Burned Out? 4 Tips for More Mindful Running

Elinor Fish could not run one more step. As an ultrarunner training for a 100-miler, an ultra-busy running magazine editor, and a new mom, she says she’d reached a point of “complete and utter adrenal fatigue because, over the previous 18 months, I pushed myself way beyond my limits.”

As a result, her health quickly deteriorated. “I couldn’t recover from workouts, frequently became ill, and was getting one injury after another,” she says.

Which is when this runner took a step back to look at her life. Moving forward, she made dramatic changes in her lifestyle, launching into consulting runners and athletes on how to become a more mindful runner via her Running Revive program and Run Wild retreats.

“Maybe you need rest, improved nutrition, or even to step up your training—whatever it is, mindful running gives you the tools to improve your self care,” she says.

Here, Elinor shares the signs of stress overload—plus 4 ways in which we can all become more mindful runners and athletes.
WomensMovement.com: What are some signs of stress overload?

Elinor Fish: Ah, stress affects runners in so many ways. For the runner, it may begin with reduced motivation. The desire to run wanes and it requires more effort to get out the door. Stress can compromise your ability to recover from workouts. You start to feel more tired more of the time, and you stop making fitness gains.

If really left unchecked, then stress starts to affects your sleep (either your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep) and it affects your immune system, so you’re more likely to catch colds and other illnesses. I have a questionnaire on my website that people can take to help them determine their stress load here.

Others signs of stress overload include:
Chronic pain
Achy joints
Bloated stomach
Poor digestion
Sleepiness after running
Menstrual irregularities
Mood swings
Lack of motivation
Low energy
Sleep disturbances
Weak muscles
Poor recovery from workouts
Inability to reach high heart-rate zone
High resting heart rate
Feeling wired but tired
Lack confidence
Feel not good enough
Feel undeserving
Feel overwhelmed
Crave sugar
Crave meat
Depend on caffeine
Gaining weight
Inability to lose weight
Inability to gain weight
Mood swings
Extreme PMS
Dry, itchy skin or hair

WM: What are some of the best training techniques for mindful running?

1. Plan training around rest and recovery instead of around big workouts (like long runs, or interval training). Rest includes sufficient sleep (8 hours!) as well as easy or recovery days.

For my training clients, we actually look at their total stress load (life stress as well as training stress) and make sure they are getting enough “recovery” from that. (For example, you’re not going to make fitness gains if you’re up all night worrying about the finances, so there’s no sense in training hard until your rest and recovery is dialed).

2. Use a shorter training cycle. Conventional practice is to use four-week training cycles comprised of three weeks’ of build up, followed by a “rest week.” Instead, plan shorter training cycles of about 8-10 days, followed by about 3 days of easy running and/or rest.

3. Make post-run recovery nutrition a priority. The healing process begins immediately after your workout, so giving your body the nutrition it needs to perform those processes is critical. Stay away from highly processed, sugary recovery drinks and instead go for whole-food options.

You don’t need to eat a lot, since it can be hard to digest a lot at this time anyway. My favorite is a kale smoothie with a scoop of hemp protein, banana, almond milk and bit of natural maple syrup. It gives you the protein, carbohydrates and micronutrients you need to start the recovery process.

4. Address your stress (outside of training). Your body responds to life stress the same way it does to exercise stress. There’s a shift in hormones, increased blood pressure, inflammation, changes in brain function and other vital functions.

Collectively, this is called the stress response and it primes us for fight or flight. This can be helpful in the short term (as in when facing danger or running a race), but when it’s occurring day after day while you sit behind a desk at a stressful job, or face a difficult relationship, for example, then it wears you down physically and mentally. You may not be able to control your external stress sources, but you can change how you respond to them.

Below I explain how running can help alleviate stress, but there are other things that can help as well. Some people find activities like yoga and seated meditation very effective at reducing stress. And when you have an acute issue that really makes you upset, a very effective tool for working through it is EFT, or emotional freedom technique. There’s  a great book on this topic, The Tapping Solution, that explain how to do it.

WM: What are the dangers of not paying attention to our body’s signals?

Elinor: Stress contributes greatly to this country’s rapidly growing rate of chronic disease and rapid aging. Stress is associated with all kinds of conditions, from cancer to heart disease to diabetes. And as we age, our risk factors for all these conditions increase significantly.

I care so much about what stress is doing to our health because for 20 years I have lived with an auto-immune disease that is greatly influenced by my stress. Since learning to see this disease as part of my body’s own feedback system, I see its value in alerting me when my stress levels are getting high. My goal is educate others about the relationship between stress and health so that they can feel empowered to take charge of their health instead of feeling like victims of their conditions.
WM: Why is running a great solution for stress relief?

Elinor: When managed well, running is one of the easiest, more accessible, and effective means of relieving stress. Anyone can do it and it works almost immediately. Running not only releases endorphins and other biochemicals that make us feel good, it helps to connect body and mind in a state of relaxed and focus effort.

The thing is, running actually keeps us young. Studies, such as one done at Stanford University, have shown that running can make joints like knees more resilient to wear and tear, and runners are less likely to develop heart disease, stroke, cancer, neurological diseases, or infections.

When you strike just the balance between doing something that is challenging yet within your skill level, you can attain the state known as “flow,” when you are completely immersed in the act of running and you are in the present moment. At this time, our worries, fears, and thoughts of the past and future have melted away and you tap into a powerful state of being that lets you reach your full potential. 

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Erinn Morgan


After a 10-year career as an award-winning New York City-based editor launching and redesigning urban, style-driven magazines, Erinn Morgan left her downtown Manhattan digs after September 11th, 2001, in search of a less encumbered, freelance lifestyle. A life-changing, two-year-long trek around the country in a motorhome eventually landed her in Durango, Colo., which she now calls home. Her writing has appeared in numerous— More about this author →