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Advice,Be Skinny,Fitness,Lifestyle,Running,Think Healthy

Runner Burnout: What to do when you just don’t want to do it

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:

  1. Lower/re-prioritize your expectations
  2. Say no to some stuff
  3. Don’t run, cross train
  4. Take a complete break, spend time with friends and family
  5. Focus on the process of running, not the product
  6. 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…

Cheers!

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!

Chicago Finish 2011

24 Comments

  • heidi

    So happy to read this! Im running my first half marathon this saturday 4/6 and i’m already sick of me and sick of training. i’m so burned out. I also run my own senior dog rescue and i have a few right now that are needing some extra TLC. im feeling pulled in different directions. once this half is over i’ll take a week off from running and thinking and just relax. I have a fun run, Bay to Breakers coming up in May, that i dont have to be serious about. really looking forward to that!

    thanks for the great suggestions!

    • Teresa

      Hi Heidi – thank you for your nice comment! I hope your half was wonderful this weekend and now you can put all your love and attention to your lucky dogs 🙂 I’m ready to be done as well, and really looking forward to getting back to the “fun” part of running. Keep in touch and cheers!

  • Maddie

    Thanks this kind of helped me with my situation. This is my senior year running cross country at school, and I’ve been doing it for all four years of high school. Pretty much long story short, I was supposed to be really good this year but now I suck and my times are nowhere near where they should be. I was hoping to run a 5K in the 21:00’s or 22:00’s and now I am lucky if my times are in the low 26:00’s. I don’t know why but I always feel really tired and I rarely feel like running, and I just feel like I need a couple weeks off to take a break from running but I can’t because I have to go to practice everyday and I can’t just not show up to practice. I think part of the reason why I am tired is because I started working at a restaurant where I am on my feet a lot and I work late hours so I don’t get a lot of sleep some nights. But I feel like it shouldn’t affect me this much because I only work 2-3 days a week. It’s just really frustrating to see my teammates improve and get great times, when I am not improving at all even though I work just as hard as they do, if not harder. I’m trying to keep my head up and just enjoy my last year running cross country in high school and be thankful that I can run, but sometimes it is really hard to do that. I feel like I’m trapped in this out of shape body that isn’t mine sometimes.

    • Teresa

      Hi Maddie – I can’t tell you how much I relate to your note. Especially where you say “I feel like I’m trapped in this out of shape body that isn’t mine sometimes.” I’ve been there on the upswing and down before. Wondered how I got so fast, and where it all went. But you sound so young and strong. I imagine the time on your feet at your new job is tiring, in a way thats hard to compute. And watching others excel, while you’re so happy for them, is frustrating at the same time. I can tell you that focusing on the mechanics and gratitude of running has helped me the most. I’ve struggled with injuries since this post, so my speed isn’t back. But I will always be a runner. And you will too. I have no doubt that you will figure this out and be back in your game soon! Don’t rush it, enjoy your time with your teammates now and know that you have have plenty of time to break records in the future 🙂

  • Christine at We Run Disney

    Just found your post. I’m really struggling in my current marathon training cycle and trying to kick my mental funk! Definitely planning to read Richard’s article next. Thanks!

  • Alicia

    Thanks for this post, I’m in the vortex too. My marathon is Sept 27. The past two weeks I’ve really slacked off. It’s maddening. I got to a point where every workout my legs were stiff, every recovery run felt like torture, dreaded the 20 milers, and I missed my last 20 miler. Spent the weekend basically sleeping. No one I’m training with seems to be experiencing it. I look longingly at my bike, sitting there patiently waiting for me to get the tri bug again. So glad it’s not just me.

    • teresamarierun

      Oh Alicia – can feel your pain through your comment! Burnout just sucks — and it’s really tough to fight through. Best to listen to your body and readjust expectations if necessary. Sometimes realizing that you’re really the only one impacted by your decisions can help take the pressure off too. It’s a totally normal part of training 🙂 You’ll come back stronger at some point for sure – and please keep me posted on how your race goes in just a few weeks! I hope you are enjoying taper!

  • Susan St John

    I’m week 14 into an 18 week half marathon training program. This last week has been brutal. I over did my last long run and then continued to go go go all that day. Now I”m paying the price. Thank you for the article. I don’t feel like this is fun anymore, it’s more like a job. I need to put the fun back in. I’m grateful to read others before me have been in the same spot and felt the same way. I’ll continue training with the suggestions above.

  • Sarah

    Came across your article while I was looking for info on runners experiencing burnout. I’m feeling it hard! When I first started running I HATED going a day without running. Now I have NO desire. I blame it partially on training for Boston this year (in Boston, so in 5 feet of snow and ice) and now turning around and training for NYC. It’s a lot! I’m considering deferring a year. Though I used to be overly compulsive about it, I wish I at least had a little desire!

