Ever have those days where running just doesn’t feel fun anymore? I know I do. My running motivation varies throughout the year, as I often find it dipping during the winter or times when I have no upcoming race goal. But if it feels like you’ve been in a running rut for weeks, even months on end, something else may be to blame: running burnout.
Related: Running Inspiration When You Need it Most
The term “burnout” is a frequently used term. It is used to describe feelings of low motivation for activities that are now making you feel tired, unfocused, or unhappy. Burnout is frequently used to describe feelings about a job, hobby, sport, relationship, and so much more. Running burnout is no different. The more often you complete an activity, the more likely you are to eventually feel burned out by it.
As runners, accepting the fact that we are burnt out is often very challenging. We pride ourselves in the ability to maintain our running hobby even when life gets crazy.
Considering ourselves a “runner” sometimes feels like a defining term that will be taken away if we are not actively running. This is probably why so many runners power through feelings of burnout, often worsening the condition.
Related: 7 Ways to Get Your Running Groove Back
If you have been feeling tired, sluggish, unproductive or unhappy with your running lately, you may be overtraining. Overtraining is one of the main reasons runners wind up struggling with burnout.
Here is a handy guide to help you through some signs of running burnout, and offer some advice on how to recover. Acknowledging and accepting the fact that you are feeling burnt out is the first step. Understanding that fighting through this runner burnout might cause more harm is the second.
If you’re unsure as to why you’ve lost your running excitement, you could just be feeling burned out. Here are 4 main signs to look for, and what you can do to avoid experiencing running burnout all together.
4 Signs of Running Burnout – and How to Recover
Running Burnout: Sign #1
You’ve lost your running motivation.
This is a big red flag! If you suddenly lose your running motivation but have no idea why, running burnout might be the cause. There are many times throughout life where running motivation might slip; maybe you’re really busy at work, it’s the dead of winter, or you have no training goals. But if you’ve lost your running motivation and can’t quite figure out why, you’re likely experiencing burnout.
How to Recover:
Mix things ups. Acknowledge the fact that you are experiencing runner burnout and understand that in order to recover, something needs to change. Feeling unmotivated to run? Swap your weekly miles out for cross training or outdoor sports.
Feeling purposeless? Sign up for a local race to give yourself a goal. Go for a walk instead of a run. Take some time to pinpoint the cause of your feelings, and make the changes necessary to give yourself a break. You’d be surprised what just a simple change can do for your mind and body.
Running Burnout: Sign #2
You feel tired and sluggish on every run.
Oftentimes runners assume that they are being lazy when they find themselves feeling tired, but it’s usually a sign of something bigger. While there may be a few runs when you feel abnormally tired or sluggish, if this feeling repeats itself for multiple runs in a row, you may have a problem. Overtraining often leads to feeling abnormally tired throughout the day, as well as on your runs, and is one of the biggest signs of burnout.
How to Recover:
Take a break. You’re likely experiencing these feelings because you’ve been overtraining. Understand that these feelings of sluggishness are not due to laziness, and that if something doesn’t change they will likely lead to injury.
Take a break from your regular running routine. Skip a full week of runs and allow your body to recover. Give yourself some time to rest without feeling guilty. It’s likely that after a week or two of no running your body will be itching to get moving again.
Related: Should You Skip a Run? Here’s What You Need to Know
Running Burnout: Sign #3
You’re running progress has plateaued.
There’s nothing more frustrating than putting more work in than ever before, only to discover that your progress is stagnant. Sometimes progress plateaus because you’ve been giving it too much effort. Your body is simply too burned out to continue. If you find that you are no longer improving, whether it’s your splits, distances, or overall feeling on the run, you are probably experiencing runner burnout.
How to Recover:
A plateau in progress tells us that something is not working. Your body is no longer responding to the type of training you’ve been completing. Take a step back and evaluate the changes you’ve made and how your progress relates. If you increased your mileage and found that your progress began to decline, scale it back. If you ramped up your tempo runs and found that you couldn’t get any faster, try a different speed workout (maybe intervals or hill workouts).
Related: How to Break Through a Running Plateau
Running Burnout: Sign #4
You feel sore or achy all the time.
Ever get those phantom pains? I know I always seem to get them the week before a race. But if you’re experiencing random aches and pains that never go away, you are probably suffering from running burnout. If you are still sore for days after taking a rest day, it’s a sign that your body has not yet recovered.
How to Recover:
Don’t push it – this is the most dangerous type of running burnout! Feeling sore or achy for longer than usual means that your body is not recovering. Take time off from running until the aches and pains go away. When you begin running again, ease back in very cautiously.
Start out slowly, and gradually increase your mileage over a few weeks. If the sore or achy feelings return, cut your mileage again. Missing a few days or weeks of training will help you recover mentally and physically, whereas jumping back in too soon might lead to a missed few months due to injury.
Related: How to Make a Running Comeback (After Taking Time Off)
Understanding that feelings of running burnout are natural, and not a sign of weakness is challenging for most runners. We push ourselves to be the best, set lofty goals, and pride ourselves in the commitment we make to the sport. Taking a step back from running often feels like we are failing, when in reality we are just experiencing the natural cycle of the sport.
If you are experiencing any of these signs of running burnout or overtraining, go easy on yourself. Give your body a few guilt free rest days. Binge watch your favorite TV show, read a book, or talk with a friend. Your body will let you know when it’s recovered. When you return, take the steps to avoid overtraining and set yourself up for your healthiest season yet.
Thursday 8th of September 2022
Hi there, I trained hard this past Spring through September of this year (about 6 months of increasingly difficult weekly speed work and long runs and twice a week strength sessions) and ran a few goal races this Summer. I didn't really have any down weeks along the way (learning experience on my part for next Spring - take a down week every 4 weeks or so), Now I am mentally burned out. I no longer really want to do speed work or long runs and just really want to go for runs of varying lengths. How long do most runners train and follow a schedule? It will be winter here in just two months and at that time (or before) I will incorporate cycling classes, along with runs outside, and speed work on my treadmill in prep for Spring season next year. I'd like to stay injury free too. But for now, I am just going to run for enjoyment and not any goal pace. Is this normal?
Thanks for the recommendations and help.
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