Running When Tired – Should You Run or Should You Rest?


We’ve all been there—feeling super exhausted and not wanting to do anything else. Especially not run. But if you have a run scheduled for a day when you feel tired, what should you do?

Should you run anyway and risk overtiring yourself? Some training plans rely on something called cumulative fatigue – being tired is actually part of the strategy. Too much fatigue, though, is always a bad thing. Some days, it really is better for your fitness to stay home and binge watch something. You’ll certainly feel better the next day. In this article, we’ll discuss how to figure out what to do when you’re tired.

We’ll cover two types of tiredness—real fatigue and feeling tired from no motivation—and whether you should run or rest (and why) under each section.

By the end of this article, you’ll be able to figure out whether or not you should run when you feel tired in different circumstances and on different days.

Are You Tired, or Are You Lacking Motivation?

First, before you figure out whether you should get out and run, you need to figure out why you’re tired. Is it because you’re actually tired, or because you’re lacking motivation?

For example, if you got enough sleep last night and the whole rest of the week, you’re probably lacking motivation.

On the other hand, if you’ve had to stay up late for work the past couple nights, or if you just brought home an infant, there’s a good chance that you’re actually tired. If you’ve been piling on the mileage during busy times as well, you’re most likely legitimately tired.

Sometimes a lack of motivation makes you feel tired, and other times you are just tired or stressed out. Knowing this difference will help you figure out what to do.

Yes, You Are Tired. But How Tired Are You?

If you realize that you’re tired, you have to figure out just how tired you are. If you’re not super-tired, you’ll be better off getting a run in, no matter how short it is. But if you’re exhausted, then you might be better off to take a rest day.

If You Didn’t Sleep Well the Night Before or Didn’t Get Enough Sleep…

While the last thing you want to do if you haven’t slept well is run, your body will thank you later. So just get out there and go for a run, but make it shorter or easier than a typical run for you.

Typically, the feeling of fatigue fades after a mile or two. Remind yourself that it’s important just to get out there, even if it’s just for one mile. Getting your blood flowing and getting outside will put you in a better mood, help with sleeping tonight, and make you feel better about yourself.

If You’re Constantly Tired While Training For a Race…

If you’ve been training really hard for a race and going at it most days, you might just need a break. So, take a day off from running and cross training to recover and rest your body. There’s a good chance that you’ll have much more energy the next day.

To avoid this problem in the future, designate one day a week that you don’t train at all. If you are using a training plan, it most likely has rest days built in. Observe them strictly. For example, if you’re religious, you could take off Saturday or Sunday as a rest day, which will allow you to feel less stressed on your day of worship.

If you’re not, then figure out what day of the week would be best for a rest day. Maybe it’s Mondays, because you always work late anyway, or perhaps it’s Fridays so that you can hang out with your friends and then go for a long run on Saturdays.

If You’re Constantly Tired But Taking Rest Days or Not Training for Anything…

If you’re not training for a race or you’re consistently taking rest days, but you’re still exhausted, this is beyond your pay grade. See a doctor to rule out any type of illness.

You may also want to talk to a dietitian to see if changing up your diet could help you feel less tired. Often, nutrition plays a major role in energy level, and you might be able to correct your tiredness simply by changing up your diet.

If You Had a Stressful or Long Day at Work…

Sometimes, work is just hard, and the last thing you want to do after a long day at work is run. Ideally, you’ll still go for a run, but give yourself an out if you aren’t up for it. Typically, you’ll feel better after a warm-up, and running can be a great way for you to relax.

Sometimes hard runs can even be a good way to burn stress. I know I’ve worked through challenging work problems on runs, so you’re more likely than not to do yourself a disservice by not running.

You could solicit the help of your roommate or partner to ask them if you seem too stressed for a run. If they encourage you to stay home, then maybe that’s best, but if they tell you to run, then you should go. This could help you in avoiding a run when you were totally good to do one.

If You’re Napping Every Day But You’re Still Tired…

Kids might hate naps, but adults love them! However, if you’re getting a nap in every day but you’re not seeing any results, you need to do something differently. You might want to consider your sleep patterns. Are you getting enough sleep at night?

Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. If you’re averaging closer to 6 hours per night, that’s just not sustainable. Or if you say that you can function on 7 hours per night when you actually need 9, you’re in for a rude awakening.

The way to get more sleep is to go to bed earlier. Time management guru Laura Vanderkam calls and early bedtime “sleeping in for adults.” Typically, you’re not doing productive stuff in the evening anyway, so you’d be better off turning off the TV and heading to bed at 9pm instead of midnight.

