Training Tips: Runner Burnout

by Karl Gruber
I always love to talk and write about the pure freedom of the act of running. Any time, anywhere, in any place, whenever the feeling moves you, you can lace up your running shoes and hit the streets or treadmill. It is a solo activity with meditative qualities and physical benefits beyond compare. 

Most of what I write here in this blog is geared toward the beginner or intermediate half and full marathon runner. This time around, however, I am speaking to the experienced distance runner, especially those who have been running for many years. 

This week’s topic is runner burnout. And anyone who has put in thousands, if not tens of thousands of miles running, has at least had a few brushes with “burnout.”

Even a veteran runner who struggles to get out the door to run and is a little “burnt around the edges” usually only has to go a mile or two before they remember exactly why they run – it’s fun! That being said, experienced runners faced with another run, especially in bad weather, will just kind of say, “Nope. Been there. Done that.” After all, we have tens of thousands of miles on our shoes and decades of training runs on our legs. 

I would be lying if I said that I have never suffered from runner burnout. Even in periods of burnout, I continue to run almost daily because I still maximally enjoy the physical and mental benefits running reaps upon my being. Here are some signs that tell me I’m experiencing runner burnout:
  • Not enjoying the process
  • Lack of motivation
  • Bored
  • Poor running performance
  • Sick and tired of the same running routine
  • Having a race as a goal no longer excites them
The hardest part about burnout is that you’ve cultivated a way of life – a lifestyle of running. You identify with the term, especially when someone asks what do you enjoy doing, and your automatic response is “I run.” In many ways, identifying as a runner causes problems because your mind and your mouth may be saying “I’m a runner,” but your heart is just not in it. 

If you are one of those runners who has started to feel burned out, here are some suggestions that will help you to regain that joyful, freeing feeling of being out on yet another daily run.
  • Change your routine, your clothes, your shoes – even your sports nutrition.
  • Change your training courses and venues. Finding a new place to run, especially in a beautiful place that presents some challenges like hills, can be a big help.
  • Change the terrain you run on. If you are a city runner who runs on asphalt and concrete all of the time, drive to a local park with trails. Most running trails offer special challenges and spectacular views to enjoy while you run.
  • Find a new group of running buddies. Having some new running mates can most definitely perk things up as you make new friends, share plenty of chit chat and perhaps even rekindle some of your competitive spirit.
  • Go on a “run-cation” – a vacation that’s built around a race – or a training camp in a distance locale. This not only gives you a new running goal but allows you to enjoy some relaxing and fun times after your run because you really are on a vacation, too.
  • Mix it up with different types of workouts and sports. You can still stay run-focused, but change it up by heading to the local pool for some laps. Buy a nice road or mountain bike, and go for a ride. Check out a local yoga class or two; yoga can increase your flexibility and concentration, thereby improving your running.
  • Finally, sit down with a piece of paper and write out all of the things you feel are causing you to feel burned out. Then make a list of all the things you really like about running, how it makes you feel and how you want your running to be. You may not be as fast as you once were, but that does not mean that you cannot set your sights on some new goals and running dreams.
The bottom line is this – don’t let runner burnout stop you dead in your tracks. You’ve go to keep running because the benefits to your entire life far outweigh any lack of motivation that stops you from lacing up your running shoes. I have to say that one of the best decisions I made when I first experienced a bit of burnout was simply going out for a run and just running for the sake of running. My mantra over the last few years has become, “I’m just running to run.” 

Another huge factor that keeps me out on the running trails day after day after day is gratitude. Yes, I truly am grateful for the fact that I have two healthy legs, a healthy body and the capability to perform the act of running. There have been many days when I have been out on my daily run and struggling to get through each mile – that is until I run past someone in a wheelchair. I suddenly perk up with gratitude and say to myself, “Thank you God for my ability to run!”

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