6 Ways to Recover From Running Burnout

After finishing my first marathon, I could have whipped out another 26.2 the next day. Throughout the race, save for maybe miles 21-24, I was captivated by my pure love of running: basking in a beautiful mid-September morning, vibing off of the electric atmosphere, transcending my mental and physical limitations. And yes, qualifying for Boston on my first try.

So 48 hours later, I was planning my next marathon. But my body didn’t match my enthusiasm. A hamstring strain in October lingered through November. My mileage dropped, my paces slowed and my goal- the 2018 Boston Marathon- became a mirage. Six months after smiling through 26.2 miles, I broke down sobbing on mile two, finally surrendering to the negative thoughts screaming through my mind.

“Why am I still sore? I rolled out this morning.”

“Better slow down, I’ll screw up my hamstring again.”

And most alarmingly, “Maybe I should just stop running.”

In that moment, I realized I needed to make a change. But I’ve since recaptured my passion for this sport, thanks to some reflection, self-compassion and experimentation. Though I’m attacking my goals with newfound confidence, I’m appreciating the sunrise and accepting my limitations along the way. If you’re sharing my sense of burnout, here are some ways to respark your own love of running.

Take stock of your stress- and self-talk.

We rely on running to relieve our stress, but stress hinders our running. Emotional stress tightens our form, impairs muscle recovery, and according to a new study from Medicine & Science in Exercise & Sports, also lowers our pain sensitivity.

Managing your stress could help you recover from burnout, but talk about a Catch-22: You’re stressed about underperforming, but stress causes you to underperform.

Stuck in this cycle? Start by improving your self-talk. If you can’t muster compassion toward yourself while running, it’s unlikely that you’re magically turning it on in other situations. So when you’re sweating out a presentation or swearing over your taxes, monitor your self-talk. Are you holding yourself to unrealistic expectations? Are you employing any the cognitive biases that kill your self-esteem?

Lest you think that easing your inner critic will make you soft, positive self-talk boosts our endurance by 18 percent. By regaining control of your thoughts, you’ll prepare yourself to cope with the challenges that crop up mid-run. Even if you can’t will your way to your A goal, correcting your self-destructive thoughts will help you enjoy your journey there.


Remember your “why.”.

It probably doesn’t involve a PR: You first runs probably felt slow, sweaty and awkward. Maybe you took walk breaks or wondered how people do this for fun. But you kept coming back, long before you cared about PRs, BQs or any of the other acronyms.

So go back to the beginning: Reconnect with your real reasons for running. Next time your breath feels too labored for your pace, or your hamstring niggles again, reflect on those reasons and try to appreciate them in the moment.  


Reconnect with the running world

Especially if you play the comparison game, it’s easy to withdraw from the running community when you feel like you’re the only one who’s not measuring up.

Before long, you’ll forget that Meb’s iconic finish-line pushups came after he crashed hard during the Olympic Marathon. And nearly 70 percent of runners, even Shalane Flanagan, will experience an injury each year. Once you share your struggles with your running friends, you’ll likely find similar stories of setbacks and self-doubt. Those in mind, you’ll be less likely to beat yourself up for every bad run.


Join a running-related charity

As proven by Back on My Feet, Girls on the Run and more, running does more than boost our egos and burn calories. It forges friendships and empowers people to overcome their obstacles and achieve their dreams. Watching others experience the joy of running for the first time? Nothing short of inspirational.

Volunteer for one of these charities, whether it’s joining a marathon fundraising team, organizing an after-school program for kids or even coaching a kids’ team. Ignoring the obvious benefit of, you know, helping people, your philanthropy will provide some perspective next time you’re obsessing over your PRs.


Cross train!

Burned out on running? Chances are, you’ve neglected cross-training. So take this opportunity to try new activities. As you progress, your beginner gains will boost your confidence in your overall fitness.

Splitting your physical pursuits across several activities will also reduce your physical and psychological reliance on any one thing. But best of all, cross-training will allow you to enjoy working out for its own sake.


Take some time for self-care

Whether you’re running one mile per week or 100, you deserve it.


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