How does stress impact long-distance runners?

To begin with, let’s be clear about something: stress does not only bring negative effects on the human body. If anything, stress is the body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or a response. When it comes to long-distance runners and their training, this response is the starting point of necessary bodily adaptations. Ultimately, these adaptations will maximize athletic performance. 

It’s also important to note that if there is no stress applied to muscular tissues, the athlete’s body will simply not adapt to the training. Thus, loading and stressing the tissues is a good thing; provided that the training load does not exceed the body’s capacity to adapt.

Types of stress in endurance training

In sports science, especially in endurance training, there are 2 types of stress: 

  • The cardiopulmonary stress and, 
  • The mechanical stress

The first refers to the pressure a workout — or a sequence of workouts — brings upon the oxygen uptake and transport system. The second refers to the accumulated fatigue in the musculoskeletal system

Stress and long-distance runners

Mechanical stress

Generally, running brings greater stress than other sports activities, like cycling or swimming, due to the nature of the sport. This especially goes for long-distance runners, who run for more than 2 hours. Because of this prolonged activity, the bones, joints, and muscles undergo various forms of stress; such as tension, compression, and torsion. 

Now, if the mechanical stress surpasses the body’s ability to adapt to this situation, the athlete will surely get injured. Furthermore, a higher mechanical stress without proper recovery will lead to accumulated fatigue in the muscle tissues. Thus, the ability to sustain a fast pace — or even run at all — will be decreased dramatically. 

Cardiovascular stress

As mentioned, apart from the mechanical stress, there is the cardiovascular stress, as well. The latter has a great impact on the bodies of long-distance runners; given that a typical long run is about 2-3 hours, at an intensity of 60-80% of the maximum heart rate. Even though the intensity is submaximal, when combined with extended duration, causes a high level of stress to the runner. 

In contrast to mechanical stress, cardiovascular stress doesn’t cause injuries per se; yet, it can lead to potentially more dangerous situations, known as ‘overtraining’ and ‘burnout’. If that happens, not only will the athlete’s performance drop exponentially, but also their overall health will be gravely affected.

A pro tip for long-distance runners 

To avoid burnout, long-distance runners should never omit monitoring their heart rate during their training. Even better, they should hire a coach who will do that for them — and much more, for that matter. To elaborate, an endurance coach will create a well-structured training plan that retains a balance between load (stress) and recovery; and, at the same time, they’ll apply their know-how to enhance performance. 

Don’t (over)stress about it!

In conclusion, stress is the body’s physiological reaction to training. If you think about it, stress is good, it keeps things going; as long as the load does not exceed the body’s capacity to adapt, of course. In this case, it can have a negative effect. So don’t overdo it with your training, ‘give it a rest’ once in a while; that goes to say, train smart — a coach will definitely help you with that! 😉

Train smart, with Endogusto

How does stress impact long-distance runners? was last modified: July 27th, 2022 by Aris Myrkos