5 Ways to Avoid Burning Out on Your Run

Dec 12 / Build Muscle

If you always seem to hit a wall in the middle of your run, you have more options than "push through" or "give up." There are some strategies that will help take you past the wall—and clear to the finish line.

The best part: You don't have to train more. You just have to train smarter. Here's how.

Start really, really slow

On your long runs, follow the example of the world's top distance runners: "These guys like to start their runs barely jogging," says Andrew Kastor, coaching director for the L.A. Marathon and head coach of Asics Mammoth Track Club.

Apply the "rule of thirds" strategy to your next run. Consider the first third your warmup; you should be able to comfortably carry on a conversation at this pace. In the middle, increase your tempo to goal pace. And for the last third, maintain your speed or step on the gas. If you can't do either, then you're still starting too fast, says Kastor.

Your heart rate monitor is a great tool, but it may not tell you much at mile 12. That's because your body becomes more efficient the greater the distance, so your heart rate may not fluctuate even as you speed up, says Kastor. You're better off finding your perfect pace by feel, not numbers.

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Change up your route

If you jog the same path every time, it doesn’t take long before boredom and frustration can kick in.

“You'd be surprised at how many of us run the same four or five routes all the time,” says Ian Torrence, assistant running coach and ultramarathon guru for McMillan Running Company. “We start racing them, trying to better our times. This is an unproductive, unhealthy cycle.”

But a change of scenery can do wonders for your motivation. Use Mapmyrun.com, Garmin, or Strava to find other routes available in your area. Make it a point to add at least one new one into your routine every two weeks so things stay fresh. And if you’re always on the roads, look for nearby trails to explore, as well.

Don't bite off more than you can chew

If you're training to run longer distances than you ever have before, make sure you don't do too much too soon, says Andrew Lemoncello, professional runner and coach at McMillan Running Company. Your muscles and joints might not be ready to handle that much pounding yet, leading to injury, says Lemoncello.

The key is to build up slowly, maybe starting with 10 miles a week over three runs. Then limit yourself to no more than a 10 percent mileage increase each week so that you reduce your risk of injury. If you're feeling extra sluggish on a certain week, maintain that training level for 2 to 3 weeks before bumping up another 10 percent. It's a slow process, but it's one that works.

Take an easy day

Don't feel bad about taking it easy sometimes—it can actually help you accomplish your goal.

The approach is called polarized training, and it involves deliberately mixing easy sessions in with your hard ones. Austrian researchers found that athletes who used this method showed greater gains in VO2-max—the total amount of oxygen you consume—and time to exhaustion than those who completed more standard protocols of interval training and high-volume training.

The reason it works: Low-intensity training reduces your overall load, and allows you to work harder on high-intensity days, says Neal Henderson, C.S.C.S., owner of APEX Coaching & Consulting in Boulder, Colorado. Plus, the more you work your body at an easy aerobic level, the better it gets at metabolizing fat as a fuel source during endurance events—which means you can go for longer without hitting a wall, says Henderson. 

To put it into practice, divide your weekly training sessions into two or three easy days (longer, relaxed aerobic workouts), one hard day (short-interval training), and one moderate day (moderate-length, faster-paced work), Henderson advises. Plan out your training so an easy day always follows a hard day.

Run less, lift more

Runners are often wary of lifting weights, but adding strength training to your routine may improve your mile time, according to a study in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 

“Think of strength training as building and maintaining your engine,” says Steve Di Tomaso, C.S.C.S., endurance athlete and strength coach for Envision Fitness in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Canada. Lifting weights strengthens muscles—including your glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors, and obliques—that are crucial for propelling your body forward during a run. The stronger these muscles are, the more efficient and faster you’ll be for longer. “My clients really start to notice the difference to their running after strength training,” he says. “I’ve had people tell me, ‘I usually drag my feet when I'm running uphill, now I don’t even flinch when I see a hill.'"

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