Try to give yourself 30-60 minutes of downtime before you go to bed to get your body ready to sleep. This can include meditation, reading, talking with your partner, knitting/crocheting, and so forth. Anything that is calming, but not the TV!

If Your Legs are Tired…

Running with tired legs can be challenging and uncomfortable, but whether or not you should do it depends on a few factors.

That tired or sore feeling could be DOMS – this stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. It refers to the aches and stiffness that happen 24 to 72 hours after a strenuous run. This is perfectly normal and ok to run on, as long as you take it easy.

DOMS is likely to occur if you’re training for a race and pushing yourself during hard workouts. In this case, running with tired legs can be beneficial. It can help your body adapt to the stress of running and build endurance. However, be sure to pay attention to your body and legs and adjust accordingly. You may want to slow down, shorten your distance, or take walking breaks to avoid pushing yourself too hard.

But if your legs are tired due to overtraining or lack of rest, it’s best to take a break and let your body recover. Pushing yourself when you’re exhausted can lead to more fatigue and increase your risk of injury.

How to Deal With a Lack of Motivation

If none of the tiredness categories above describe you, or if you already know it’s a lack of motivation, let’s figure out why and how you can deal with that specific lack of motivation. More broadly, though, you might want to figure out where the lack of motivation is coming from.

Are you feeling super-pressured at work and feel like you can’t meet your time goals for running? Are you feeling self-conscious because you’ve been away from running for a while? Does it seem like just one more thing to do?

Try to remember why you started running in the first place, and what made you change your habits. You can probably still harness that same motivation now. For many, stressful or traumatic events can create huge mental walls. Running is a way to have some sense of accomplishment and meaning in life.

Sometimes it’s hard to get the same motivation now that things are back to normal, but remember to channel that sense of accomplishment. Just getting out there to run is an accomplishment.

And don’t forget to be grateful, because gratitude is the antidote to apathy, which is really what lack of motivation is. If you live in a scenic area, feel grateful every day that you get to run in such beautiful scenery. And remember that you are able to run. Many people due to age or health don’t have this ability.

If You Aren’t Motivated, Why Aren’t You?

Here are some common reasons why you might lack motivation for running, and how to handle them – and the tiredness they manifest as.

If You Can’t Get Up Early to Run…

We all know that it’s better to exercise in the morning than in the evening. But it can be so hard to get up in the morning sometimes! Make it easier on yourself by preparing before you go to sleep. Put out your running clothes and prep coffee and a light breakfast.

Many people sleep in their running clothes so that they don’t have any excuse about not running. You could even put your running shoes right beside your bed so that you see them immediately when you wake up.

If You Return Home From Work Too Tired to Run…

Work days can be long and hard sometimes. If you feel like collapsing on the couch once you go home, then just don’t go home.

Go for a run before you get home, i.e. straight from work. Whether that’s speedwork on the treadmill at the gym or an outdoor run, don’t go home until you’ve run. Even better, run-commute.

Alternatively, if you really have to go home, don’t sit down or do anything at your home. Instead, immediately change into running clothes and start your run. After you’re done with it, you can relax.

If You Just Don’t Feel Like Running…

Sometimes you might not feel like running because you’ve gotten bored with your routines. Make running interesting again by changing it up. Try running somewhere new, doing a different type of workout, finding a new challenge, running with friends, and so forth.

Most runners find that completing a race is always a huge motivation booster. The sense of accomplishment and pride in finishing is a huge boost to keep running. If that’s the case for you, maybe you want to start including more 5k races into your training plan to keep up the motivation.

If You Want to Quit Halfway Through Your Run…

Feeling unmotivated midway through your run is typically not due to a lack of motivation. It’s more likely due to a lack of proper hydration and nutrition. This is especially true for longer runs, but make sure that you’re properly hydrated and fueled.

You can also break up your run into shorter parts to keep up your motivation. A common mind trick is to break a run – especially long runs – down into manageable parts. Maybe you run to the next turn, then run to the next stoplight. If it’s and out-and-back just focus on getting to the turnaround point. 

Sometimes you just have to believe and know that you can keep going. Your mind gives up a lot faster than your body does, so if you’re able to talk yourself into another mile, once you get that mile done, you’ll probably be able to talk yourself into more.

Concluding Thoughts

While we all dream of running feeling perfectly refreshed, hydrated, and fueled, it’s not always going to happen that way. Sometimes when we’re tired, we don’t want to run, but still should. But other times, it’s a sign to take a break.

Hopefully you now have a better idea of how to handle feeling tired and unmotivated and what that means for you in completing your scheduled run!