You may, or may not have noticed. Runcanvas has taken a much needed two week break. Sometimes we need a moment to step back, relax and reset. Runcanvas will be back, in full force tomorrow. Until then, check out this awesome guest post by Zolts Running.
Photo by the Boston Globe (link to https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/bigpicture/2016/04/18/boston-marathon/kDrUzb4urXePSrurAuuMYP/story.html)
If you are at all like me, you are already planning your fall race schedule and contemplating new goals for them even though the spring racing season isn’t quite over. Or, perhaps you just ran a PR in your goal race and are already plotting your next attempt. While this can be both exciting and productive, it is also important to prepare to take a step or two back to rest and reflect on how things went this season before getting too hung up on where to go next. This will help prevent injury and burnout later.
If things went well then you should celebrate your victory and give yourself a well-deserved break from the intense training. Then, assess what you did well and what (if anything) could threaten a successful season to follow (developing injuries, crazy work/life schedules, etc.) and plan accordingly.
If things did not go as well as you had hoped then it is important to figure out what went wrong, what you can do differently, then immediately stop looking back to dwell on it and trudge forward. Have you ever crossed paths with someone on the sidewalk who was looking down or the other direction and poised to crash right into you unless you moved aside? It’s annoying and dangerous, just like falling into the trap of dwelling on past mistakes which prevents you from make the future more predictable and in your terms.
Burnout is an insidious little monster that can hit when you least expect it – fortunately you don’t have to get sucked in too far if you take action quickly enough.
Burned Out and Bored
If you have been running for some time now then you probably remember your first year – every run seemed exciting, you felt fresh, and a new race PR was always around the corner. The weekly long run was always a new adventure and you couldn’t wait to post your workout on social media so your friends and family could see how far you pushed the limits. Running was fun and you couldn’t get enough of it. That is, until your mind and/or body decided you’d had enough. Turns out consistency in training is a double-edged sword: the good thing is that your mind and body adapt to your training to take you to the next level of fitness but the bad thing is that your mind and body adapt to your training to make you plateau.
At some point those 15 mile Sunday morning jaunts alone on the streets are bound to get boring and those V02 max workouts on the track that hurt so good will start to hurt so bad. This is because quality workouts like these have the power to improve your performance by stressing your body and mind but also the power to kick you when you’re down. I have seen it plenty of times – someone takes up running seriously for the first time, is full of enthusiasm, then just months later finds themselves physically injured and/or mentally burned out. They decide to quit running or eventually return to the sport, only to do everything possible to ensure that this vicious cycle continues in perpetuity.
This doesn’t have to be the case! Yes, if you continue to run year after year you will eventually experience some type of injury (hopefully limited to something just minor and annoying) and struggle to remain motivated through the performance plateaus (yes, you will eventually stop getting a PR in every race). However, if you are able to recognize the signs and symptoms of impending burnout then you can stop it in its tracks before it takes you out for months or longer and come out of the process stronger than ever.
In larger cities it seems like there are multiple races to choose from nearly every weekend, especially during the spring and fall. They can provide an exciting and motivating environment to run your best but can become addictive to the point where they hurt your performance if you aren’t careful!
Enthusiasm is energizing and consistency is key
One of the training concepts that I totally failed to understand or appreciate for the longest time was periodization of training, or dividing it into phases. I didn’t see the point in just running easy mileage and waiting to throw in speed work, tempo runs, etc. until later, only to rest up after the big race before tackling the next. I wanted to do a long run every week, a tempo run every week, and speedwork every week, ALL YEAR ROUND, and I wanted to run up every hill that I saw in the process. I tried to race nearly every single weekend and each one was supposed to be a PR attempt and if I wasn’t getting better every time then something was wrong with me and I just needed to train harder. Sometimes when I would run a disappointing race I would make myself do a challenging “punishment workout” the following day. Does any of this sound familiar to you?
I assumed that if you were spending all your time on the streets putting in easy mileage then you were being lazy and giving up valuable fitness. I figured I would do a V02 max workout every week whether I was racing that weekend or not and that in the end I would get the last laugh – pretty funny, right? Not really! What I didn’t realize at the time is that I was playing with fire by wantonly performing these very stressful workouts week after week, without allowing my mind and body a chance to regroup. At first the PRs may come rather easily but at some point you need to realize that you can’t expect one every single season. Plan for the longer term and you’ll reap the rewards later.
Time to Reset: If Your Running Has Fallen and Can’t Get Up, Change It Up
After an exciting 2015 full of PRs in nearly every distance I raced, 2016 started ominously. I got a DQ in my first race for wearing headphones (never seemed to be an issue before) and finished significantly slower than I had in the previous year. Even worse, I had chronic and painful injuries that had gone unaddressed and in my hasty attempt to go from one strong racing season to another I failed to rest my mind and body. As a result I missed some key workouts due to the injuries and felt flat during most of my tune-up races, failing to show any improvement during the training cycle. I managed to run an okay time in my goal half marathon but it was far from a PR and it would be the last time I had an okay race that season.
The next week I ran another half marathon (still in denial that I needed to rest and regroup) and completely fell apart mentally. It was the domino that started a whole series of bad races, each one worse than the next. Eventually I realized that I was not going to be able to just will myself out of this hole and decided that I had to start making amends for my overtraining and failure to address my injuries sooner.
If you ever find yourself in a similar situation – and I hope that you never do – then you are going to need as much time as it takes (and it can take many months) to reset yourself as a runner. This may include one or more of the following:
- Take time off from running and exploring other activities that keep you in shape but you have neglected (cycling, weightlifting, swimming…up to you).
- Pursue hobbies that you had to give up or put on the backburner in order to make time for training (writing, playing a musical instrument, learning a foreign language…whatever makes you happy).
- Hire a running coach or consider trying a new one if you really need a new stimulus.
- Find new places to train and new groups of runners to train with.
- Take the time to rehab chronic injuries and build a strong foundation to prevent new ones – in more extreme cases this might even include getting any needed surgery that you may have been putting off for a long time because you didn’t want to take time off from running but which will improve your running in the long term.
Whatever Happens, Don’t Get Discouraged
I have a friendly competitor in his 50s who I often talk to at races and he once gave me a simple piece of advice but it has stuck with me: “Don’t get discouraged”. Remembering this really helped me when my running hit rock bottom last year and I could have easily given up. Sometimes you have to be able to let go of the things you cannot control in order to master the things that you can. You will never be a fresh rookie runner again but that doesn’t mean you can’t get back to feeling like a superhero again when you run.
Author of Zolts Running, Andrew is a member of the KC running community and started running in his early thirties. Since then he has completed over a hundred races, including 33 half marathons, his favorite distance. Andrew is a member of Team Run 816.