Avoiding Burnout During Marathon Training

asweatlife_Avoiding Burnout During Marathon Training

(Nike Running Club Photo courtesy of Nike Chicago)

The “holy shit, I signed up for a marathon!” feeling carries you through the first month of training. The “yeah, I’m totally going to rock this marathon!” feeling carries you through the second month of training. The “oh shit, I have a marathon at the end of this month” feeling carries you through the fourth month of training.

But the third month of training? That’s the “ugh, my life has been reduced to running and thinking about running and planning to run” feeling that, if you’re not careful, can ruin your marathon.

This marathon cycle, much more than my first marathon, I’ve been on that edge of burnout. Part of that is because the marathon training plan I’ve made for myself (with the help of Nike’s running app) has a lot more miles on it than what I ran during my first marathon training cycle – my long runs escalated pretty quickly, and I’ve done two 20-milers in addition to several 16-18 milers. Plus, since I’ve started using Hard Pressed during this cycle, I have two-a-days at least twice a week, sometimes three. It’s all with the goal of a major PR, and it’ll be worth it – at least, that’s what I’ve told myself during the tough moments when I just. Don’t. Feel. Like. It.

Burnout may seem like something to “just get over,” but in fact, it can be kind of dangerous- especially in combination with the kind of stress running puts on your body. Burnout can lead to fatigue, loss of motivation, depression, anger and injuries from overuse. Other common symptoms include:

  • Sleep loss
  • Weight loss
  • Higher incidence of colds and respiratory infections
  • Increased muscle soreness and chronic muscle fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lack of desire to get out the door and run
  • Increased perception of difficulty on runs, even easy runs
  • Anxiety about next workout/race

Since burnout impacts both your physical and mental performances, you should make sure to address both sides of burnout. Here’s how:

Physical Ways to Treat Burnout


This is a “duh” solution, but it works. If you’re entirely sick of running, don’t make yourself run. Opt for a different workout instead, whether it’s spin, yoga, kickboxing, or whatever sounds appetizing to you at the moment. I also find that attending a group fitness class is a fantastic change of pace (no pun intended) from my usual solo runs; having other people around is an excellent motivational tool, and the dynamic of having an energetic instructor gets me amped too.

Enter a race

It may not be part of you plan, but sometimes a spontaneous 10K on a Saturday morning can be more beneficial than your prescribed 20-miler. Entering a race and running it hard can give you proof that your training is paying off, and those results might just reinvigorate your next run.

Mix up your pace

During my first marathon training, I ran every run at the same pace – basically however I was feeling that morning. While that was fine for my first time, I would go crazy if my runs this season were all in the same pace range. Instead, I do speed workouts at least twice per week with deliberately slower “recovery” runs on the other weekdays. Sometimes, knowing that a workout will be over in a short 40 minutes or that I can go however slow I feel like going is what I need to hear to get me out the door.

Shake up your route

When I was reading about burnout, one article mentioned the Law of Diminishing Returns- basically, the idea that your body gets less and less benefit from a stimulus over time. While I’d only heard about it in conjunction with addiction beforehand, it totally makes sense for running too – especially during a 16-week training cycle, when you tend to run the same routes time after time.

I know it’s kind of an overused phrase, but finding a different running route gives your brain a new challenge as well as your body. Consider planning extra-special routes for your long runs, like getting a little ways out of town for a trail run or taking the El to the northernmost stop and then running back into the city.

Take a day off

As a Type A marathon runner, the idea of taking a day off makes me feel sick to my stomach, even if I know in my head that a day off is exactly what I need. Honestly, sometimes taking a day off is harder than getting out of bed at 5:30 am to go run. Here’s what I try to remember: one day, one workout, or one run is not going to cause to you not finish your marathon or hit your time goal. You train over the period of four months for a reason – because it takes time to get there, and because you need to have breaks built in to your training. The phrase “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” refers just as much to your training as it does to your race day.

Mental Ways to Treat Burnout

Know that you’re not nuts

Burnout is completely normal. It happens to the best athletes, and experiencing burnout shouldn’t leave you wracked with guilt, nor should you interpret it as a sign that you’re not training hard enough. Burnout happens because you ARE training hard enough! Plus, burnout is temporary – this too, shall pass.

Look into the future

One of my favorite phrases is “You never regret a workout.” Whenever I don’t want to go for a run (which happens more often than you’d think), I picture myself 45 minutes in the future – am I dripping sweat, choosing a hashtag for the picture I took during my run and chatting away while endorphins course through my veins? Or am I just now getting out of bed, feeling guilty that I didn’t run and slightly panicking at how I’m going to fit a run in now that I’ve slept in? The first vision usually wins.

Find a friend

I think a lot of burnout comes from the burden of training solo for a goal in which you’re really the only person accountable for whether or not you hit that goal. That’s a lot to shoulder during an already mentally and physically taxing time. One of the best ways I’ve found to ease that burden is to run with a group, or even just one other person. The miles go by a lot faster when you have good friends by your side.

Treat yo’self

I love the idea of “long run only” goodies, so I tend to save chocolate milk and my favorite flavor of Clif Bar for my long runs. A solid shopping spree never hurts either – after all, you need a great race day outfit. You can also make a rule for yourself that you’ll only listen to a new playlist or audiobook during a run. It may seem childish but hey, positive reinforcement works.


Like I said, burnout is a temporary state of mind, and if it rears its ugly head, it’s because you’ve been working your ass off and race day is getting close. Don’t let burnout get you, and remember that one day off in the long run will benefit you more from forcing a workout your body just wasn’t feeling.

Endurance Move

About Kristen Geil

A native of Lexington, Kentucky, Kristen moved to Chicago in 2011 and received her MA in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse from DePaul while trying to maintain her southern accent. Kristen grew up playing sports, and since moving to Chicago, she’s fallen in love with the lakefront running path and the lively group fitness scene. Now, as a currently retired marathoner and sweat junkie, you can usually find her trying new workouts around the city and meticulously crafting Instagram-friendly smoothie bowls. Kristen came on to A Sweat Life full-time in 2018 as Editor-in-Chief, and she spends her days managing writers, building content strategy, and fighting for the Oxford comma.

6 thoughts on “Avoiding Burnout During Marathon Training

  1. You should just be like me and say “wait, I have a race in less than a month? Better start running!”

  2. I am struggling to find my running grove after my race. I am no Stella, because she easily got her grove back.

    1. no need to rush back after your half! take as much time off as feels right!

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