Beating Runner Burnout

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Having completed nine marathons and countless half marathons since I took up distance running eight years ago, there are more than a few things I had to learn for myself along the way. If I could go back in time I would warn myself about how to prevent IT Band Syndrome, sports bra chafing, weight gain (yes, gain!), and blisters from improperly fitting shoes. While these maladies were no picnics in the park, they didn’t hold a candle to experiencing runner burnout.

Runner burnout is a very real, very painful thing that affects both the physical body and the mental state. At the onset of a training period you could feel like you’re on top of your running game, only to line up at the start line with serious concerns that the letters “DNF” might show up on your race results page.

Signs of burnout are vast, but typically include:

  • Fatigue that you can’t recover from

  • An inability to complete workouts

  • An inability to maintain paces you’ve previously hit

  • An elevated heart rate

  • Insomnia

  • Foggy brain

  • Lack of motivation or desire to run

  • Race anxiety (beyond the typical nerves)

  • Weight loss or poor appetite

Sometimes runner burnout is the result of a medical condition such as anemia. But other times it is a culmination of our decisions as runners. Tuning into your mind and your body and becoming acutely aware of the signs of burnout will save you weeks, months, and maybe even years of running misery.

Here are a few tricks to beating runner burnout

  1. Choose your races wisely. At some point almost all runners catch the fever for the flavor of a PR. We want that next great time, that next great race. So instead of signing up for one of two key races each year where we may or may not PR, we think it would be even better to sign up for as many as our schedule allows to improve our chances. To perform at our best and ensure we don’t over stress our minds and our bodies, we need to know when to pull back and stop pushing. By choosing certain races to really focus in on and identifying those that are just for fun, you will save yourself a lot of pain in the long run (pun intended).

  2. Switch up your scenery. The mind is a funny thing. We might have our favorite path to run for various reasons - terrain, availability of public restrooms, shade during hot days and sunny days, etc. Yet our brains get super bored of the same ole same ole. Make sure you’re switching up your route when you can. It won’t only keep your brain happy but it will also help your body become more capable of dealing with change.

  3. Overestimate the importance of recovery. I have yet to meet a client who has stretched too much, refueled too well, scheduled too many massages, took too much time to enjoy their accomplishments… Believe me, your recovery is far more important than the seconds you shaved off of your last long run. So set aside a good amount of time each and every day of the week to ensure you are treating your body the way it deserves to be treated. After all, it is carrying you miles and miles down the road - you can at least carry it as far as the bath tub for a salt soak.

  4. Be flexible with your goals. While it’s important to be flexible both literally and figuratively, it is the latter in which I am referring to here. Life happens. A lot! A year ago my dad was recovering from surgery to remove cancer from his brain. My sister was slipping into final stage kidney disease, I was in the second year of running my own business, our dog had just passed away from cancer, and I was coming back from a bout of anemia. So yah, it seems like the right time to set my sights on a Boston qualifying time that would require a 15 minute PR, right? Yikes. Understand that the stress you are putting on your body goes far beyond running. Most of us are adults with very adult things happening in our lives. Be flexible with your goals and when things get tough, use your runs to decompress not add undo stress.

If you liked this blog, here are some additional insights from Coach Karen...

Karen Berenson