Stress results from the physical and emotional feelings that everyone experiences when under pressure.  Much has been written about the negative aspects of stress, but to achieve at the very highest levels in any endeavor in life humans must learn to cope with the internal and external situations associated with stress.   Runners are no different from anyone else who experience stress.  What’s different about runners is the specific type of stress that they experience.

Stress involves the demands placed on an individual and the responses to those demands. Furthermore, it is the response to challenge.  If the demands and challenges are overwhelming then the person will succumb to these processes and the “fight or flight” response will occur.  Fortunately this response will produce both physiological and psychological adjustments in the body to cope with the demands.   A normal response will bring about homeostasis, a return to balance in the body.

However, if the response becomes overwhelming then the body will continue to react to the stress by releasing more hormones (adrenalin and cortisol) that eventually will produce negative effects on the systems of the body, especially the immune system.  Furthermore these results could cause a reactivity period (the period in which the heart rate and cortisol levels stay elevated) for an extended period of time causing even more damage.

As mentioned earlier stress can be internal or external.  Usually external stress is relatively easy to detect because it has a source.  Identifying the cause provides a means to reduce or ameliorate the stressor.  Internally becomes a different story.  What goes through a person’s mind at the time he/she is experiencing stress is only known to that person.  Dwelling on the problem and amplifying it in a person’s mind’s eye can only lead to an increase in stress.  Due to this amplification and continued response the following physiological and psychological consequences may result:   feeling tired, sleep problems, tension, breathing problems, headache, sweating, tight muscles and a host of other psychological problems.

As far as a runner is concerned, stress is everywhere.  The act of running itself is stressful.  But along with running, the many different situations encountered by the runner place additional stress on him. Some of these situations are the training program, the weather, the competition, the questioning of self in a race, the defeats in a race and so much more.  These are problems that have a cause; however, according to the personality of the runner, it may be that the stress may implant itself in the brain of the runner so much so that it continues to fester without relief.

Such things as holding on to defeats and thinking about what happened in the previous race, thinking about what will happen in a future race, worrying about holding on to previous injuries that have healed and dwelling on failures in the past are just a few of the problems that could cause the runner to experience stress.  While these are just a few of the many scenarios that may plague the runner and cause further reactivity there is a need to remedy these situations and reduce stress.  The following are few suggestions for doing this and making the running experience more enjoyable.

  1. Attempt to develop a mindset of coping.  There will always be road blocks and problems ahead realizing this fact makes things easier to deal with.  The important point here is to accept bumps in the road and continue on staying positive throughout the problems encountered.
  2. Enjoy the gift of running. Appreciate the fact that every day is a new beginning that takes you on a journey that is new and different.  Leave your troubles behind and enjoy the moment.
  3. Focus on getting better. Forget your troubles and get lost in the run.
  4. Be confident in the fact that being fit is a part of your lifestyle and has been shown to withstand the stress of life.
  5. Use the run as a form of therapy. Take time in the run to create new thoughts that take you on a journey away from the daily grind of daily life.
  6. Realize that the run itself could inoculate you to reduce stress reactivity and may provide a faster recovery to a homeostatic state when experiencing stress.


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Fredrick is a retired emeritus professor from Frostburg State University in Frostburg, MD. He has taught in the department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University for the past 45 years and taught both undergraduate and graduate courses such as physiology of exercise, advanced physiology of exercise, nutrition, nutrition and weight control, health and fitness, motor learning and performance, psychology of human performance, psychology of physical activity, track and field skills, soccer, gymnastics, cross country skiing and more. He was a gymnast, soccer player, and track and field athlete, and participates in all distance races and triathlons.


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