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Don’t Fight the Burnout

Don’t Fight the Burnout.  Just Burn Out.

Some people know when to expect it.  Others, it will catch by surprise.  And the lucky few, despite being both rigorous and consistent with their training methods will successfully avoid it somehow.

The reality though is that in most cases, a periodized training plan is much like a wave.  Energy moving in one direction, set to peak, and then crash.

If this seems like too bizarre or far-fetched of a concept for you to swallow, fine.  Drop the wave analogy.  But don’t ignore the fact that your annual training plan is most likely designed for peak fitness around your priority event(s) followed by “recovery”.

You can certainly call this crashing phase “recovery” if you like.  But also don’t be shy about calling it “Demotivated to get out of bed to train for the entire month of October.”  Essentially, that’s what can happen.

Rebel agains the demands of your body during this critical period, and you can expect these feelings of fatigue and a lack of motivation to last even longer… 

If you’ve read about periodizing your training schedule or you have been coached on the concepts, chances are you are at least somewhat prepared for this.  No one races at peak performance year-round.  

In fact, nobody maintains peak performance much beyond 4-6 weeks out of the entire year.  

This isn’t to say that you can’t post a PB sometime in the midst of your build cycle, or several weeks after your “A race” for the season.  There will always be other factors that contribute to your performance or lack thereof on any given day.

Just be sure that you anticipate the burnout, the “breakdown”, the absolute NEED to rest and recover.  

And when it comes, unless you can afford to sleep 12+ hours each night, don’t resist it.  Embrace it. 

Training through it…

University milers and other distance runners in the 70’s and 80’s knew all about the burnout.  They trained to compete year-round.  Cross-country, indoor, track… 

And they trained through their burnouts too.  

They also ate Big Macs, ice cream sundays, beef patties and other junk.  

In John L. Parkers Novel Once a Runner he summarizes the eating mentality nicely,  “If the furnace is hot enough, it’ll burn…”

Parker also portrays an accurate image of the attitudes and lifestyles of these 2-a-day year-round competitors during a typical period of burnout:

Sleep 14 hours.

Wake up and train.


Be negative and miserable to others.

Eat again and likely have a nap.

Train again.

Eat once more.

Sleep 14 hours…

Is your training worth all of this?  

If it is, can you afford to spend almost 60% of your life sleeping?

For ordinary mortals, the answers to those questions are most likely “no”. 

If they are your answers too, don’t fight the burnout.  Just burn out.

Happy training.  And happy burnout too.



I’m 26 years old. I have a beautiful girlfriend who doesn’t mind coming out to long races in the extreme heat or pouring rain, and splitting the grocery bill with me and my 4000 calorie / day vegan diet. I’m a triathlete from the ankles up. I started out as a very biomechanically inefficient runner… the worst you’ve ever seen, I guarantee. I’ve somehow managed to drag my pancake-flat feet through marathons, triathlons, and even a 400 kilometre 10-day charity fundraiser run. Shifting the focus away from running though, and training as a triathlete has helped to keep me injury free for the last 3 years. It’s even made me a little faster on my feet. Aside from swimming, cycling and running, I like travel, yoga, and surfing. In 2006, my girlfriend and I lived in Japan and went surfing every week… unfortunately, there is no surfing in Markham.

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  • Ditto that So True! The worst mistake (which I made) is to not give your body the proper rest it needs. Restarted too soon after a brief December rest, and boy was I burned out. Six weeks later I was injured. Was I disapponted? No way. It was just a huge relief. Can you imagine being happy I got injured? The best thing that happened to me for this season, and now I can rebuild toward a new performance high. All last season’s PBs seamed crazy to repeat – now they are gettable and I am ready for the challenge.

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