Marathon Training Burnout: How to Regain Your Motivation

Training for a marathon is a GRIND. It is months of hard work, sacrifice, and dedication. And many runners may find themselves suffering from marathon training burnout.

They may be dreading runs and questioning why they even set the goal of running 26.2 miles.

In this article, we’ll look at:

  • What Is Marathon Training Burnout (what the signs and symptoms are),
  • Is Burnout The Same As Overtraining Syndrome?
  • 14 Ways To Beat Your Marathon Training Burnout

So if you’re feeling tired, deflated, and unenthusiastic about your marathon training, let’s get you back on track!

Ready?

Let’s jump in!

marathon training burnout

What is marathon training burnout?

According to sport and performance psychologist Haley Perlus, marathon training burnout is when you:

  • Have emotional and mental exhaustion, 
  • Are being negative and cynical towards the event and/or the marathon community,
  • or are feeling a reduced sense of accomplishment (regardless of whether that is true). 

If you are experiencing negative mood shifts, struggling to achieve your daily goals, feeling disappointed and frustrated with yourself, and/or feeling physically tired (even though it stems from emotional and mental exhaustion), you may have burnout or at least on your way to burnout,” Perlus explains.

Is burnout the same as overtraining syndrome?

Burnout is often coupled with overtraining which is more of a physical syndrome than mental.

Signs of overtraining in runners include:

  • Your performance is declining
  • You’re tired all the time despite getting enough sleep
  • You get sick (or injured) a lot
  • Your resting heart rate is elevated
  • You have chronic muscle soreness
  • You have difficulty sleeping.

Related: Marathon Training Motivation: 15 Ways to Stay Engaged in Your Training

If you’ve lost your marathon training motivation, is there a way to regain it? 

If you have any of these symptoms, don’t despair! You can regain your marathon training motivation. To help you, we spoke with experts and provide 14 tips to regain your running motivation. 

marathon training burnout

14 Ways to Beat Marathon Training Burnout

#1: Find the root of the burnout. 

Before you can solve a problem, you must know what the problem is.

Certified running coach Kaila Morgante asks her runners to first figure out why they’ve lost their motivation. Ask yourself questions like:

  • Do you resent running from stealing your time? 
  • Does the change in seasons make you tired? 
  • Is life going too fast, you just don’t have time to train at the level you want or do all the things you want? 
  • Does the goal just not make sense anymore? 

Once you identify the problem, then you can reassess your running and begin to develop a solution.

#2: Just go for ten minutes. 

Take the pressure off your running and commit to just getting out the door. This often can be all it takes to get the juices flowing again and regain momentum. 

When runners lose the desire to run, Morgante tells her runners to ditch the goals and schedule and just commit to ten minutes. “Runners will often start to ramp up and feel the joy the more baby steps they take,” she explains.

Related: 11 Pro Running Motivation Tips

marathon training burnout

#3: Reconnect with your why.

There was a reason why you set the goal of running a marathon in the first place.

Remember what that reason was. 

“Motivation is never a problem when you want to do something. If you find yourself not motivated, it’s because you don’t really want to do it,” says certified running coach and author of the bestseller Running a Marathon for Dummies Jason Karp.

Journaling about your why or talking with close friends about it may help you reignite that passion. 

Certified running coach Laura Norris offers these prompts for runners to reconnect with their why:

  • Why is this particular marathon meaningful to you? 
  • Why is the marathon in general important to you? 
  • Has your training or racing deviated from those motivators? 

Related article: Why You Don’t Need Motivation To Run

#4: Revisit your goals.

Having a goal is the first step to being motivated to do something.

But that goal must be something you believe in.

When reconnecting with your why, if your original goal doesn’t make sense anymore, don’t be afraid to revise it. 

Maybe finishing a marathon isn’t the right fit right now for your life—but a half marathon PR could be. It’s okay to bend with life!

There will always be other marathons.

marathon training burnout

#5: Assess your training plan.

With that in mind, it may be time to reassess your training plan, says Norris. 

You may be burnt out because you aren’t getting enough rest, for example. Or the workouts are on days when you typically have more demands at work or home.

Look at the amount of rest and recovery days and the speed of your mileage build. 

“Burnout can often occur when training cycles make big leaps or do not allow adequate recovery,” says Norris.

