burning-out

This post was written as part of Trail Runner Magazine’s Blog Symposium. This month’s topic is, “How can trail runners avoid burnout?”.

It happens every year. Most often, this time of year, as the leaves start to fall and the days grow shorter.

The excitement of summer training and races has now faded, and many of us are lacing up our shoes with lower motivation and little drive.

It’s called burnout.

And every runner deals with it at some point.

It leaves us feeling desperate and depressed, longing for the thrill and energy we once felt for this sport that we love.

No one wants to feel burnt out on something they are passionate about, but when it does happen, you realize that it’s impossible to keep that passion burning bright when all it wants to do is extinguish.

So when you do start to feel burnt out, it’s only natural to ask yourself, “Self, what can I do to avoid burnout?”

And there are plenty of good tools and strategies, I and many others, have used to stay motivated when we’re desperate. Strategies like:

  • Mixing up your routine and discovering new routes,
  • Focusing on base fitness and working to improve that base,
  • Joining a new running group full of energy and excitement,
  • Or, Going after a big PR or new distance goal that gets you excited.

There are no shortage of these tactics that help delay burnout, but that’s all that they’re going to do.

Delay it.

In my opinion, burnout shouldn’t be viewed as this terrible thing we need to avoid, but instead as a badge of honor. Proof that we’ve been working hard and pushing our limits. Proof that we’ve left everything out on the trail.

Proof that we have more to prove.

Burnout As A Natural Occurrence

Think about it. Aside from work and family, there probably isn’t much you do consistently throughout the entire year.

We go through natural cycles:

  • As the weather changes, so do our eating habits.
  • As the months progress, so do the sports we follow and watch on TV.
  • Music tastes and bands that excite us continue to develop over time.
  • Beer that you loved in January might be overlooked come August.

And after months of intense training and racing, and hours spent studying course maps, designing routes, and suffering on the foam roller, it’s only natural for us to want a break.

To need a break.

If we consistently push at our highest level, progress will ultimately come to a halt, and we’ll begin to hate whatever it is we’re pushing so hard to achieve.

Burnout As A Badge of Honor

The most burnt out I’ve ever felt were the days following this year’s Massanutten Mountain 100. I didn’t all of a sudden hate the sport, in fact it was the exact opposite, but still the thought of putting on my shoes and hitting the trail made me nauseous.

Burnout, especially if it’s from something you love like trail running, means you’ve given it your all. It means you’ve spent hours and hours running in uncomfortable conditions and pushing your body.

It probably means you’ve had to make hard choices and sacrifices when it comes to work, family, and play.

It also means you’ve succeeded.

Because if it was always easy and fun, you wouldn’t ever get that burnout feeling. And doing it wouldn’t make you feel nauseous.

So be proud of yourself. This is part of the experience.

Don’t believe me?

Even the greats need time off. Kilian Jornet only runs half the year, focusing on ski mountaineering the second half. And after winning 8 gold medals at the 2008 Olympics, Michael Phelps took significant time off before training for London because he, “had to find the passion again.”

By not fighting burnout, but embracing it, we increase the likelihood of building back that flame.

Don’t be ashamed of the burnout. Be proud of the work you put in that got you there.

I took a full month off running after the MMT100. I needed it. But when I hit the trails for the first time after that break, I was like a kid in a candy shop. Eyes wide open, legs pushing hard. That day I found the passion again, and never wanted to quit.

So You’re Burnt Out, Now Pull Yourself Together

Even after all this. After claiming that burnout is not only natural, but something you should be proud of, I’m going to get real.

Pull yourself together! You’re a runner. A trail runner. And trail runners are tough.

Burning out is not an excuse to quit. Nor is it a reason to get lazy.

So take this time, and instead of forgetting about running all together, use the burnout to your advantage.

  • Take up a new sport like cycling, swimming, or something else that keeps you in shape.
  • Take care of your body so that it heals properly and prepares for next season.
  • Eat well.
  • Rest the mind.

At some point, hopefully before it’s time to really start training for next season, your burnout will end, and you’ll find that passion once again.

And when that day comes, you’ll be happy you weren’t lazy and aren’t forced to start from scratch.

Until then, embrace it. Wear your burnout proudly.

To learn more about Trail Runner Magazine’s Blog Symposium, visit there website here. 

Ed Note: This week’s Friday Footnotes was written by DC based running blogger Jamie Corey

iPhone, check. Headphones, check. GPS watch, check.

I don’t even put on my running shoes until all these items are accounted for.

Once I make the mile-run to the closest trailhead, I find every tree trunk, log or rock on the edge of the path—I’m trying to locate a spot to rest my iPhone on the ground so I can take a decent “runfie,” a selfie of me running.

