Burnout

Ugh. The dreaded topic.

Side note: I really wasn’t wanting to write this post, but I managed to leave my keys in Daniel’s car and he is working all day today, so it’s just me, Brooks and my thoughts here at the house today. Here we go …

Second side note: This post is mainly about running (duh!), but burnout can happen in many different areas of your life as well. About a year and a half ago I experienced career burnout. After 7 years of working 70+ hour weeks during tax season I was just done. I realized that the goal I had been working towards (making partner) was not at all what I actually even wanted. It was one of those things that I just thought I was supposed to do (you have really got to watch out for those “supposed to dos” in life), when in actuality it was the farthest thing in the world from what I wanted.

Burnout is one of those hazards in life that over-achievers should really be keeping a close eye out for … but because of the “I can do everything” mindset, you rarely see it coming. Because you are often passionate about what you are doing, you tend to ignore the fact that your’re working exceptionally long hours, taking on exceedingly heavy work loads, and putting enormous pressure on yourself to excel, thus creating the perfect storm for burnout.

Psychology Today defines burnout as “a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment, feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.” Burnout doesn’t happen suddenly. You don’t wake up one morning and all of a sudden “have burnout.” It happens subtly, creeping up on us over time, making it harder to recognize.

Physical and mental burnout can be correlated. Physical burnout can lead to mental burnout and vice versa.

Signs and symptoms of physical burnout include sleep loss, weight loss, increased resting heart rate, increased exercise heart rate, higher incidence of colds and respiratory infections, increased blood pressure, increased muscle soreness and chronic muscle fatigue, decrease in muscle glycogen and loss of appetite.

Signs and symptoms of mental burnout include lack of desire to get out the door and run, increased perception of difficulty on runs, even easy runs, depression, decreased motivation and anxiety about next workout/race.

I think I’ve been teetering on the brink of burnout for several weeks now. My last post “Just Keep Swimming” was my last ditch attempt to convince myself that what I was feeling was normal that I need to push through. Of course it is easier to recognize this in hindsight.


The physical signs were there: I was unable to hit the paces in workouts that I should’ve been able to (based on other recent workouts, races, etc.) on three workouts in a row, I was crazy sore after these workouts (not normal for me) and I was fighting a random stomach bug and respiratory infection. I also went back and tracked my resting heart rate over the last few weeks (#nerdalert) and it was pretty consistently 10 – 15 bpm higher than my typical resting heart rate. Yikes!

As a marathon runner, you will certainly be stiff and sore on some runs and having a bad workout here and there is inevitable. There are very few marathoners that don’t have at least one or two really bad workouts during a training cycle. The key is to realize when it is becoming a trend and when it is an isolated incident. I typically do two hard workouts per week and so to have three in a row not go well definitely meant something was up.

The mental signs were there: I was dreading my workouts. That is absolutely not normal! I mean, sure I can procrastinate a workout with the best of ’em, but dread … that was a new one. The motivation was gone (left the building)!

I have been worked really hard in my training this summer. I’ve put in a lot of long hours (i.e., miles), with a heavy work load (i.e., stress workouts) and somehow I ended up feeling like there was too much pressure on running.

Running is something that I am truly passionate about, but I feel like it’s time to take a little step back and re-evaluate exactly why this is. What I do know is that a lot of things in my life are tied to running right now. I run. I coach runners. I write about running. My shared hobby with Daniel is running. Most of my friends are runners. The list goes on and on. The other thing that I know is that while yes, I am a runner and I [usually] love it, running doesn’t define me as a person and my self-worth is not defined by paces and race times.

I knew that I had to talk to my coach about the possibility of backing off the training a little bit. I was really dreading that conversation. In my mind, I thought telling him that I needed a break was like I was waving the white flag of defeat. I would be saying that the training was too much for me to handle and that I might as well hang up all of my goals right then and there.

He told me, “Admitting you are  human is the first step towards becoming super-human.” Um. Yes! I think I need to frame that somewhere. He also said that it is better to listen to my body now than to fizzle out mid-cycle, which totally makes sense. I am still in the early weeks of marathon training and taking a break from stress workouts for a week or two now isn’t going to completely derail my training (contrary to what the voices in my head were trying to tell me).

What’s next? The plan is to take some time off, mainly from stress workouts, for a week or two. Next week’s schedule says “4-8 miles easy or a rest day” each day. I know that it is going to be hard. At this point, taking a rest day takes more discipline than actually running does.

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I am going to focus on being honest with myself and listening to my body. I know that this doesn’t make me weak or a quitter. Hopefully I’ll come back stronger and ready to fight!

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3 thoughts on “Burnout

  1. I think it’s really good that you have a coach or someone in life to discuss this with. I agree that it is hard to take a break. Truthfully, I’ve probably needed a break and didn’t take one because it’s hard to, with social media I see all my friends running, most of my social activities revolve around it, and it is easy to get your identity confused with times and splits and weekly mileage. But in the end, you gotta do what’s right for you and will keep you running for the long term, not just a few races here or there. Plus, you are a coach and you never know when you might be that person that a runner goes to and says hey, I think I’m burned out and need a break. And you’ll have the experience of dealing with that.

    A few months ago, I was on a run streak challenge and had a terrible race one Saturday morning. I decided then to end the challenge, skip my long run that week, and take the next day completely off running. I didn’t even THINK about running that day. Sure, it was one day… the streak was gone (and I blogged about why I didn’t like streaks, which got a lot of naysay from the running group that “hosted” the streak). But it was SOOO liberating to me- probably more mentally than physically. I missed 4 days of running last week on vacation… don’t think it hurt me as I ran my second-fastest 5K ever today. Just take it easy, run when you want for a week… you love this sport and you will come right back and won’t have lost anything :).

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  2. You’re so brave for listening to your body and being honest with yourself. There is really no gain in pushing through something that deep down in your gut doesn’t feel right and it’s not good in the long run to ignore the “symptoms”… like you said, burnout is no fun and can be avoided!

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