Why Does Running Feel Harder Some Days? (Sudden Struggles & Demotivation)

Why does running feel as if you’re treading on a cloud one day, and the next as if you’re lumbering around with an anvil strapped to your back? For runners everywhere, the question strikes a familiar chord; why does running feel harder some days? 

Running feels harder sometimes because of personal or environmental circumstances. You may be having trouble because your body is not yet recovered from a previous run, you may have an undiagnosed injury, or your diet isn’t providing enough energy. The problem may also be external with inclement weather making the running conditions more difficult.

Let’s take a deeper look at this phenomenon below. 

Is it normal for running to seem hard sometimes?

The mental gymnastics you go through during mile 3 of a 5-mile run can often feel like a hostage negotiation. You’ll find yourself saying things like, “If I can just make it to that lamp post, I’ll only have three laps to go.” Or you might wager, “Just give it a little more gas up this hill, then you can slow down a bit on the way down.” 

However, some days, every mile feels like mile three. Many times, it’s difficult to identify any particular reason for the struggle. 

While it is normal to experience this type of resistance, it could be pointing to a larger issue. Overtraining, inclement weather, undiagnosed injury, poor diet, or inadequate motivation could individually, or collectively, contribute to a more arduous running experience. 

Identifying each of these reasons might be the solution to fixing your running problems. Overtraining can cause negative effects on the immune system of athletes, while inclement weather and undiagnosed injury can slow the pace of once-speedy athletes. Proper diet can go a long way toward keeping a runner in prime running condition, and human intrinsic motivation is a crucial element to performance of any kind. 

Any of these factors can change daily, so you will want to be sure to go over this mental checklist to perform a thorough post-mortem on your failed runs. 

Why are the first 10 minutes of running so hard?

For many runners, the first 10 minutes present the greatest obstacle to completing a successful run. The difficulty of these first 10 minutes can be due to a number of factors.

The chief reason for a difficult first 10 minutes is an inadequate warm-up. A proper pre-run warm-up will increase your muscle temperature, and provide improved blood flow to your muscles. Without a proper warm-up, your muscles will feel stiff and sluggish. This can make the first 10 minutes of your run a dreadful exercise in self-doubt and regret!

Another contributing factor to a difficult initial 10 minutes is an improper mindset. Running involves a commitment to sustained discomfort. No matter how advanced a runner you might be, nearly every run will consist of at least 1 or 2 difficult stretches; in which your lungs will begin to burn or your muscles will begin to ache. 

Preparing for a run involves agreeing to a kind of mental contract in which you acknowledge the likelihood of discomfort during the event, yet agree to do it anyways. This usually requires a few minutes of reflection on the positive effects of running, such as improved cardiovascular health, better overall fitness, and the production of endorphins that improve your mood and energy levels. 

A quality physical and mental warmup before a run should help alleviate some of the difficulties of the initial 10 minutes. Like anything, preparation on the front end usually produces better results. 

Want to know why the first mile can be difficult? Read this article!

5 reasons a run might feel hard on you

Not everyone struggles with running for the same reasons. However, if you find yourself going through an unexpected period of difficulty, you may want to run through the following list to see if any of these reasons resonate with you. 

Running might be more difficult than usual because of:

  1. Overtraining
  2. Inclement weather
  3. Undiagnosed injury
  4. Poor diet
  5. Inadequate motivation

Overtraining

While training is necessary for improved running performance, too much training without giving your body time to engage in the proper amount of rest is the most surefire way to cause your muscles to burn out.

Overtraining can lead to poor performance and, in extreme cases, to serious injury. 

While overreaching with a specific workout will not necessarily lead to injury, overtraining can be better understood as a pattern of workouts that take you beyond a point at which you feel healthy. Struggling with your regular run could be your body telling you it needs a break.

All of us have different limits, but if you find yourself exhibiting symptoms such as lightheadedness, nausea, extreme muscular cramping, and excessive joint or foot pain, it may be wise to scale back your training. An athlete who consistently overtrains may not be able to recover fully until resting completely for 6-months or more! 

Inclement weather

This one may seem a bit obvious, but constantly extreme weather – especially cold or wet – can dramatically affect performance.

Running in inclement weather is more difficult than in normal conditions. While you may not necessarily feel like you’re working harder, even running in light rain requires more effort than dry ground.

If you notice a consistent dip in your performance and energy levels, ask yourself if the weather you’ve been facing has contributed to your poor results. 

Undiagnosed injury

If the weather was the most obvious reason, an undiagnosed injury may be the most pernicious. Runners can be notorious for training through nagging aches and pains, but how do you know when those maladies are something to be truly concerned with?

An undiagnosed injury can lead to a steady decrease in performance and energy levels over a period of time. If taking a few days of extra rest doesn’t help the situation at all, you may want to consult a medical professional.

