Running burnout can affect the most seasoned competitive runner or those just starting to run. While it tends to occur gradually, there could be sudden/compounding events that contribute to losing the love for running. The challenge is knowing when you are at risk for burnout, if you are currently experiencing burnout, and what to do about it.
Knowing When You Have or Are Approaching Running Burnout
Running burnout comes in one or a combination of forms. It may manifest itself as physical, mental, or emotional in the singular form, and differing degrees across two or all forms. Often, feeling burnt out in one area spills into the others as you need all three to achieve running balance.
Factors such as life events can play a huge role in bringing burnout on (not getting enough sleep due to work demands, a new child, unhealthy stress, etc.). Contrary to what some believe, running burnout is not “in your head” but very real and can lead to serious issues such as chronic fatigue, sleep issues, and weight loss while increasing feelings of depression and irritability.
Physical burnout indicates itself as your body does not respond the way it typically would during a series of training sessions or races (a few bad runs may not constitute burnout). It does not need to be a running injury but these can contribute to burnout. This is far different than naturally aging, perhaps towards Masters Division, and more likely is a worn-down feeling or not being able to recover between runs.
Mental burnout may appear as a lack of focus, lessening of mental toughness, or a feeling of “brain fog” where it’s difficult to keep details and focus together. As an example, you could be in the middle of a track workout where you routinely recall your previous splits but start to forget the times, or struggle during parts of the workout where your mental toughness generally pulls you through. You might also feel “fog” when planning a run, detailing specifics during a run, or recalling information post-run.
Emotional burnout is closely related to mental burnout, except this aspect manifests itself as a lack of desire/motivation, getting down on yourself, an overall lack of confidence, or not feeling joy for running. Emotions are the steam engine for a runner; when you reach burnout, it is quite literally like running out of steam. Akin to an injury, sometimes recovering from the emotional part of an injury can be more difficult and take longer than the physical recovery itself.
The following sections address how to prevent or deal with running burnout if you detect a risk or are already experiencing a full-out running crisis.