Avoiding seasonal running burnout

Avoiding running burnout MasteringRunning.com

Whether you are a serious runner, training for a goal race, or you are a total newbie, just trying to stay the course, running consumes a lot of your time and your mental and physical energy.

As I look over my TrainingPeak records, I see I've recently put in an average of 8 hours of workout time per week (running, yoga, strength). I've put in way more when I am runner higher mileage and am about to peak for a marathon, which I am about to do. Spending 8-10 or more hours a week running and training is like putting in another work shift. This does not include:

  • Commuting time – the time it takes to drive to the trail or walk to the gym
  • Post-run stretches - I try to take 10-15 minutes after each run to stretch
  • Additional body work: stretches, foam rolling, massages,  stick rolling, etc 
  • Time spent thinking and reading (and in my case, writing) about running.

Running is supposed to be fun, not work - although you can't get around the fact that to improve, you do need to put in the time and push yourself on the workouts that count – long runs, speed work, hills and intervals.

Ideally, you want to enter a goal race at your peak fitness and "hungry." Not too tired, primed enough to perform well and excited to race. Most coaches prefer that you enter a race slightly undertrained. I have a hard time with self monitoring since I'm type A and find it easier to do more rather than less. Some people are the opposite. But I am learning, especially after experiencing a DNF due to overtraining last fall.


So how do you stay fresh and avoid burning out while training for your goal race? Here are a few ideas:

  • Take a day or two off. Even though it may seem counterintuitive, sometimes when you are physically and mentally burned out, a little rest is just what you need to get energized for another training push. Here's an analogy from everyday life. I can think of days when I felt overwhelmed by my to-do list but felt too tired to muster up enough energy to cross off a single task. All my body wanted to do was to take a nap. Nap, when there are 20 chores to cross off my list? Yes. It's amazing how a 20-30 minute power nap can revitalize you. Apply this same concept to a day or two off from running. If you have been training consistently, it's not going to hurt you and will likely give your body and brain the recharge they need. This is a case of "do as I say. not as I do." I have a very difficult time taking off or cutting back although I know intellectually it is wise. If you are Type A, think of it this way: sometimes, it takes more discipline to hold back than to overdo it. 
  • Take a week of just running. If you keep pumping air into a balloon, it will eventually explode. We only have so much capacity for training. Sometimes, in the middle of a 12 - 16 week training cycle, things can get pretty intense. When you feel stressed out or exhausted because of too much running or intensity and you feel like you might explode, it's time to back off and find balance. Try a week of "just running." Keep up your mileage, but just run – at whatever pace you feel like. Take notice of how you feel. Try leaving the watch at home a few days. Run for fun.
  • Mix things up. I basically run the same route every day, except for long runs, when I need to tack on more mileage, or hills or track work when different terrain is required. Running the same route is good in that it's a no brainer. You know the mile markers. You know every twist and turn on the road. But sometimes you just need a change. My teammates and I spoke about this once during a group run. "If I have to run Kelly Drive one more time, I think I'll scream," said one speedy teammate. And she's only been in Philadelphia a few years.

Mix up your route if you can. It helps you stay fresh and gives you a different view to enjoy. It also can also give your body a different stimulus. If you always run the flats, for example, run a hilly route. Even running loops can be fun. A few weeks back, it was ungodly hot during my long run, and I found the mile loop at Penn Park at the University of Pennsylvania felt about 10 degrees cooler, so I ran 5 laps. I enjoyed the repetition and the views of the skyline on each repeat. You can also drive to a trail or running route that you've never tried before. It may be worth the time.

On the same note, try changing up other aspects of your running. If you always run solo, for example, run with a friend or a group. You'd be surprised at how quickly and painlessly the miles go by. If you always run with a group, go for some meditative solo miles. If you always run without music, try listening to some tunes or a podcast. If you always listen to music, try unplugging. 

  • Watch a running movie. You can't watch the Spirit of the Marathon and not want to run. Looking at running through someone else's eyes can be a powerful motivator and remind you of why you lace up. Watch Patriot Day, Chariots of Fire, Beer Runners. There are plenty of great movies out there.