. ‘Doing longer slower runs will really help a newer runner build leg strength. They help your legs get used to distance, build up muscle fibres and the capillary bed and decrease chance of injury,’ explains Graham.
Again, the idea of time on your feet really helps you get used to being out on your legs for longer so, if you have to walk some of your run that’s okay.
It’s also a good idea to start building in some leg training to strengthen the muscles that power your runs – this means moves like glute bridges, lunges, squats, deadlifts and the leg press machine.
The stronger your leg muscles, the more power between each step and the easier you’ll find it to keep going.
The Test That Can Tell You More
If you want to run long distance, then your running is mostly going to be powered by fibres in your muscles known as slow twitch fibres. These are the ones that help you run for long periods at a slower pace.
All of us have both these, and another type of muscle fibre called fast-twitch fibres that help us run short sprints, in our muscles. But if your slow-twitch fibres are more dominant, you’ll find endurance running easier.
Determining exactly which of these you have requires a muscle biopsy (and no-one needs one of those just to trot round the park a few more times) but there’s a simple test that gives you an idea of which type of fibre dominates in your muscles .
It basically involves testing your score for sitting against the wall in a sitting position and jumping up high.
Find out how to do the test and what the results mean here.
Training slow twitch fibres helps them develop and so you should be aiming to do long slow runs (rather than short sprints), if you’re lifting weights go for higher repetitions and
Check Your Surface
Some surfaces are more tiring to run on than others.
Sand, gravel or soft grass take a lot more effort and you might find your legs get tired more quickly if you’re on this kind of softer surface.
Softer surfaces are much better for your joints, and your risk of shin splints, though so, you might not want to eliminate from your route at all.
Also, obvious as it sounds – check the gradient. You’ll get more tired running up hill – and sometimes if you’re starting to struggle you might realise you’re actually on a bigger incline than you thought.
You’re Just Generally Tired
If you’re feeling generally tired and low on energy then you’re just going to exacerbate it when you try and run – or do any other kind of exertion.
There are many reasons why you might be fatigued – poor sleep, a poor diet, not drinking enough water, not getting enough iron or if it’s super hot during your workout.
If any of these sound familiar, you need to treat the cause of your low energy or you’re never solve your problem with running fatigue.
You might find a few suggestions on how to raise general energy here or, if you think your low energy is related to poor sleep, check out this guide on how to fall asleep faster.
Body Clocks Baby!
Your natural energy patterns fluctuate during the day so are you a lark who has most energy in the morning or an owl that performs better in the evening?
Switching your training around to suit your natural energy patterns might motivate you to get out there.
If you don’t see a natural pattern in your energy, and normally work out in the morning, see what happens if you switch your run to the afternoon for a while.
Exercise can feel a bit easier when our core body temperature is highest and this tends to be later in the day.
Are You Overtraining?
We get it, running feels good. And, if you’ve got a smartwatch that starts nagging you to get moving if you don’t get your steps in, it can be easy to end up running every day. But our bodies are not meant to go, go, go they need time to recover and if you don’t let them do that you’ll start to get more and more tired during your exercise.
You should have rest days, and, you should also alternate between long, steady runs and harder all out sessions.
If you don’t listen to your body when it needs to rest you’ll feel shattered during your runs – and, you could start to slip into what’s known as overtraining syndrome.
Signs that you’re overtraining include tired and achy muscles that don’t recover after a rest, not being able to work as hard as you normally do. low energy and lack of enthusiasm for exercise.
You might find you get more injuries or keep coming down with colds or other minor bugs.
Another telltale sign is not being able to sleep because you feel quite wired – even though you physically feel tired.
If any of this sounds familiar it’s time to take a step back from your training and re-evaluate your rest days and balancing your hard and easy workout session.
The Importance of Heart Rate Variability
This isn’t something you’re going to worry about if you’ve just started running or jogging, but, if you’re running long distances more often, training for a marathon or an ultradistance you might want to start tracking something called Heart Rate Variability.
HRV shows how well your heart adapts to the various challenges it faces through the day – stress, exercise, poor sleep etc.
It’s pretty complex to explain, so I’m not even going to try as this post is already pretty long ( but this article does it pretty well if you want more detail though), but in simple terms, HRV is strongly linked to the parts of the nervous system that lead to stress, and so if you’re doing too much, the pattern associated with the variability between your beats changes – and, this can show if you’re training too hard and need to step things back a bit before you overdo it.
Many devices like the Apple Watch or the Fitbit Sense will track Heart Rate Variability.
The newer Fitbits also give you a Daily Readiness Score which gives you an idea of how hard your HRV measurement – and other vital signs – suggest you should work out today which might also be a great way to manage tiredness when you run.
Are You Just Bored?
Lastly, sometimes tiredness when running is not in your body, but in your head. You’ve just lost the motivation to run and so when you do there’s no enthusiasm and therefore no energy.
In this case, you need to either take a short break from running and do some other kind of workout for a while or, shake up your routine in some way to find your love of running again.
There’s a whole load of ways you can do this from entering a fun or challenging event (why not think about running around Walt Disney World for example?) or setting yourself a goal to aim for like running 5k faster than before.
You might also want to switch your surroundings – simple running your route backwards can help here, or jump on a bus or train and run somewhere very very different.
Some of these tips on ways to make walking less boring also work for running – or you might want to check out the e-book I wrote on ways to liven up your workouts. There’s a lot of fun tips for making running more interesting in that.
Even just changing up your running kit with some new bright colours or revving up your playlist with some new songs – or old favourites you haven’t used in a while – can help boost your enthusiasm.
So there you have it, our guide to how to not get tired when running. Let us know in the comments if it’s helped solve your problem – or, if you have any other advice to share that can help people keep running without getting tired.
And thanks again to Graham and the team at Start Running, Stay Running for helping me out.
Start Running Stay Running is a place for new and returning runners to find a community of like-minded people. They have a community-driven Facebook group celebrating runners – whether they complete two, or 26.2 miles!
With a VIP membership boasting a team of coaches to help you, plus awesome virtual challenges, Start Running Stay Running is THE one-stop-shop for running CELEBRATION, EDUCATION & MOTIVATION!
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Who is The Wellness Nerd?
My name is Helen Foster and I’m a health journalist and wellness author. Publications I’ve written for include Women’s Health, Reader’s Digest, Body and Soul, Good Health at the Daily Mail and more. I have also written 16 books on health and nutrition.