To say there is a lot going on in the world recently is an understatement. Burnout is a definitely a thing. There’s been a lot going on. A pandemic. A shift to remote work. The flu season. A shift back to the office. Travel back on. More pandemic. A cost of living crisis. War……. And so on it goes. Is your running pushing you closer to burnout, or your cure for burnout?
If running is pushing you closer, than it’s time to step back and reflect on how you can alter your running schedule and make running take stress away. Life’s tough enough already, running shouldn’t make it tougher.
When I talk to the runners I work with about fitting running into their lives, I always stress the importance of running being in our lives to take stress away. For most of us running is a recreational sport or hobby, and while improving performance is satisfying and motivating, the process of completing each run should compliment our already time poor and stressful lives.
According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, burnout is defined as “physical, emotional or mental exhaustion, accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance and negative attitudes towards oneself and others.”
If the thought of going running gives you any of these symptoms then you should think about a reset on the role running is playing in your life. The joy of running is worthwhile to pursue as a life long pursuit, this won’t be achieved if it gives you regular burnout symptoms. If these symptoms occur after you’ve run then address immediately. There is a big difference between the feeling of waking early and not wanting to get your run done to still having these emotions after you’ve completed your run.
Fortunately there is a way to address burnout, and how running can play a role in reversing burnout.
1. Boundary setting
There’s a trend starting to emerge in response to the current world pressure cooker climate. A trend that we need now, more than ever. It’s boundary setting. You know, that ability to say no, push back, cut down, pare back. People who have struggled in the past to say no to their boss, working home meant you are always ‘in’ the office. This can look like you don’t have the time to fit running comfortably into your life. Or you don’t create the boundaries that allow you the time to turnoff from work and other life stresses and get to out the front door running.
In addition to this trying to fit running into life with all the other life stresses can mean the running becomes just another stress in life. This is to be avoided, as it leads to resentment of running. It’s very much necessary to keep running as a stress reliever and it definitely can be if we schedule it well and give it the priority it deserves.
The priority it deserves is very different for all of us, but all of us need to create boundaries so that running has its place. Schedule your runs in a way that will make them achievable and make you look forward to them. If you only have four days a week available to run accept this and commit to these runs. Book this time on your calendar and hold yourself accountable to these runs and making the most of this time. If something else comes up say ‘no, I have an appointment’ and go for your run.
We need to have boundaries that allow us to run, and allow this time to be meaningful. Running is a meaningful activity that you enjoy, don’t let it be an activity that slips by and becomes a stress.
2. Take a rest day (or two)
Once you’ve created a space in your life for running to occur naturally and easily the next step is manage your schedule. How will this schedule look and do you still have these symptoms of burnout occurring. I’m a big proponent of not planning rest days and letting them occur when the body needs it or when life gets in the way. The exception to this is definitely when the runner is burnout and needs rest. Fitness doesn’t disappear overnight, rest days are useful at physical recovery and even more useful as a recovery tool for the mind. Rest, recover and reset the body and mind to be ready to run.
If the thought of getting in your run on top of everything else gives you anxiety. Take a rest day, take a moment to think why you feel this way and what can be done. Are you putting too much pressure on yourself to hit certain standards, or just don’t have enough time to fit everything in.
3. Find your why
How many times have you told your non running friends or colleagues about an upcoming long run/race and they look at you and say. Why?
How you answer this question is an important contributor to how you develop the drive to complete your training and races. Why you run these races is connected to your values and how you think about the world, it is usually personal and gives your running meaning.
It’s not always fun out there, but having a strong why gives you the inspiration, purpose and passion to get out of bed in the morning when its cold and the pillow is more enticing or finishing off a long race when the pain and suffering is front and centre.
To find your why connect to your personal values, ask yourself a series of questions about how you see the world. Where you draw motivation and inspiration and who or what do you draw strength from? Are you running for a particular interest or purpose. Write down a list of values that you connect to and cultivate a reason and purpose for why you show up.
It may be helpful to share your why with family and friends so they understand why you need to prioritise your running. This may help them allow you to create space in your schedule for running as they understand the reasons you need running.
When life gets in the way and things aren’t going to plan go back and revisit your why and gain clarity. Purpose is greater than burnout if we create the environment to succeed.
Burnout can be serious health concern if ignored and will likely prevent you from success in aspects of your life. The strategies we’ve spoken about above are aimed at giving the focus and energy to allow running to be a sustainable piece of the puzzle in keeping burnout at bay. As this is how we find the productivity necessary to grow as runners and more importantly people.
Don’t let the experience of burnout be your teacher. Let the idea of burnout be your preacher. Let it be the motivational speech that spurs you into action, before it’s too late.