5 quick ways to avoid burnout

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.

By the time I got to my morning run last Friday, I stopped the run three kilometres early because my body was just loathing every step with a nauseous tenacity. I decided to take the rest of Friday and all of Saturday off from running and allowed my body to rest and recover. I took it easy for my long distance on Sunday, and Monday is a recovery day anyways. My Tuesday morning run was cautious, but felt better, and Wednesday’s tempo run was fantastic.

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)
  • Insomnia
  • 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:

  1. Progress your training at a safe rate, allowing for lower mileage recovery weeks throughout.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?

4 responses to “5 quick ways to avoid burnout

  1. Okay, I’m not sure this is a good training idea but I’m going to throw it out there anyway: I start my training program early. Just a week or two. That way, when I have one of those days, or when something comes up, I skip a workout and feel relatively guilt-less about it. I still get the mental satisfaction of completing (more or less) all my training runs but I don’t beat myself up over missing a run or two or three over four months. I mean, one training run missed does not a program ruin. I tend to beat myself up over missed runs rather than listen to my body when we all know that sometimes rest is actually better, in the long run, than pushing yourself to run.

  2. Monday and Friday are definitely my rest days. I am never tempted to do an extra run because I know it will only cause me to suffer later on. Also, I substitue my short easy run on Thursday with a Body Pump class. I feel like it gives me another rest day from running but I still get an excellent workout.

    Unlike Alli though, I am not really concerned about getting all of my training runs in. If I feel like I am on the verge of injury, taking a few days off becomes part of my modified training plan. While training for my first half, I started having knee problems in the middle of the hill training section of the program. I ended up taking a week and a half off to recover and make sure my knees were in good shape before I got back into it. I finished my race without suffering, knees intact.

    I think adjusting your thinking a little so that ‘recovery days’ (planned or unplanned) simply become part of your new training schedule can help ease the ‘guilt’ of missing a run.

    • I know I tend toward what Alli is talking about, in that I want to know that when I step up to that starting line, I’ve done everything in my power to do the best I can that day. I think where the problem with this is, is that we don’t often consider rest as part of that ;-) It’s so critical to balance effort and recovery, and it’s great that through your training and professional knowledge you do that!
      I’m not sure if you’ve heard of it before, but a lot of what you mentioned in your comment reminds me of a book called Run less, Run Faster. Might be worth checking out.

  3. When I start feeling it’s “too much” mentally, I look at what’s happened in the previous week and make modifications accordingly. I sometimes still feel guilty about missing a run (like today) but I also learned that this is part and parcel of training. So for me it could be just as simple as allowing myself to cheat. I agree that the worst thing someone can do is still go out and run as it could very well lead to injury.

    If my burnout is physical, complete R&R (a few days up to a week) is what I do. Then get back into it. My fitness level is good enough that missing a few runs will not affect my overall performance, in fact, it may very well help it.

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