Battling Burnout in Your Running

One topic that doesn’t get talked about much in running circles is burnout.

No matter how much you love to run, the possibility exists that running will lose its luster for you at some point.

I know, because I’ve dealt with burnout as a runner in the past.

Signs and Symptoms of Burnout in Runners

What does burnout look like for us as runners?

For many runners, a lack of excitement about going for a run is a pretty sure sign of burnout.

Checking email and scrolling through Facebook. Playing Candy Crush. Looking at the news sites to find out what happened in the world while you were sleeping.

When a runner is fired up, all of these things can easily wait until after the run is finished.

But if you find yourself doing these things before getting your miles in, there is a good chance you might be on the verge of burnout.

Another sign of burnout is when running simply stops being fun.

For most of us, running is something we do because we enjoy it.

If running becomes a chore, if it becomes something you feel that you have to do instead of something that you want to do, then odds are you are dealing with a case of runner burnout.

How to Overcome Burnout and Make Running Fun Again

If you feel like you’re burned out, don’t fret.

It happens to almost every runner at one point or another, and if you recognize the signs and symptoms early, it won’t take you long to get out of your funk and get back to enjoying your runs again.

Here are a few suggestions that have helped myself and other runners I know and have worked with. These should help get you back on track with running after dealing with burnout.

Change Your Focus

If you’ve been focused on one big goal for the last year or more, it might be good for you to change your focus for a race or two before you dial back in on your bigger goal.

Maybe you’ve been trying to qualify for Boston. Or run a sub-2 hour half marathon. Or hit certain levels of Marathon Maniacs or Half Fanatics.

If you’re feeling burned out, try doing something different for a little change of pace.

Maybe train for an ultra or for something short and fast, like a 5k.

By doing something different, you give your running a breath a fresh air which can make a big difference in your mental outlook going forward.

Take a Little Break

You know that old saying that absence makes the heart grow fonder? It’s true.

Whenever running stops being fun for me, I simply stop doing it.

Sometimes it takes a week, sometimes it takes a month, but inevitably I start to really miss running and when I come back to the sport, all the symptoms of burnout are gone.

And don’t worry about your fitness while you’re taking a break. As long as you’re being active, your fitness won’t suffer much, if at all. Take your break from running as an opportunity to do a little more cross training, strength training, or yoga.

Staying active, even if you’re not running, will preserve most of your fitness gains and may even help shore up some weak links so that when you come back to running you’ll be better off physically than you were before you took the break.

Tackle a Group Project

Even though running can be an incredibly social sport, our goals tend to be individual.

Sometimes when a runner is dealing with burnout, the best thing you can do is join a “team” and experience the camaraderie and support inherent in that type of environment.

If there is an OCR event coming to a location near you, such as a Spartan Race or a Warrior Dash, put a team together with the goal of simply completing the challenge together.

Outside of the elites, those events may have an official clock but the finishing time is seldom the goal. Working together and supporting your team is much more important than the final time on the clock when you cross the finish line.

Another option would be participating in a team event, such as a Ragnar Relay.

Either way, being a part of a team can be a great way to help running “feel” different than usual, which is often enough to help you.

Don’t Wait to Act

In every case of runner burnout that I’ve seen, both in myself and in the athletes I work with, the sooner that action is taken to counteract the burnout, the easier and faster it is to overcome.

Unless you’re in the homestretch of training for a big race, the best thing you can do when you feel like you might be getting burned out is to take action right away.

Whether you take a break, shift your focus, or join a team, the sooner you take action, the more likely you’ll be to get back on track and enjoying your runs again in no time.

By Denny Krahe

Denny Krahe is a Certified Athletic Trainer and Running Coach specializing in helping runners prevent common running injuries and being able to run pain free. He is also the host of the "Diz Runs With..." podcast.