Evaluating Your Training to Overcome Burn-Out, or, How to Learn From My Mistakes

This year, every time a new month appears on my calendar, I find myself thinking, “How is it already [fill-in-the-blank]?” 2012 is going by quickly, which means that the fall racing season and my upcoming first marathon next winter will be here soon.

I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on how my training has been going so far, and thinking about what I need to do in the coming months to make sure I’m ready to toe the line at my “A” race this fall and be healthy for that big 26.2-miler in February 2013.

A few weeks ago, I ran the Lawyers Have Heart 10K here in D.C. I did not have a good race. At all. I was almost three minutes off my PR at that distance, and just two months earlier I ran the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler at a pace that was 40 seconds faster per mile.

After dwelling in negativity about running and myself for a couple of days, I realized I’d suffered my first bout of “burn out.” Packing my spring schedule with race after race (3 half marathons, 1 10-miler, 2 10Ks, and 2 5Ks) finally caught up to me, and on June 9th, I bonked – big time.

The biggest battle I lost that day wasn’t physical, though, it was ALL mental. Excuse after excuse overpowered my thoughts, and it took all my strength not to stop.

I crossed the finish line, but it’s been a long time since I was that happy for a race to end.  That got me down.

I love racing! I love setting out all my gear the night before, I love envisioning my race strategy before falling asleep, I love not being able to sleep because of nerves and excitement, I love  the adrenaline of race morning, I love getting to a start line and seeing how many other people love doing these things, too.

At every race I ran this past spring, I felt those unabashed “true love” emotions. Until the Lawyers Have Heart 10K – I had absolutely no love at that race…

With countless running highs still in my recent memory, I forgot that there are also lows in this sport. It’s how you handle, and eventually overcome, the valleys that makes you a stronger runner at the peaks.

When I realized I’d burned myself out on racing, I ordered a “cease-and-desist” on clicking any “Register Now” buttons. I took time to go through my training log, really reading and evaluating my entries to see exactly when things started straying from smiley faces and sunshine to repeatedly selecting the depressing “alright” icon on DailyMile.

I read some popular running books about proper training, and dove into articles I found online about reversing burn out.

As for training, I cut back my mileage for a few weeks and incorporated more cross-training and scheduled (because I’m really bad about giving my body a break), complete rest days, both of which I plan to keep in my program as I gear up for the fall. My revised program now follows this weekly pattern:

  • One Tempo Run
  • One Day of Speed Work (Track Intervals or Hill Repeats)
  • One Long Run (some with goal pace miles, many without)
  • Two Recovery Runs (one short with drills & strides and one medium-long run)
  • Two Strength Training Workouts (paired with cross-training or recovery days)
  • Two Cross Training Sessions (one is almost always free community yoga at Lululemon)
  • One FULL Rest Day

There’s enough variety to keep me challenged and entertained, which I know I need to stick with any sort of plan. And, now, I understand the importance of flexibility in training. There are days where some workouts haven’t happened, and I’ve accepted that rather than berating myself.

Reviewing my training log also made it clear the areas I needed most improvement so I tried to find “fun” ways to work on them. For me, this included finding local groups I could join for organized track workouts, tempo runs, and bootcamp-like strength training. I always thought of myself as a solo runner, but I noticed a pattern in my logs – every time I ran with a group, I pushed myself harder and ran more consistently. Plus, not ONE of those runs had been designated a “blah” or “alright” run. So, I sought out more ways to run with other people using good-old Google.

Another big change I’m made is that, much to the dismay of my boyfriend who loves waking up before 6 am to cheer for me, I WON’T be signing up for every single race this fall. Right now, I’m aiming for no more than one race per month and a couple of those will be disguised as training runs for the marathon.

Now, I feel like I’m back on track (looks like I picked an appropriate name for my blog…) with my training. I’m excited to see how the changes I’ve made affect my running leading up to the fall racing season because even though it’s only the first week of July, September will be here before we know it.

7 thoughts on “Evaluating Your Training to Overcome Burn-Out, or, How to Learn From My Mistakes

  1. That sounds extremely similar to the plan that I am working on for my second full marathon in October. I ran 6 days per week and did little (if ANY!) cross training for my first marathon. I was WIPED at the end of it. So good luck defeating your burn out.

    • Thanks for commenting, Emily! When I first started running long distance, I thought I needed to run 6 or 7 days per week. Now, I listen to my body and take rest days when needed. Sometimes, I run more days than others because I really do love running but most weeks I know I need a break.

      Good luck on training for your next marathon!

    • So true – it’s hard to appreciate the good when you’ve never experienced any bad, right? Love the line about lawyers – I’m going to tell Raph it’s all HIS fault. HA!

  2. thanks for the link love!!🙂 yea, those running highs and lows are pretty severe and they certainly have ‘weeded’ out many a promising runner. but like u said, those who last are able to catch watever may be keeping them down and shift focus…i’m glad u were able to dig out of the burn-out rut…u’ve got MUCH to much too keep running for.🙂

    • You’re so right that it’s about shifting focus. This is another thing I’ve been trying to work on – how to take thoughts that might be negative (I’ve only run 2 miles?) and make them positive (wow! I’ve already gone 2 miles!). It goes a long way to staying on track with the mental struggle running can bring about.

  3. Pingback: San Francisco Half Marathon 2012 Race Recap | Staying On Track

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