Running and Mental Burnout


I’m going to take a moment to brag: 2015 has been an awesome year for my race calendar. In June, I experienced my first Nike Women’s race on the Toronto Islands with my #girlgang. I ran around in the pitch dark at 3 am in Oregon during the Hood to Coast relay in August. I experienced my first trail half marathon in Wisconsin and two weeks later I beamed with pride as I crossed the finish line of the Grand Rapids Marathon (even though I didn’t get my PR).

… And by the time November rolled around, I found it hard to get out of bed to run a quick 3-mile jaunt.

Here’s a moment of honesty: if I didn’t have the Chicago Hot Chocolate 15K race on my calendar, I probably would not have run at all this month, and I couldn’t figure out why. I LOVE running. Well, I love running sometimes. It’s more of a love/hate relationship. Regardless, I can usually muster the motivation to get myself out the door for a quick run every so often to rediscover the joy I get from the sport.

But not lately.

I have never been unmotivated on race day. Sure, the night before I often ask myself, “WHY do I do this again?” – but never on race day. On race day, I always get butterflies when I see the starting line; the oxygen I’m breathing is somehow fresher and I typically feel tall and strong and capable. As I walked up to the start line of the Hot Chocolate 15K, I didn’t feel any of it.

I thought, surely, by mile two I would be excited.


A race meant to bring back the fun (and delicious chocolate) into running made me realize how much fun I wasn’t having anymore. It wasn’t race management (which was on point that day, by the way) to blame – it was something about me.

Since the race, I have set, reset and snooze button-ed alarm after alarm. I seem to have lost my running mojo. At first, I beat myself up about it. I tried to guilt myself into movement. I made mental notes of my laziness and berated myself through internal, silent, dangerous whispers. Before I knew it, my form of stress relief became my cause of stress.

So, naturally, I panicked. I’m a runner! People even refer to me as, ‘Cass, you know, the runner/my running friend’ sometimes. What if I don’t like running anymore? What happens then?

Being the millennial that I am, I Googled it. I quickly realized that I’m not alone. It’s called mental burnout, and it happens to runners all the time. And as I work towards gaining my running mojo back, I’ve found solace in the following tips to help me get there.

1. Give it a rest.

Training, and especially training for long periods of time, takes a lot out of a person. It’s both physically tough AND mentally strenuous. Even professional athletes tend to tone down their race calendar (such as only running two marathons per year, no big deal). But honestly, they do it for a reason. It can be extremely challenging to put yourself through the mental endurance it takes to go through weeks, if not months, of training at a time. Sometimes we need to take the time to reset and recharge. Lately, I’ve been swapping out three and five-mile runs with yoga classes to help me remember to relax.

2. Refocus.

It’s hard to be anything 100% all the time. Nobody can be a 100% runner day in and day out. The winter is a perfect time to focus on another aspect of health you wanted to try or have been neglecting, such as strength training (which will help tremendously when you get back into running – win/win!). You don’t have to stop running entirely, but you can replace some runs with a few new classes or work outs to mix it up and keep it fresh.

3. Let go of statistics.


If and when you do go for a run, leave the Garmin watch at home. Let yourself stop worrying about pace for a while and run by feel instead. As a data dweeb, I understand that this is also hard to do. But as a (normally) rational person, I understand how important it can be to take a break from the facts and figures on occasion. If you are like me and find yourself staring at your pace on your watch all too often, let that shit go – at least for now.

4. Reconnect.

Sometimes (er, usually) you can’t fix things all by yourself. Reconnect with friends and fellow runners to help give you the motivation to #GetOutHere. Better yet, help connect someone else to the sport. There are few things more inspiring than watching a friend finish her first 5K, and perhaps you’ll remember the magic this sport brings by watching someone else experience it.

5. Forgive yourself.

It’s okay to admit you are burnt out. Not every run is going to be perfect and it’s OKAY to take a break. Here’s a secret I’ve learned: you don’t have to always LOVE running to call yourself a runner. It took a couple weeks to internalize my feelings (I’m not the best with emotions, you guys) and realize that I can’t control everything in my life, and how I feel about running is included in that “everything” package. I’m working on forgiving myself and being understanding about my lack of enthusiasm for running right now.

Dear Runner Self,

You’re not lazy. You’re not a piece of shit. You’re just a little unmotivated and burnt out right now, but that’s okay and I understand and I’m still going to be here for you to listen and help.

You’ll get through this. Take care of yourself in the meantime. I’ll see you soon.


Whole Self

Now, let’s get through this mental burnout already because I have a 2016 race calendar to fill.

Endurance Move

About Cass Gunderson

Cass hails from the southwest suburbs as a proud White Sox fan and a graduate of University of Illinois. By day, Cass is a full-time student at the University of Chicago's Booth Graduate Business School. Before deciding to throw away all her money to go back to school, Cass worked for a private equity firm that buys technology companies. Raised as the youngest in a family of older brothers, Cass grew up a tomboy and remains active in sports. To her mother’s satisfaction, Cass learned how to embrace her feminine side in college and has developed an interest for fitness activities that require spandex as opposed to knee-length basketball shorts. In her spare time, she runs a lot because it is cheaper than paying for real therapy. Cass has completed four marathons and one ultramarathon (she claims she'll never do this to herself again, but that's TBD). She can still be found on the basketball courts in Lincoln Park wearing knee-length basketball shorts.

1 thought on “Running and Mental Burnout

  1. After my marathon I’m taking two weeks off. The the next two weeks will consist of running slowly based on time. It felt good to not run for a while when I tried this method last year

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