    • Eat Drink&Be Skinny (@SkinnyTinis)

      Oh Sarah, I know exactly how you feel! I can tell you that it does pass, but it’s almost like an injury in itself. And now, nearly 2 years after this post I’m as fired up as I’ve ever been and I have multiple races lined up. One of my good friends asked me the other day, “are you worried about getting injured” and I replied, “no, I’m worried about burnout” and that’s when I made the connection. But following these tips will help get you there. And honestly, deferring NYC if you can is not a terrible idea. It’s too wonderful of a race to run and not be super excited about it. Trust me, I speak from experience on that one too 😉 But you also have plenty of time to make the call…so take it in stride, quite literally, one step, mile, run and day at a time and see where your runner heart takes you 🙂 Keep me posted! Cheers!

  • Linda

    I am right there!!!! A broken ankle at this time last year followed by broken ankle and foot this past March really discouraged me . I completed my spartan Trifecta goal in October and November but it was no fun. I said I was finished. Now I just can’t force myself to run. I am stopping training and taking classes at gym instead. That sparked some interest. Going to just run for fun. We will see.

    • Teresa

      Oh Linda — I know how you feel. Sometimes you just have to hang up the shoes by their laces and let the magic come back. There are so many other engaging exercises that if you don’t really LOVE or want to run, it’s hard for it to feel worth it. But the good news it, your runner spirit is bound to return some day 😉 Just be patient with yourself. Happy New year!

  • Anj

    I’m glad I found this. I have been in a funk since I accomplished a big goal last year (I ran across the state on a trail/road system.) After that, I felt done with running. I started training for a marathon last October, had an injury, re-started in January, and have been slow and crummy-minded ever since. Rare is the day when I feel good about my upcoming April (hilly! Why?) marathon. But, I know it’s temporary. I also promised myself time off afterwards, and to get back on my bike again (it misses me.)

    • Teresa

      Hi Anj! Trust me, I know how you feel. And several years after writing this post I’ve come to learn even more. Now I just see running almost as another person (relationship) in my life. Sometimes we’re getting along and madly in love, sometimes we need some distance. I just plan races around that love affair now 😉 Running really is 90% mental and only 10% physical. It’s so difficult to stay the course when you’re mentally exhausted. Congrats on your amazing running accomplishments! that is so much to be proud of! After you spend more time on your lonely bike, your shoes will start to miss you again too. It’s just a matter of giving each other space — lol. Happy Trails and good luck in your April race!

  • Michelle

    Thank you for your article. I ran my first marathon in October of 2015 & a half marathon just this February 2016. After that I have been feeling burnt out lately, I want to keep running but I have no goals right now…and not sure what is next. I loved running but it feels like a chore now. Hopefully with your advice (noted in your article) I can get back on track.

    • Teresa

      If no serious race is on the line and running feels like a chore, then it’s the perfect time for cross training! And like most things in life that are really important, your passion will come back and you’ll be super exited to lace up again! Keep me posted on your progress Michelle!

  • Ben

    I’m just starting summer training for senior high cross country (9th grader) and I just feel flat and disinterested compared to my 8th grade track season. What do I do?

  • Heather de Castro

    Your article here really helped me with some of the mental aspect of my burnout. I’ve been running 80-100mpw for about 2 years now (12-17 per day). Last Saturday, at 1.5 miles in, I just said ,”I don’t want to do this anymore.”, & went home. I haven’t run now for 3 days. My question to you is did you gain weight when not running? How did you compensate on your food intake? I want the break from running SO BAD, but do not want to feel my pants get tighter and tighter. I may lighten my load and just do 7 miles tomorrow. Thanks for your comradery in this difficult time.

  • John Alves

    John in Wisconsin. I haven’t ran in almost 2 years. Now I want to start over. I had a terrible case of burnout. I started running in my late 40’s lost 50 lbs and bq,d in my first marathon after only running 16 months.
    After running for 5 years and loving it I ran 2 marathons in one year, I think that’s what did it. I thought I would take a short break from running and the next thing you know it’s two years and almost all of the 50 lbs is back. Reading your blog makes me want to get out and run. Wish me luck

  • Rebecca Shoemaker

    Hey there, so happy I found this post. Experiencing a bad case of burnout while training for a 50 miler. I have almost exactly 2 months to my race and every single step of my run this morning all I could think was, “what’s the point?”. I am pretty sure I am going to hang it up after this 50 miler is done. Maybe before.

    • Teresa

      I hear you 110% — it comes and it goes. I ran for years after this post and then took 2 years off. I just started up again 🙂 I hope your race goes (went?) well and you find joy in whatever fitness you choose moving forward!

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