Meanwhile, music blares through my headphones as my feet hit the dirt. I keep the volume low enough so that I can still hear my GPS beep every mile to inform me of my pace.

When I finally see the perfect tree trunk, I turn my timer app on and run away from my phone, then back toward it to capture a shot of me running.

I make sure the picture is okay, which it’s not, so I try again.

As soon as I capture a better picture, I keep running.

Jamie Selfie(1)A few minutes later, an all too familiar song comes on my playlist and I stop to find a new one. I don’t see anything I like on any of my playlists and decide a podcast fits my mood better.

I keep running.

My GPS beeps to inform me I’ve reached another mile. Looks like I’m halfway done. I turn around.

A few minutes later, I come across the perfect background for an unplanned runfie. I stop to grab another picture. “That’s the shot,” I think to myself.

I get back to my apartment and look at my phone to see the numerous runfies I took. I immediately upload it to Instagram and think of something clever to put in the description of the photo.

As I walk up the stairs to my apartment building, I look down and realize my watch is still tracking my run. I stop and save the workout and it tells me my splits were negative.

The satisfaction of this run doesn’t come from these negative splits though, it comes from how awesome my runfie was.

Since entering the online running community a few years ago, I’ve been lured me into logging nearly every run with a picture or tweet.

On one hand, I believe my online presence has opened up several doors for me. I’m now a contributing writer for a local running magazine and numerous running websites. But on the other hand, I’ve lost sight of the real goal—enjoying a run all on its own.

After realizing several weeks ago that negative splits don’t satisfy me more than a good runfie does, I decided to do something.

Leaving the Technology Behind

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetOn National Running Day, I made a resolution to “unplug.” I took my GPS watch off my arm, left the headphones tangled up on my dresser and took one last look at my phone to see what the time was before heading out.

As I reached the trailhead a mile into my run, I wasn’t looking for the perfect tree trunk, log or rock on the edge of the trail. The trail looked like a completely different forest to me. I could hear the sound of the birds chirping in my ears and saw the large, green, leafy trees surrounding me from every angle.

Every step I took felt like I was becoming more in tune with the environment around me.

I felt naked without my headphones and GPS watch but more importantly, I felt free. I didn’t need the sound of a podcast or playlist to distract me. I was letting nature take me on the run.

The weeks to follow, I began setting aside more and more days to be unplugged. I craved the sound of water moving through the creek more than I did a good podcast.

It seems these days many of us can’t enjoy a good meal or run without capturing a picture of the experience. But how do we enjoy the actual experience if we don’t take the time to enjoy it in the moment.

Capturing runs with pieces of technology has its place, but unplugging does as well. Everything in life has its balance—social media runners are allowed balance, too.

Jamie Corey is a marathoner and the writer behind the D.C. based running blog Run the District. She’s also a columnist for RunWashington, Active Life DC, and Active.com. Follow all those columns and more on twitter @DCRunster.

580Ed Note: This week’s Friday Footnotes is part of a submission to TrailRunnerMag.com’s Blog Symposium.

Runners love to brag about the simplicity of running. As the saying goes,

All you need is a pair of shoes and a path to run down.

Just you and the trail. It’s a beautiful concept.

At it’s core, the act of running is that simple. But as much as we like to pretend otherwise, most of us aren’t just running for the sake of running. We’re pushing to go further, get stronger, and experience new challenges.

We’re training for races and going on epic trail adventures.

And that’s when running loses part of its simplicity.

There’s No “i” in Run(ning)

As I’ve experienced time and time again, most recently during last week’s Massanutten Mountain Trails 100, trail and ultrarunning requires a lot more than just a pair of shoes and a path.

Most notably, in my opinion, is the support that’s required from your family and friends.

Support not just on race day, but from the very conception of our adventures.

It’s a given that all runners training for a big race end up spending a lot of time away from home, running their neighborhood roads or traveling to mountain trails.

We spend hours at a time running, then require time for recovery and replenishment.

A standard Saturday long-run, which are continuously repeated during a typical training plan, can dictate your entire weekend’s schedule.

And in return, the schedule of your family, who end up having to pick up your slack.

The required family support then continues on to race weekend, which often brings travel, time away from work, and if it’s an ultramarathon, extremely long hours out on the course.

The MMT100 took me just over 32 hours. That’s 32 hours of my wife and crew running around the course with little sleep and constant rush and worry.

Not a simple feat.

Finally, the support must continue even after a race, as runners recover slowly and family is left to hear war stories repeatedly as you share them with friends.

How many times can my wife listen to me talk about my stomach issues at mile 60 before she loses patience? So far so good.

That’s support. And love.

