Last week I found myself feeling rather lethargic and under the weather with no sign of a cold or flu in sight (thankfully). I’m usually very good at keeping to a decent sleep schedule and am pretty conscious of my diet, but had noticed both had some blips in them over the previous couple of weeks. I found myself unable to shake this tired feeling.
What I think was happening, was I was starting to dance with the beginnings of burnout. From what I’ve read on the subject, burnout (also known as overtraining) happens when the balance between exercise and recovery is upset, and there is a lack of adequate recovery time for the body to restore homeostasis (internal equilibrium). From what I understand, it was once thought that this would generally be limited to elite level runners who train full time. That thinking seems to have changed, with burnout affecting recreational runners who are balancing the demands of training with those of family, work and other responsibilities. The following seem to be the most common indications that a runner is experiencing burnout:
- A decrease in performance (find the same workout harder)
- Sore muscles (beyond typical post-workout soreness)
- Weight loss
- Chronic fatigue
- Elevated resting heart rate and blood pressure
- Frequent illness
- Upset GI track
- Mood fluctuations (depression, anger, anxiety, etc.)
Now for the good news! Here are five quick ways to turn the train to burnout town around:
- Progress your training at a safe rate, allowing for lower mileage recovery weeks throughout.
- Introduce or maintain variety in your training, utilizing cross-training and other types of workout that will benefit your training goals. Spinning, for example, works similar muscles to running with very little impact on joints while still taxing the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Plus they usually play fun music.
- Sleep. I often mourn the ability of my teenage self to sleep 12 hours in a single bound. With the demands we each face in our day-to-day lives, a lack of sleep is one of the things we suffer from the most — and yet, it’s one of the most important things we can do to prevent burnout. The body recovers and repairs itself while sleeping, so it’s important to think of it as a vital part of training.
- Putting away the Garmin and other measuring devices once in a while, and just going out for a “fun” run can remind us of the carefree wonder that drew us to run in the first place.
- If you don’t already have one, starting a training log provides you a window to look back on and analyze your training efforts. There are many online choices (such as dailymile) that offer a lot of options. Even if you already have a log, some of the things you might want to consider including in your training log are notes about how you’re feeling on a particular day, your resting heart rate, weight, workout times, frequencies and durations, what you ate, your performance as well as your sleep patterns. These factors can each help indicate where problems may be arising while also showing what is working for you.
That’s my five. What do you do to avoid burning out and keep yourself healthy?