Feeling low? Slow, burned out, fatigued? Sick of it, done with it, over it–all of it?! I’m there too. And trust me, I know it’s a rough place to be. My mileage is currently the lowest its ever been in my entire running history. Many days I don’t even feel like running. I’m currently battling some serious life hurdles, and working hard to stave off the depression I know all too well. And that endorphin infused run high that I love so much? Well… right now, it is nowhere to be found. But, [BUT!] I’m not discouraged!! I have been in this place more times than I can count, and just as many times, I have bounced back unscathed. I have picked up a few tricks along the way to help myself out when I get to this low point. I hope these tips can help you out, too!
DITCH OR SWITCH THE GOAL- This is first because it’s my number one piece of advice. “But what? WHAT?! But…GOAL RACES ARE EVERYTHING!!!!” Actually, goal races aren’t everything. There is so much more to running than racing! I believe that there should be one true goal for everyone in running, and that is health and happiness. Running is a great hobby, but oftentimes, we can pound ourselves with races, goal times, and striving to be better, faster, and stronger. If a goal time or race is bringing you down mentally and/or physically, you can cut it out, and live to race another day. Let it go, and just enjoy running for what it is for a season. When I start to feel burned out, this is definitely the first thing I do. I run with no race in mind, and it allows me to focus on the act of running, and not my hopes in running. If you feel you really need a goal and there’s no way around that, try switching your goal to something less stressful. I often switch from race goals to personal achievement goals… For instance, my current goal is to run all the way up Rocky Top Mountain, Tennessee this Spring. It is my favorite mountain, and it brings me so much joy every time I run up it. This type of goal works for me right now as opposed to a racing goal. I feel no pressure in achieving it at any certain time, and I am enjoying training for it.
GRAB A BIKE- I say a bike, because mountain biking is so fun to me, but really it could be anything….Just not running. A lot of us run our bodies into the dirt, and rarely take time off. It’s what we’ve been told to do. MILEAGE MILEAGE MILEAGE. If this isn’t you– well… A++, good job, you have a brain! The rest of us are slow learners. Step away from the great and mighty running god you have created in your life, and let other modes of fun fitness take reign every now and then. Running will still be there when you get back, promise! When I start feeling low, I immediately supplement a few running days each week with other modes of movement- I like mountain biking, kayaking, climbing, yoga, and calisthenics. All of them help me return to running the next feeling a little more rested and mentally ready for the day’s mileage.
DON’T BE A PERFECTIONIST- While I’ve been slowly building my mileage back up, I’ve felt so weak and lazy during my runs. I get annoyed with myself at how often I feel like walking instead of running. I hate that I can’t seem to maintain pace. And I am irritated at how often I cut my mileage short and call it a day sooner than I hoped. In short, my runs are rarely perfect and it bothers me! But then– then, I remember that I’m allowed to be an imperfect human, and it’s all just part of my journey. And really, when I look back on my life, am I going to regret that 30 second walk break I took on a hill?….doubt it. Remember that running is a lifelong journey and process, and treat it as such. Allow yourself to be in a perfectly good season of building, difficulty, and hardship. The other seasons of success, speed, and accomplishment will come soon enough!
UNFOLLOW- again, this probably sounds backwards compared to what you’ve been told, but hear me out! Motivation is a great tool. And social media is a terrific platform for people to encourage and inspire one another. But there is one thing that I think it’s all terrible for- COMPARISON. When you are down in the dirty run rut, comparing yourself to others is the very last thing you need to do. I hate when I find myself doing it! It never leads to anything good. When you scroll your facebook feed and see nothing but people sharing their incredible running pics, or bragging on their latest accomplishment, it’s easy to drag yourself even lower into the dirt and feel crappier. “Ugh. Everyone is good at running right now but me. I suck” and the run lows continue! Instead, I would encourage you to look within yourself for motivation. Think of how amazing YOU will feel when you finish a run. Think about how much healthier a good run will make you. Remind yourself how much you enjoy hitting the trails on a sunny day. Let those things be your motivation. Unfollow people that you tend to compare yourself to, or at least just logout and shut it all off for awhile. Focus on being you and pulling those spirits back up.
CHECK THE BLOOD- this one is pretty vital. If you are continuously not performing, and feeling terrible most all the time, it’s likely time to get your blood tested. Distance runners often suffer from things like low iron, vitamin D deficiency, and hormone imbalances. Just a slight lacking of any one key vitamin or nutrient can leave you feeling like a train hit you head on. Get your blood work done, and take appropriate action. I would also encourage you while you’re at it to drop crappy eating. High processed sugar and sodium intake is going to mess with your mood and your hormones, which will–without a doubt–make you feel worse during your runs. When I start to feel low, I check myself here for sure- Am I eating well? Am I getting enough GOOD quality food in my diet to keep me fueled? Answer those questions honestly. If you aren’t, head over to the farmers market for a quick fix.
DROP THE GADGET- This is a must if you are not performing well, and are starting to loathe the thought of running. You need to hide your Garmin, and lose your strava login for awhile. Tracking your runs when you are going through a low point will only going to make you obsess even more over the apparent “suckiness” of it all. Let it go for a season, and just run because you can. What good does knowing if that last mile was an 7:30 or 8:15 do for you any way?
CHANGE YOUR PERSPECTIVE- When you are running and hating it, make it a point to intentionally counteract the negative thoughts with positive ones. Today for instance, I was running on a hill, feeling far more fatigued than normal, and totally got into my own head- “Ughhh why did I take such a long break. I’m never going to be back to where I was.” But an encouraging song came up on my iPod (Overcomer), and I remembered I shouldn’t settle on that negative thought. I fought back with all the positives I could think of: “The sun is shining. I am healthy. I am free to run. Free to move. I will get stronger from this. I will make it to the top.” —-BAM. Up the hill! It was all about perspective. I could have wallowed in the pain, but I chose not to. And YOU have the power to do the same.
To sum it all up, NO PLAN, NO PROB. When you’re in a funk, just ditch your training rules completely. Run to run. Or don’t! Walk if you want to. Sit down in the middle of a trail. Go with friends, or soak up the solo time. Run long, or skip it and take your kids out for waffles. CHILL, and remember it’s just running. The plan for now simply needs to be “get out there and have fun”. You’ll be back with your A-game in no time.
Hopefully some of these tricks will help you find your groove again and get you back to some happy running! Feel free to comment below with any feedback, or some of your own tips! Thanks for reading ~Ash