Burnout Is Real…And Avoidable

Off and on for about a week, I have been re-evaluating my training plan. I’ve gone back and forth for a while not about whether or not to follow it to a tee, not at all, or half-ass. After I failed my eight mile run, I started to be honest with myself about a few things that are important enough to share with my followers.

Most importantly, your body will absolutely stop you from beating it too hard. Mark my words that no mental training or stretching or pushing will stop your body from shutting off if that’s what needs to happen.

I had to cut an eight mile run in half. This isn’t “Oh I cut it short my half a mile” or “I guess I stopped a mile early.” I’ve never, ever cut a long run in half before. I had to, though, because I felt like I wasn’t even running on my treadmill…I felt more like a rotisserie chicken on the conveyor belt at the super market. Just kind of…there. Lifeless. But mostly just fried.

I had a lot of reasons ready to go as to why: It was hot inside my house; I was tired this one day; I was  just being whiny, etc.

But then I started to think about how I felt the past two weeks or so:

  • I was instantly freezing after working out. I don’t just mean “Oh the air kicked on; it’s cold!” I mean I was shivering. I have a very small body mass (I weigh 95 lbs and I am 5 feet tall), and the “post run shivers” have been linked to people of my stature, but this is new. It’s not like this happened since I have been running. Something was off.
  • I was unable to focus on just about anything. I couldn’t force my mind to edit documents and get projects done by the due dates I made. It wasn’t that I was side-tracked; it’s that I just mentally could not do it.
  • I found ways to decrease the length of my runs, which is not like me. I don’t cut runs short…even when they’re on the treadmill. I’ve run over ten miles indoors before and it’s not been a problem. Suddenly, I started figuring out ways to run less and that’s not me at all.
  • Interrupted sleep. Badly interrupted sleep. No matter when I went to bed, I woke up at 6 am like a big ball of nerves. And I’m not a morning runner, so it’s not like my internal clock was locked and loaded for anything special. In addition to waking multiple times during the night after trouble falling asleep, I woke up at early and already frustrated.
  • Extremely sore legs. Not tired, not the fatigue that does away with itself after Icy Hot or Epsom Salts or Stretching. My daughter climbed on me and I felt like she was stabbing me in my calves. Both of them. I yelped in pain, and that pain didn’t subside.
  • The sudden return of ITBS, which I didn’t see coming. Yep…all of a sudden, it’s back. It’s very mild, and I am sure I can get it under control…but it’s back.
  • I was very tearful, excitable, easily startled, and more or less angry at everyone and everything.
  • For the first time ever, I had a headache that lasted three days.
  • Loss my appetite quite a bit, which may contribute to the “post run shivers” if I was losing body weight (I don’t weigh myself). This doesn’t make much sense when I was running more

Do I know, with certainty, that all of this is related to the way I was running and training? No. I wasn’t formally diagnosed and I didn’t see a doctor. However, I know my own body and mind better than anyone, and I think a lot of these things are the result of over-training.

All of this got really bad when I tried to run 12 x 400s at a pace that is very quick for me. I didn’t make it to 12; I believe I made it to 6 – and that was when I crossed some kind of line that I didn’t know existed. Since then, training has been a complete, hellish cluster for me. I made it worse by running twice in one day.

Some of you are likely nodding your head in a “well what did you expect” type of way, but hear me out.

As athletes, we are constantly told that we need to “push.” This is especially true for anyone in endurance sports. We are told we need to work through pain, get the job done, be better than the next day, get stronger than we were before…you’ve heard all of these things if you’re a distance runner.

Couple that with some well-known, logical scientific concepts that you think you understand but maybe don’t, like cumulative fatigue. The concept makes perfect sense: Running on somewhat tired muscles will prepare you to endure long distances. But, what are “tired muscles” vs. “muscles so tired they’re on the verge of tearing?”

I’ve come to some realizations that I have to share because it would be wrong not to. Maybe a few people will read this and have an “ah ha” moment before they’re laying in bed and cannot figure out why they’re crying.

Ignoring your body does not silence it. It actually makes it louder, more in your face, and more obvious. Listen to your body, please. There’s a difference between “This is tough, but I got this” vs “I am in terrible pain that gets worse with every step.” Especially during training runs. I pushed through ITBS in my second half marathon race, but had it happened in training, I would have stopped. Ignoring “the burn” in your legs is one thing. Ignoring muscles that are too tender to touch and hurt when water hits them in the shower is a different thing.

Doing nothing other than working, running, and parenting is not healthy for you. Endurance running is all about discipline, right? Discipline to make sure you get those weekly long runs in. Discipline when it comes to deciding between drinking too much and cutting yourself off because you have a race tomorrow. Discipline to follow training plans that are, no matter what, hard. But…if you back yourself into a corner where you do nothing other than attend to other obligations, running will feel like it’s nothing more than another obligation. It won’t be fun; it won’t be rewarding – you will hate it.

This is a big one that I am learning. Read a book. Paint your nails. Call a friend. Ride your bike. Explore the park. Walk your dog. Drink a glass of wine. Put on some makeup. Play video games. You have to do something other than run sometimes. The beauty of this is that there are training plans that range from 3 days/week to 6 days/week. You can likely find one that fits your lifestyle and leaves room for enjoyment. There is no shame in plans that don’t require a lifestyle change; I can promise you that.

“Aim high” is not the same as “Aim so high that it’s likely unattainable for you to achieve.” True story here. Set goals that challenge you, not break you. There is indeed a difference. Goals that require physical exertion should be tough, but also realistic. I haven’t done much speed training, so aiming to run a sub five minute mile tomorrow isn’t a goal, it’s a way to disappoint myself.

Realistic goals are different for everyone. Achieving them should take work, persistence, and discipline. They should not result in complete, utter burnout.

These are just a few things I’ve picked up along the way on my running journey. At this point, I need to think about rehabilitating my IT band and really, my emotional state. I’ve been a wreck lately. My plan is to ease back into running and consider a lighter training plan. That doesn’t mean I won’t achieve my Sub 2 half goal this fall; it means that I’ll do it in a different way.

Happy training. Keyword: *happy.

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