February 22, 2021

Running Burnout

As I've mentioned a few times recently, I have been wanting to start running regularly again--and I actually feel excited about it!

I wish I still had this shirt! It was from an 8K race in 2011.

I've been reading 'The Happy Runner' by David and Megan Roche (Amazon affiliate link) and there was a chapter that really made me stop and think. It was about running burnout--how and why it happens, and how to prevent it. While reading, I realized that it is EXACTLY what happened to me back in 2016 after my 10K in April. I lost my running mojo and never got it back.

I was training so hard for that 10K race for months. I had a big goal for a personal record and I was determined to reach it. I wrote about my training. I shared my goals. I made running my biggest priority. And you know what happened when I crossed the finish line with 19 seconds to spare?

Nothing.

I had a new PR, which felt good. I was happy that I hit my goal because I would have felt embarrassed to NOT do it after having trained so hard and talking about it so much. But that, right there, is where the problem was. I was focused on what other people might think. 

This is such ridiculous thinking because literally NO ONE CARES what my personal record is for the 10K. And if I tell them, then they would surely forget within a minute or two anyway. Even if I said I didn't reach my goal, I'm pretty sure that no one would give another thought to it after that moment. I couldn't tell you what my runner friends' PR's are in any distance. They probably told me they hit their goal with such and such time, and felt great. I'm sure I congratulated them, and then promptly forgot what their finish time was.

It kind of reminds me of when I used to work at Curves (a fitness center for women) back in 2003-2005. When new members would join, I would weigh them and take their measurements. I did it automatically, without even thinking about their weight. I certainly didn't silently judge them for it. The second I wrote it down, it was out of my memory. I would see members out and about (grocery shopping or whatever) and say hello. But if you asked me what their weight was, I wouldn't be able to guess within a 30-pound range! I didn't care what they weighed, so why would I remember it?

Anyway, I trained and trained and trained for that 10K. I crossed the finish line at the race, and then... I was the same person I was before. The only difference was that I ran 19 seconds faster over a distance of 6.2 miles. I can't say that I FELT the burnout or "let down" after the race. I just didn't have any direction or any real reason to run after that.

In the book 'The Happy Runner', the authors write about how important it is to have a WHY when it comes to running. Why do you do it? If nobody would ever know what your training looked like, how many miles you ran, what your paces were, what your goals were, or anything else... would you still train the same way?

When I really thought about this, the answer was an obvious no for me. When I know people will see my training log, or even if I know I'm going to post it here, I do things differently than I would if nobody would ever know. Sure, that might be good for accountability--it's certainly pushed me in the past, like it did with the 10K (I would have fallen back at mile four of the 10K if nobody would ever know my time--I was dying at that point!).

The problem with it, though, is that it's no longer about running for myself--it's about running to meet certain expectations. And when I actually finished, I no longer had a reason to run. I'd met my goals and I didn't have a desire to run farther or faster. (I still don't.)

This has really made me think about why I want to be a runner again. My attempts over the past few years to start running again have been more about other people ("Wait, you're 'Runs for Cookies', but you don't run?") and not about myself. During the summer and fall, when having thoughts of running, I kept them to myself because I didn't want to put it out there and then have it be about meeting those expectations. 

This time, I have a different reason for why I want to run. It has nothing to do with running fast or far. I want to run to feel healthy and fit. I want to run because it gives me a big mental boost when I'm done. I want to run because I CAN--my entire life, up until I lost the weight, I assumed that I couldn't run. I thought you had to be skinny and an athlete right out of the womb to be a runner.

Spectating the Detroit Free Press Marathon in 2013

After getting involved in the running community and meeting a ton of diverse runners, I saw that I actually can be a runner. No prerequisites required.

When I think of being a "happy runner", this is what it means to me:

  • I can run any distance I want (even if it's just a mile here and there)
  • I can run at any pace I want (even if I never run faster than a turtle)
  • I don't have to stick to a strict schedule (a guideline is nice, but if I don't follow it exactly, it's not going to matter)
  • If I find that I'm dreading running, then I can back off
  • I can do races if I want, but I don't have to
You know that saying, "Dance like no one is watching"? Well, I want to run like no one is going to see my Garmin stats ;)  I don't mind sharing them--Now, I've gotten to the point where I am not going to feel pressure of any kind by what others might think. I will run how I want. I'll still enjoy looking at my stats (I love numbers!) but they will not determine my "success" or "failure".

I don't have an end goal. I don't have goals of getting faster or running particular race distances. I just want to run because it makes me feel good. I'm sure I'll have runs that I don't enjoy, and that's okay, too. All runners have days like that--even the authors of 'The Happy Runner'!

I'll write more on Wednesday about what I've been doing as far as running goes, but I will say that I've actually really enjoyed it. I feel my best on the days that I run, even if it's only a few intervals on the treadmill. And I actually find myself looking forward to doing it again. All it took was this change in mindset--thinking about WHY I want to run and making it about me rather than what other people think. That's great progress for me :)

I haven't finished the book yet, but I'll write more about it when I do!

3 comments:

  1. If you enjoy the book, you should check out their podcast - Some Work All Play. Warning, they talk really fast :)

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  2. I ran track and cross country in high school so I've always admired runners. I read your blog for your weight loss and family stories...in fact, I usually skip the ones that geek out on running! I love measurement and know why you track all the data you do, I'm just not interested in reading about it :)

    I started reading your blog because of the weight loss and having an interest in running but now I just enjoy your projects, hearing about your family, and reading your recipes! I call you "Running for Cookies Katie" when I tell my husband something I read in your blog.

    So....I'll keep reading, and skipping the ones that don't catch my eye, but don't stop anything you're doing because you're an inspiration to many!

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  3. It's really great that you've figured out the real reason to run--for your physical and mental health and your own personal satisfaction. Not focusing on being "accountable" to nameless, faceless "others" and their opinions is a good life philosophy for running and frankly, for many other things in life. You are becoming more authentic as you become more true to yourself.

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