The Value of a Good Partner

As part of this month’s Trail Runner Magazine’s Blog Symposium, they raised the question of if it is better to date and/or have a partner that’s a runner or non-runner.

After reading the question, I was quick to respond: It doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter if they run or not. Instead what matters is if they are willing to support you as a runner.

I couldn’t have run my first 100 mile ultra last week without the support from my wife. She was the second half of my team, and just as instrumental to my success as myself.

The sacrifices she made leading up to the race were almost as tough as the pain I inflicted on myself throughout training, and on race day she fed me, tended to my battered feet, and gave me the encouragement I needed to push forward.

And now she’s helping me process and recover.

All necessary tasks for my success. All from my teammate: a non-runner.

It doesn’t matter in the slightest that she isn’t a runner, because she understands my passion and understands why I love what I’m doing.

She doesn’t have to want it herself.

So instead of asking if it’s better to date or have a partner that’s a runner or non-runner, what should be asked is if we can succeed as runners without the support of our partners.

And to that question, my answer would be no.

Which is why when you’ve got the perfect teammate, you stick with them.

And thank them repeatedly with flowers and special date nights.

10295795_10201593799841649_2062629419468469188_n

Note from Doug: This is the first installment of a new series I’m calling Friday Footnotes. A few times each month we’ll be releasing an additional post, sometimes from me, sometimes from guest writers, but always on a Friday. The goal of these posts will not be another how to or information driven post, but will instead be thoughts, stories, and meditations on any given topic related to running and the trail running lifestyle, inspired by our experiences on the trail.

I look forward to hearing what you think about this new type of content on Rock Creek Runner, and having more broad discussions on topics facing our community. So let’s get to it.

Inspiration

After crossing the finish line a few weeks ago at the Bel Monte Endurance Run 50 miler, I was overcome by a feeling of relief. Not the relief I normally get from races, where the emotion is mixed with elation and a sense of accomplishment, but instead it was a feeling relief that the damn race was over.

“Thank god that’s done with,” I remember telling my dad who had come out to support me.

And I couldn’t really figure out why this one felt different.

Bel Monte had all the makings of what would be my ideal race:

  1. A beautiful course,
  2. A well run operation (aid stations, support, course markings),
  3. A lively group of runners,
  4. And extremely challenging sections which I normally can’t get enough of.

It’s a race I know I’ll go back to, because it was that good.

But for some reason, I wasn’t filled with that satisfaction that has kept me coming back to ultras.

Thinking back on it a few days later, I started to piece together what happened and why I was feeling that way.

The answer was simple: Inspiration.

I’ve run very few events where that race wasn’t the end goal. Where that race wasn’t what I had been training and working for.

And because it wasn’t the end goal, the act of racing that day wasn’t providing much inspiration.

Instead, it was just one more thing I had to check off the list before I could start focusing on my real goal, the forthcoming Massanutten Mountain Trail 100.

Realizing that it was the lack of inspiration had me bummed out.

Why wasn’t the act of spending the day running and pushing myself not big enough motivation in and of itself?

Because I had lost sight of the big picture.

Checking in with Your Inspiration

GOPR0015Less than a week later I went out on my first big run after the race, a link-up for six of the “Seven Sisters,” a string of seven mountain peaks connected by a single ridge a few miles from where I’m living outside Asheville, North Carolina.

It would take me about 2.5-3 hours at a mild effort to complete the out and back, which included roughly 3,500 feet of climb, rugged single track, 6 peaks between 3,950 ft and 5,408 ft, and some incredible overlooks.

The trail starts with a 1,500 foot climb within the first mile and a half. I take off power hiking the steep climb with as much strength as my legs can expense.

By the time I reached the first peak and first major overlook, a smile had stretched out across my face.

My inspiration was back.

It was then that I realized I had been so caught up in my training that I had lost sight of what I was training to begin with. I’m not training in order to run 100 miles.

I’m training for the experiences I’ll have in the process of running 100 miles.

For the adventures and explorations (just like that Seven Sisters run) I go on throughout the journey.

For the people I’ll meet and the views I’ll see.

And for the challenges that teach me new lessons and how to be a better person.

At Bel Monte I was treating the race as a task, not part of the experience. And my inspiration was lost in the process.

G0010075

We all find inspiration from different things.

I loved reading stories around the Boston Marathon of runners inspired by those out running the race this year. And I love hearing people share stories of how inspiring friends, family, and even complete strangers can be.

Some people are inspired by a drive for a healthier lifestyle or facing down new fears. Some just by the daily ritual.

Whatever the inspiration, it can be easy to lose sight of it.

Which is precisely why I plan to start taking care of mine, and checking in on it to make sure we’re still on the same page.