I’m about half way through my current marathon training cycle, and for anyone who has been to this point before, you know this is typically when the effects of training are starting to sink in. I’m constantly hungry, tired and a little snippy with those around me.
Having been here many times before (11 to be exact), I am able to recognize these as normal for the most part. But when it all gets to be a bit much and starts to negatively effective my daily life, it’s a sign of burn out.
This past Saturday, I had 14 on my schedule. It was a cut back week but for some reason, it felt like I had run twice as many miles as usual. To say I was tired is a huge understatement. When my alarm went off at 4am for me to go meet my group, it took every ounce of strength and will power to drag myself out of bed and make it happen. After uttering several curse words and chocking back tears of pure exhaustion, I laced up and headed out to meet my run squad.
My legs felt like they had been filled with concrete, and my heart and lungs felt as if were the first time I had ever ran. I felt like I was running at least 2 minute faster than race pace but in actuality, was running over 2 minutes slower! I spent the next several miles wondering if the flu was finally making its way to me (my sons had it a few weeks ago). But with no other symptoms other than fatigue, I realized I was just really freaking tired.
I needed sleep and I needed it BAD. And if I didn’t get some soon, I was heading for a dark, dark place.
So, the following Monday, when the alarm clock went off at zero dark thirty, I was like, “nope not happening today, I’m getting that sleep I NEED!” Yes, I definitely felt a little guilty about hitting the snooze button and putting things off until later. But my body was begging for some extra zzz’s and I am beyond grateful I gave it what it needed it that day.
I was fortunate enough to be able to do my workout later that day and catch up on some work. More importantly, I felt all around better, healthier and happier for it.
I am by no means advocating you skip your workout and sleep in every time you’re tired. That would be about every day for me lol, so most days I suck it up and make it happen.
But every once in a while our bodies just need that little extra to help us from total burn out. Here are a few ways you can avoid total burn out with some occasional extra rest and tweaks to your programming…
As important as it is to be regimented with your training, it is also super helpful at times to be willing to shuffle things around. Putting off a workout until the afternoon or evening so you can sleep in, swapping a tough workout for some recovery miles when you’re feeling run down, or even skipping a workout all together may be exactly what your body, and mind, need when facing burn out. Of course if you are working with a coach, be sure to discuss any changes to your schedule with them.
If and when you do push off, swap or even skip a workout, do not beat yourself up over it. Remember training is cumulative. Missing one workout once in a blue moon will not ruin all that you have done to that point, and what you still have ahead. But continually “pushing through” when your body needs one little break could have some potentially dangerous effects on your training and eventually your performance.
Think Big Picture
The impact of burn out not only derails our training and performance, but also can have an negative effects on our daily lives.
If you’re finding yourself extra irritable around your family, friends and coworkers and/or your finding your daily tasking just absolutely daunting (like unloading the dishwasher requires a nap), then it’s probably time to make some tweaks to your training to avoid it spiraling to an even bigger issue.
Plan WELL Ahead
When I returned to running after back to back pregnancies, I made a lot of progress in a short period of time. Though this was an exciting and confidence boosting time, it also led me to push it so hard every time I ran and want to PR every race. I became so “greedy” with my goals that I found myself jumping in every local race I could! From 5k’s to half marathons (and even some fulls), I was running full steam ahead with little to no plan on how to run that many races back practically every other weekend. This of course lead not just to burn out, but also disappointment when I started coming up short in my goals because of it.
I have since learned from that and now do a much better job of planning ahead. Towards the end of each year, I take a look at the races I would like to do the following year to 18 months. I commit to racing ONLY these particular races and when something very inciting comes up (oh hello there FOMO), I am sure to factor it into my training as a either a tune up race or training miles, or just something I just need to skip not to avoid over training.
Mix It Up
If all you ever do is run, you may be setting yourself up not just for physical but also mental fatigue from the repetition of our sport.
Distance runners running several days per week (especially those of us with busy families and/or jobs), can find it difficult to do anything but run. But cross training as well as strength and conditioning are great ways to not only prevent injury, but also break up the monotony of running, and therefore should be added to your training regimen. Some simple, and not so time consuming ways to do so include using an easy or recovery day to add in swimming or biking, adding 2-3 30min strength and conditioning sessions per week, or attending a weekly yoga class.
Wait, didn’t she just say to pull back or even skip days to avoid burn out, now she’s saying to do more?
Keep in mind, the better you are at cross training, staying on top of strength and mobility, as well as soft tissue (rolling, stretching, massage), the least likely you are to get burnt out, or worse injured! So be sure to methodically incorporate cross and strength training into your programming.
Think Long Term
Some times, despite our best efforts, we still can’t help but get so caught up in our current goals that we ignore our bodies and the potential long standing negative effects over training can have on them. Unfortunately, it sometimes ends up being a little too late for us to realize that.
A few years ago, I was training (read: over training) for a big goal race. I was so focused on executing each and every workout according to plan, regardless of the fact I was not just burning myself out but worse, hurt. I just kept pushing in this relentless pursuit of my goal that before I knew it, I was completely sidelined by an injury!
The good news was that it only required about a month of treatment and off from running. The not so good news was I wasn’t able to reach my goal. And even though I healed, it is still something I have to be VERY diligent about to this day. Commonly, once an area becomes injured, we are more susceptible to re-injury, and it can also cause imbalances in other areas because of it.
I certainly do not go right to the dark side any and every time myself or any of my athletes feel the slightest twinge of discomfort. But with that being said, I am more in tune with and honor my body much more these days and preach the same to the athletes I work with.
Give Yourself Some Grace
Last but not least, it’s normal to feel a little run down from time to time. You’re running dozens of miles per week and some times up to 20 or more in one day! You’re bound to feel the effects of training at one point or another, especially if you’re pursuing big goal.
Moderate fatigue from early morning workouts, a little “hanger” from increasing mileage, and some occasional irritability because of the stress of training are all normal and part of the journey. But when these things have such an impact on your daily lives that it’s difficult to function, it may be a good time to take a quick little breather and evaluate what’s the best way to proceed.