Lead Heavy Legs and Race Training

I recently was going through my website and found that one of the most searched topics on my site is “legs feel like lead during training.”  I did a post on this a few years ago and since it seems to be so popular, I thought we should touch upon this again.

Running is one of my favorite things to do.  That doesn’t mean that it is always easy.  Sure, some days are easier or better than others.  There are also days when every step is a struggle, and every minute is a process of me pleading with myself to keep going.

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Regardless of how many or how few miles you have logged before training for a race, one thing is almost certain, race training will exhaust your body.  Your legs will in fact feel like they are full of lead.  Your muscles will likely ache and you will probably fall in and out of love with the sport during your training cycle.

Training for endurance races is an involved process.  Plans will have you doing various types of runs that might involve both short and long mileage, speed work, tempo runs, and perhaps even sprints.  Each of these serves an important purpose in making you a stronger and healthier racer.

You will also notice that most plans follow a periodized pattern.  This involves a gradual increase in mileage over time.  The increased distance is meant to slowly train your legs to endure the large amounts of mileage you will face on race day.    In order to do this in a healthy manner and to hopefully avoid injury, you will spend many weeks of higher mileage training.

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This type of training and mileage will in fact, exhaust your legs.  In order to make your muscles stronger, you have to push them.  Just as your muscles get sore and tired when you lift weights, your legs must go through this same process.  In order to build muscle in the gym, you gradually lift heavier weights and for longer periods.  The result of this is tired and achy muscles, just like you feel after endurance training.

There are two things that you need to do during this period.  First, you must approach your rest and recovery in a manner that allows you time to heal and recover.  Respect your rest days.  Don’t run.  Stretch and do some light activities.  Drink lots of water and eat plenty of bright red and green fruits and veggies as well as plenty of protein.  Remember that a healthy diet fuels your training.

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Once you have ensured that you are resting and recovering properly, you then need to push through those heavy legs.  There will be days and even weeks where you legs and body feel absolutely exhausted.  You will have to continue training through these tired legs.  Your pace may slow down a bit.  Don’t push it too hard and be patient with your body.

Finally, know that this won’t last forever.  Trust that this process is meant to build your body and make you stronger for your event.  It will be difficult and frustrating at times.  With patience and diligence, you will soon find that you feel like yourself again.  In fact, you might even find that you are stronger than you were just a few weeks ago.

What is your best advice for dealing with tired and heavy legs?

12 thoughts on “Lead Heavy Legs and Race Training

  1. I think a big thing is to listen to your body. The other night I got into bed and as I was lying there every muscle in my body was sore … even though pretty much all I do is run. So I took an unplanned rest day the next morning – making 3 days off in 2 weeks (compared with 3 days off in the first 5 weeks of the year!). My body was telling me something, and I knew I should listen. It felt weird, but I knew it was the right thing to do. Now a couple of days and couple of my usual 12.5 mile runs later and I have no muscle aches.

  2. I think the heavy, tired leg feeling is definitely something typical of a training cycle and that’s why the rest periods and taper have to be taken seriously so you can wake up with fresh legs on race day! I am all too familiar with heavy legs right now, but I have an excuse (you know, 8 months pregnant). When not pregnant, I usually rely on my foam roller, stick, ice/heat in order to deal with the heavy legs appropriately. Or I’ll just insert an extra rest day into my schedule, it always seems to work!

  3. Great advice! Yesterday it hit me that my legs were completely out of steam because it was my 7th straight day running. Today I’m resting reluctantly. For me, the lead feeling is there in the beginning of runs – reminds me of swimming against a current – but it goes away after the first mile or so. Yoga and elevating legs up a wall really helps decrease post-run heaviness.

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