Dog-tired after every run? Trust me, it doesn't have to be that way

Man tired after running
(Image credit: Getty)

Do you have to psych yourself up before every run? Once you're out there, do you keep fantasizing about the whole thing being over? When you've finished, do you just want to crawl into bed and sleep for the rest of the day?

I totally understand, but as a run leader I'm here to tell you that it doesn't have to be that way. The fact that you're pushing yourself to run despite not really enjoying it is admirable, but it shouldn't be a sufferfest. Well, not most of the time anyway.

The problem many runners have is always running at the same pace – too fast for regular steady training runs, and too slow for speed sessions.

The exact pace will vary between people, but in my experience many people who don't really like running tend to do all their training in heart rate zone three – around  70 - 80% of your maximum heart rate (check out our guide to heart rate zones if you're not sure what I mean). It might be a bit uncomfortable and it's the kind of speed you might aim for if you're running a 10k race, but it's not the best pace for your everyday evening runs.

For building a good endurance base, most of your regular runs should actually be in heart rate zone two. This is the kind of pace that you can keep up comfortably for a good long time, and leaves you able to hold a conversation.

It might seem counterintuitive to finish a workout still feeling relatively fresh, but regular runs in zone two will do more for your fitness than sporadic faster efforts. By contrast, your hard training sessions should be genuinely hard. Brief intervals of running in zone four, followed by recovery in zone two, for example. If you want to start training in a structured way, Nike Run Club has free plans available to download for distances from 5k to full marathon.

Why does it happen?

So why do so many runners wind up stuck in zone three? There are a few psychological reasons. It's easy to get stuck on the idea that because you can run faster, you should. That's just not true, and you'll wind up burned out if you push yourself to exhaustion every single time.

Some runners also feel embarrassed about going relatively slowly and being overtaken by other people out training, which is understandable but really shouldn't worry you. Strangers tend to pay a lot less attention to us than we might think, and are very unlikely to give your running speed a second thought.

If you run with a friend, you might feel obliged to step on the gas to avoid slowing them down, but if you both have the same goal, they might benefit from more zone two work as well. Have a chat about your aims. You might find that they're doing exactly the same thing!

Whatever the cause, please don't beat yourself up. You shouldn't feel guilty or embarrassed for dialling back the speed, and you don't have to prove yourself to anyone. You'll reap the benefits later on.

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better), usually wearing at least two sports watches.