Too many balls in the air? Run easy.

I’m not a great believer in multitasking, rarely, if ever can anyone push one hundred percent of their focus, drive and effort into more than one major task or discipline. But in business and life you see it all the time, people constantly asked to bring home the bacon on multiple fronts simultaneously – fueled by the multitasking myth.

Those that do the impossible and happen to succeed in more than one area need to beware: a third or fourth big ticket item may soon be added to your to-do list. Combine this with responsibilities to family and other commitments and you soon have a big pile of pressure and increasing levels of stress to deal with.

Balance stress levels in running

As runners we need to be aware of the impact of these demands on our approach to training. Many runners working super hard in high pressure jobs use running as their outlet. Regular running provides stress relief and relaxation, a brief but welcome respite from day-to-day working life. But often runners of any level of ability are high achievers in other walks of life; they demand the same level of excellence of themselves in athletic performance as they do in their day-jobs. They push just as hard (on a relative level) in training as their elite counterparts.

But the key is to keep your running training, work and parts of life in balance. If you’re going through a particularly tough or busy time at work then running needs to be a pressure release, not another form of stress on your mind and body. Keeping too many high intensity activities in play at once is a risky business, perhaps a bit like juggling hand-grenades; eventually you’ll drop one with explosive and damaging results. What I’m suggesting is that you avoid very hard and intense bouts of training when you’re being beat up in other parts of your life.

The last thing you need is the additional stress of running 6 × 1000m intervals at 5km race pace after a crushing afternoon trying to explain to the CEO just how you’re going to hit those quarterly revenue targets now that Europe is going down the gurgler.

Equally it’s going to be hard to face a tough track session after a few nights in a row trying to sooth a sleepless baby. Adopting the approach I’m advocating takes discipline and knowledge, discipline to avoid the temptation to keep flogging yourself in training in favor of training for fun and relaxation, and knowledge that you will lose little, if any fitness by allowing your body this small degree of kindness. In fact, you may indeed be laying the foundations for a more fruitful period of running performance in the future.

The master of this training approach is Dr Mark Cucuzzella – a general practitioner from the US that I correspond with regarding matters of running coaching and technique. Mark is a super busy guy, a practicing Doctor, Academic, Race Director, Blogger, Coach, and Lieutenant Colonel in the US Air Force Reserves, amongst other things. He is also a multiple marathoner who uses his running training as relaxation to unwind from the rest of his busy life. A small sample of his philosophy is worth repeating below as it pretty much sums up my thoughts on the matter.

I use my running (and deliberately shun the word “training”) as the daily reset button. The harder and busier the day is the more I need to do an easy run. This relaxation counters the sometimes toxic levels of stress that comes with being overextended. If running were another stress it would not be sustainable, therefore all of my running is relaxed.

Often people read schedules for elite athletes that have weekly strenuous sessions. Now if you are an elite athlete and the rest of your day is the relaxing part then you can add frequent stressful workouts. For 99.9 percent of all runners this is not the case. We all have busy and stressful lives and the running must fit into the “yin” of the “yin and yang” circle.

This balanced approach hasn’t done Mark’s performance levels any harm; in fact I could make a good argument for it increasing performance on the basis of allowing more consistent running training over a longer period of time. You might have to be more patient to achieve your running goals, but I’d take that any day over being injured and not being able to enjoy my running.

Dr Mark

The science also supports the idea that it’s counterproductive to train hard when stressed, Sweat Scientist Alex Hutchinson covered this recently on his blog. Recovery after resistance training was shown to be impeded in stressed individuals. So even if you force yourself to run hard when you’re under pressure it’s likely you’ll need much longer to recover – a possible pathway to injury.

Without thinking about it too much I’ve adopted this approach in my own running over the past 18 months. Building a new business has its challenges and pressures and there have been many days where a planned harder run has been replaced with an easy jog and something fun like a few laps of barefoot running around a grass oval.

Racing has also needed adjustment in performance expectations and while I’ve had to accept solid rather than stunning results, I have enjoyed the most consistent, injury free period of running in my life. In the long term this is not going to do my running any harm whatsoever.

Renowned coach of many successful runners Renato Canova maintains it takes 10 years to maximize your aerobic running development. This means if you’ve taken up regular running training as I have in my mid thirties it’s going to take until your mid forties to reach that peak – so long periods of steady running may not yield stunning results in the short term, but are likely to pay good dividends later. An idea worth keeping in mind before you rush to complete a marathon within 12 months of getting the running bug


So take the time to smell the roses, or the grass clippings. If running is something you love, give yourself permission to enjoy it from time to time, especially if you need to relax and unwind from the rest of your stressful life.

Words by

4 Responses to Too many balls in the air? Run easy.

  1. Mark Sarmiento July 15, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

    Great post! It’s been a challenge for me for to move away from a “no pain no gain” mentality to really understanding and appreciating the purpose of each type of run, but your article really encourages me. Thanks!! 🙂

    • Brian July 15, 2012 at 8:17 pm #

      Thanks Mark, I really wrote this to remind myself to take it easy from time to time. Most runners need that reminder!

  2. Lucy July 13, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

    Great summary. I often find that when balance isn’t attained, then that’s when people come in to see me with injuries.

    • Brian July 13, 2012 at 4:23 pm #

      Thanks Lucy 🙂