This year I’m making an effort to try new distances, new events, and new races that I haven’t done in the past.
I’m a type A personality and don’t usually have much of a problem getting out and exercising but that competitive and ambitious personality can also sometimes drive me over the edge. I’ll take on too much, or try to do one more mile, or one more workout, and end up running myself into the ground.
For a long time, I would keep checking off the workouts because it was on my list of things to do. Even if it felt like a slog. Even if I knew a day off would be more beneficial. Recently, I’ve tried to pay more attention to rest and recovery. Often we think of those things as part of preparing for the next workout but they also play a key part in developing a long-term love of running.
It’s not all about getting proper rest, here are 6 more strategies you can use to help avoid a running burnout.
1. Set exciting goals
If you’re not getting motivated to compete or if training always feels like a slog then maybe you need to look back at your goals.
Last year I set a goal to swim 50 cumulative miles throughout the year. I stalled out at the halfway point. It was just no fun going to the pool. It wasn’t necessarily physically hard, but mentally it was a grind. It was no fun. On the other hand, I also set a goal to run a sub-40 minute 10k. That was physically and mentally challenging for the whole training cycle but I never wavered or second-guessed my goal.
Your goals should be something that fires you up to train and eventually celebrate as an accomplishment not just something to endure and complete. It should be fun and joyful.
2. Think long term
Taking a day off is not the end of the world. It’s not going to ruin your fitness. It might be just what you need to refresh and recalibrate. Being a life-long runner is not about doing it everyday (unless that’s your goal!) or doing it when it’s felt like a grind for a solid week.
Yes, there will be tough days where you don’t want to get out there but if you still feel that way after 15 minutes or the first mile and you’ve felt that way for awhile perhaps it’s best to back off and re-charge.
I’ve found I’m at my best when I break up training cycles into 12-16 week block. Anything longer and I start to wear down. No one can train 52 straight weeks without repercussions. Steady consistent training involves rest and recovery.
3. Invest in a coach or a plan
Not sure what your personal threshold might be? If you have a serious goal or are attempting something where you have little prior experience it always pays off to get a coach. A coach is going to pay off in both the short and long term. You don’t need to stress about what workouts to do each day. Nor do you have to stress out if it’s okay to take a day off or adjust the training. It’s all in the plan.
Note, that doesn’t mean you have to follow the plan like a religion. It’s doubtful that running is your full-time profession. It’s okay to be flexible and adapt the plan to your life.
4. You can’t always go hard
This is one of the big dangers for amateur athletes (or Type A personalities) everywhere. Without a plan or a coach, every day becomes a chance to go hard and set a PR on that Strava segment in your neighborhood.
Going all out, or even near all out, is a recipe for injury, burnout and more. Not giving your body time to adapt or build up your aerobic fitness will eventually erode your overall fitness. You need to have easy days mixed in with hard days.
Amateur athletes often go too hard on easy days and too easy on hard days. They get stuck in the gray middle, quickly plateauing.
5. Vary your training
Just because you are looking for a BQ or a new 5k PR doesn’t mean you only have to do long runs or speed work. One good way to mix up your training is to vary it. That could mean changing up the distance, the pace, or even the terrain.
It could also mean mixing in different types of workouts entirely. Biking, swimming, and strength work will all help you as a runner as well as a becoming a better all around athlete.
Not all your training needs to be race-specific. Doing all your training just for that one race can leave you feeling worn out and depleted when you arrive at the start. A little variety can be a big complement to any training plan.
6. Find a group
Finally, find a group. A running group can bring a whole range of benefits. It can be social, it can hold you accountable, it can make things fun. A group can be a great support network when things aren’t going well or you need help. Running is a solitary sport but that doesn’t mean you always have to do it alone.
If you want to be a lifelong runner just having a love of running and competing is not enough. You need to be aware of falling into the burnout trap. A key tool in that fight is finding ways to keep your training fresh, funky, and fun. That might mean skipping a day now and then. Or it might mean doing some crazy race you never thought possible. Running should lift you up, not burn you out.