Have you heard the term Runner Burnout? I always thought it was just a catch phrase, like ” a case of the Monday’s” I never knew it was real. I never thought it would happen to me. And I never expected it to be so painful….
So the short answer to this blog title is do it anyway. And this is pertaining to exercise specifically. I’m not sure if this will apply to all areas of life, generally speaking. But the reason I say this is for many reason’s, here are a few off the top of my head:
- Nothing worth having is easy.
- If it was easy, everybody would do it.
- The exercises you hate the most, are the ones you need the most.
- You’re only one workout away from a good mood.
But guess what, that doesn’t always work. There is a big difference between “knowing and doing” and that is why I picked this as a blog topic today.
Runner Burnout – Here is the Situation
I am 10 days out from the Boston Marathon. In my book, this is a big deal! I ran my first marathon over 10 years ago at 4:45. When I originally started running, I never thought running sub 3:40 was even a physical possibility (I’m corralled based on my Chicago 2011 time of 3:29 pictured below). I was supposed to run last year, but was locked up in a boot on my right foot from an overuse injury. I cried for weeks over missing the marathon last year. And for months over not being able to run at all. Then when I could run again, I cried because I was so happy to have my able feet back. For these reasons alone, you’d think I’d be waiting to jump into my Newtons for a training run like a dog waiting for his owner to put on the leash.
But I wasn’t. At all. In fact, I didn’t want to do much of any of it.
Thinking about getting up at 5:30 to do intervals made me want to go back to bed. Thinking about stopping mid-day to go on a tempo run, made me want to stare longer at the computer. I just didn’t want to do it. I felt a little grouchy, guilty and pathetic all at the same time. With this state of mind, I was running terribly. My long runs were getting slower, and my fast runs felt harder.
Is this really runner burnout? And how could this happen to me?
I’m writing this blog in past tense, because I’m in taper now. I made it through the rough stuff. And now it’s like releasing the sails on a boat and just going with the wind. I’ll get more out of the next 10 days letting my legs and mind recover, than trying to cram in any more dreadful training. But it was such a process, that I’m sure many can relate to.
I learned a lot, and when I learn, I feel compelled to share, This is what I Learned:
I had a theory…I’d heard the term Runner Burnout for years, but never really understood it. So, thank goodness for my trusty friend Google, I learned some pretty interesting information. “Burnout is basically becoming exhausted as a result of making unrealistic, excessive demands on your energy or resources. Burnout is a condition that has physical, emotional, and psychological aspects. Burnout is real and it leads to fatigue, loss of motivation, depression, and even anger.”
H*$%y S*&#t — I had a real case of something real! It felt validating to know I wasn’t off course here and that it was normal for avid runners suck sometimes. Yay. But now what? I wanted to love running again. Not because it’s good for my health, not because it keeps me skinny, but because I miss the enjoyment of something I once loved.
How do I fall back in love with running?
Below are some common recommendations:
- Lower/re-prioritize your expectations
- Say no to some stuff
- Don’t run, cross train
- Take a complete break, spend time with friends and family
- Focus on the process of running, not the product
- Focus on the enjoyment of running, not the performance
“When feeling the effects of burnout, don’t be hard on yourself mentally. That’s a contributing factor to burnout in the first place. Treat yourself like you would treat your best friend. Burnout is not a sign of weakness. Humans are not machines and all runners go through periods of ups and downs. Having feelings of guilt will only make the burnout last longer. There is a fine line between being dedicated and running yourself into the ground. The pressure of meeting high performance goals can wear on you mentally. Back away from the racing for a while and just run for pure enjoyment. Burnout is not unusual for motivated people. Be good to yourself and be patient and you will be back to your old running self, maybe even better!”
This all made so much sense to me. I was in full burnt out. But with the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013–it was a ticking time bomb compressing my issues and frustration. This was turning my running into an “obligation” not a release. I think it’s human nature to resent obligations, and I was really resenting running. I wanted to take a break, but I couldn’t. I had to get the miles in or the 26.2 on a course I’ve been looking forward to for over 10 years would hurt really bad.
Runner Burnout — getting through the unavoidable tough stuff:
Knowing that taking a break completely wasn’t an option, but with the situation, I had to figure something out. I really didn’t have a choice. I was running poorly, and not hitting training paces is the best way to ruin a good day in my book. So I worked with #1 first. What was reasonable? How much could I cut? How much could I sub out for cross training? I took out a lot of the interval work. Actually, I removed it from my mind at the start of every run, just to get myself out the door. Then 2 miles in, if I felt ok I’d go for it. And that worked most of the time. If I had no speed/stamina, I just went for a race pace run.
#5 helped a lot as well. Eliminating those 8×400 and 4×800’s on certain days was a great relief. Simply focusing on one foot in front of the other. My breathing. The mechanics of my ankles, hips, arms and lack of pain allowed me to focus on what was working and forgive myself for not being able to muster up the strength to run harder.
#6 was the real kicker. I went back to this time last year and remembered a specific day I cried in my car when a song came on that I loved running to and I knew I couldn’t. I put my focus back on gratitude. One morning I ran by a gentleman in a wheelchair down by the bay who had no legs. That really made me feel like an ass. Gratitude is huge. Who am I to take my legs for granted and resent the fact that I’m able to run a marathon at all?
So I got in all the miles. I didn’t enjoy every one of them, and it wasn’t a glorious experience, but I made it through.
I did the work.
Runner Burnout Recovery: This is what I Plan to Do:
I don’t have a real goal pace in mind. I don’t really know what to expect. But my race day mantras will have more to do with “the process” and not the “product.”
- I will enjoy the trip.
- I will enjoy the experience.
- I will remember how grateful I am for this opportunity.
- I will not expect an unrealistic finish time.
- I will not be angry with myself about my time.
When I come home on April 16, my BFF for the past 12 months (Garmin 310XT) is going in my sock drawer. Not to be seen for at least 60 days. I’m going to buy a $10 Timex that starts and stops and just go for a few runs a week for 45-60 minutes. I’m looking forward to a lighter load and the opportunity to play with some new exercises. Hopefully the experts are correct (as I suspect they are) and that I’ll come back in July even stronger.
Have you ever had burnout? What helped get your through? I’d love to hear your story…
pst: here is the link to an original article from Richard Ferguson that I quoted so much above. If you have burnout, it’s worth a read through in its entirety. I found it to be very helpful!