As a psychology instructor, I lecture on the concept of burnout in relation to work. I can actually draw upon personal experiences with the phenomenon, as I worked for years at a job I initially loved but grew to loathe. I would get the “Sunday night blues” thinking about work the next day, my stress and anxiety levels started elevating, and, most importantly, a job that used to excite me began making me feel unfulfilled and exhausted.
The same thing happened recently to my running.
I always wondered if I’d wake up one day and have zero desire to run. I became a runner later in the game than most (age 28) but quickly became obsessed with the sport and completed two marathons in my first 18 months. As I started training for marathon #3, it hit me: I was over-training.
One month into my marathon training, I noticed I was losing all motivation to get out and run. Granted, I was doing the Hanson method which calls for 6 days a week of running, but I was still surprised to be so apathetic about something I loved so much!
I finally experienced an epiphany when I started to skip some of my scheduled runs and I actually felt better doing nothing. Previously, I always felt anxious on rest days. Now, I felt more relaxed and less stressed.
I realized I was over-training.
For most runners, this is a hard thing to come to terms with. It’s also difficult to discern the difference between having an “off” day where you just don’t feel like running (which I have at least once a week!) and a genuine “your body needs a break” signal. When in doubt, I’d fall back on what made me realize I was over-training: if you feel better not running then evaluate yourself for other symptoms.
The cure for over-training is ridiculously simple: stop working out!
It may only take a few days of rest to recover or it may take a few weeks to months. Give yourself some breathing room and take it easy. It’s okay to cross-train if you really feel like you need to stay active, but try to limit it to give your body a chance to truly reset itself. I took about two weeks off from running and, when I started back again, I decided to give up on the Hanson plan and my original goal finish time and just train for fun. My pace won’t be what I hoped for, but, had I kept pushing myself during my training, I’m certain I wouldn’t have even made it to race day.
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