The most common running injuries are:

  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome (also known as ‘runner’s knee’)
  • Plantar Fasciitis
  • Injuries to the meniscus
  • Tendonitis of the patella tendon
  • Tribal stress syndrome (shin splints)
  • Tendonitis of the Achilles tendon

This means that knees, feet, and ankles account for the large majority of runners’ injuries. Most running injuries (50-75%, according to this study) of runner’s injuries are the result of repetitive movement.

If you find yourself in the midst of a season of difficult training, go in for that check-up you’ve been avoiding, and make sure you don’t have an undiagnosed injury.

Poor diet

Food is the body’s fuel, and just like an automobile, it’s only as good as the fuel you put in it.

A well-balanced diet with plenty of proteins, fats, and limited carbohydrates and sugar will help you hit the pavement feeling like a million bucks. 

However, stress-eating potato chips and skipping mealtimes for coffee can leave you feeling empty. Your body will pay the consequences somewhere. Most of the time the first area to suffer will be your fitness. 

What’s the best meal to eat before a run? Try a plate of pasta.

Inadequate motivation

Running is not always enjoyable for people in and of itself.

The beneficial effects of running on the body motivate people to keep waking up before the sun comes up to do it. If you don’t have a clear vision of why you run, the constant agony of your muscles and lungs will convince you to quit very quickly. 

There always seems to be this little voice in your head with its own immediate interest. It becomes the job of the more conscious part of the psyche to talk it down off of the ledge after each quarter mile. To be able to overcome this mental fatigue, a person has to enter the agreement with eyes wide open. 

Stating the obvious, that this run will cost something in terms of energy and comfort, beforehand, will force the brain to commit to the task with more resolve and diligence.

Are you actually regressing with your running?

More than likely, your negative recent experiences with running do not point to some fatal decline in your abilities.

You probably aren’t witnessing a true regression in your running. Instead, like the check engine light appearing on a car dashboard, the struggles you are going through point to the fact that something is malfunctioning and needs to be addressed. 

If the proper area is addressed with the proper therapy, you should expect performance and energy levels to increase back to their previous levels in no time. 

When does running get easier?

Running will become easier if the root issues are addressed in a month or two.

People struggle with running for different reasons, so it’s difficult to say exactly when the feeling will be remedied, but treating the underlying causes is always the first step. Refer to the list below to get an idea of recovery times for specific maladies:

  • Tribal Stress Syndrome (i.e. Shin Splints) – 3-4 weeks of complete rest
  • Plantar Fasciitis – 3-6 months with rest and therapy
  • Patellar Tendonitis3-6 weeks with rest
  • Achilles Tendonitis6-10 weeks with rest

If your struggles are more related to factors such as weight or mental fatigue, the process will take as long as it takes to address those problems. The timeline could be a matter of months or even years, depending on how long it takes you to return to a healthy body weight or mental state.

How to make running easier

While pushing yourself will always be a challenge – it’s called pushing yourself for a reason, right? – that doesn’t mean it has to be difficult.

Here are some tips to make running easier:

  • Take time to recover from old injuries
  • Lose a bit of weight
  • Train to improve VO2 max
  • Follow a consistent running program
  • Purchase quality equipment
  • Work with a qualified running coach

Let’s break down these concepts in depth. 

Take time to recover from old injuries

Recovery time is the most important factor for returning to your previous form.

Make sure not to train through debilitating injuries. Doing so could cause you to struggle for longer. 

Lose a bit of weight

Running efficiency depends largely on how efficiently your body can use the energy it has to move the mass that your body consists of. It’s basic math, the heavier you are, the less energy efficient your body becomes. 

Train to improve VO2 max

VO2 Max refers to the amount of oxygen your body can use during intense exercise and activity. VO2 Max is the number one indicator of running performance.

Training using high-intensity exercises and interval training can help boost your VO2 Max, dramatically improving your performance and energy levels. 

Follow a consistent running program

If your struggles simply come from inconsistent training and a poor fitness foundation, getting on a consistent running program can help you make progress much faster than trying to come up with a running program on your own.

Hundreds of free and paid plans are specifically tailored to fit the needs of people in different situations. 

Purchase quality equipment

It may also be wise to take a look at the equipment you’re using to try and identify a cause.

Are your feet bothering you on your runs? How long ago did you purchase your running shoes? It may be time for some new ones. Perhaps a new pair of insoles such as the Superfeet Adapt Run Max insoles, will improve your experience.

While some equipment may be superfluous, a quality pair of shoes and insoles can go a long way to alleviating painful experiences while running. 

Work with a qualified running coach

Working with a qualified running coach is an extremely effective way to improve your running.

Having a second, trained pair of eyes, observing your form, and teaching you proper techniques can be extremely beneficial. Although, this may be the priciest method mentioned here.