Marathon Handbook founder and certified running coach Thomas Watson reminds runners that the plan is a guide but not written in stone. Having that “out” may help marathon training feels less confining and more fun. 

“You know best when to rest (listen to your body),” he explains.

Related: 20 Motivation Quotes

#6: Practice stillness.

Speaking of rest, taking time for reflection and quiet is important in training for an ambitious goal like completing a marathon.

“The hours it takes to properly prepare for a marathon must be accompanied by stillness each day. Just five minutes of quality deep breathing can renew emotional energy,” says Perlus.

Stillness techniques include, but are not limited to, 

  • deep breathing, 
  • sleep (including naps), 
  • and simple quiet time. 

The wonderful thing about building this stillness into your training plan is that it will also prevent burnout along with overcoming it. 

#7: Seek variety.

Perlus also advises runners to mix things up.

“Variety is essentially offering yourself an opportunity to recover from running while engaging in another task that requires a different type of energy.” 

This can be yoga, a pick-up game of basketball, or a bike ride with your family.

Doing these other activities helps create recovery for your emotions and mind, she says. Consider spending time with non-running friends and talking about topics other than running to give your brain a break.

marathon training burnout

#8: Take a break.

Carina Heilner, a certified running coach and 2:47 marathoner, has her athletes (and herself) take scheduled breaks—either after a race or when runners just aren’t feeling it. 

A week off isn’t going to kill you.

You are not a machine, bodies need breaks! Breaks remind us how grateful we for a body that can run!” she says. 

Watson adds that rest and recovery time helps speed up recovery by releasing dopamine.

 “Remember that it’s better to turn up to your race slightly undertrained than overtrained and burned out,” he points out.

For those who run more than one marathon a year, consider taking a whole season off to revive your marathon training passion, says Norris. Otherwise, you’re training 32 out of 52 weeks a year, which is a lot!

#9: Run other distances.

In addition to taking a training break, marathoners fighting marathon training burnout can train for other distances such as shorter ones or do different kinds of races like trail, cross country, or track.

This will keep you running, having fun, and ultimately help your marathon fitness.

“Training for a shorter distance comes with an added benefit: many runners gain so much speed that they then have a breakthrough in their next marathon,” she adds.

marathon training burnout

#10: Mix up your training. 

While mixing up distances, mix up your training.

Run in a new area.

Run with people (or new people).

Do different kind workouts like fartleks or track intervals.

Create a new music playlist or listen to a new podcast or a book.

Run slower.

Run faster. 

A change in scenery and pace could be all you need to beat the burnout.

#11: Find a running group. 

Heilner says she runs for friends (and I have to agree). Part of what makes the sport of running so wonderful and special is the running community which is unparalleled in support. 

“There is magic when you connect with someone through running. The walls are down and people have no filter. You really get to know those people, and they get to know you!” she explains.

Karp adds that surrounding yourself with people with similar goals and with people who support you can really help a runner overcome burnout.

marathon training burnout

#12: Do something else you’re good at. 

Feeling defeated comes with being burnt out. A way to overcome this defeatist attitude is doing something else you enjoy and excel at, says Karp. 

“Take some time away from the marathon and do something you’re good at. Success breeds motivation to try harder to succeed more,” suggests Karp.

Sometimes all it takes is something to stop the negative cycle. 

#13: Buy new gear.

And, sometimes all it takes is some new running gear to make you feel excited to go running again. Don’t be afraid to buy new shoes or new shorts to keep that spark alive. 

“I know it’s short-lived, but it seriously makes a difference for me,” says Heilner.

marathon training burnout

#14: Remember the afterglow.

Finally, remember that feeling you have when you DO get out the door and run. You almost always feel better after you get your run done. And that feeling can last a long time. 

“When I don’t feel like going for a run, I just remember how much better I will feel for the rest of the day, and how happy I will be to have done it,” shares Heilner. 

Marathon training is hard work. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. 

Give yourself grace and remember that small changes can have big results in preventing marathon training burnout and reaching your goals. 

If you need help with your marathon training, check out our marathon training resources including training plans!

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Marathon Training Guide

If you’re looking for a guide to the essentials of marathon training, check out this article I’ve compiled. It covers all the fundamentals that you need to know about!

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Whitney Heins
Whitney Heins is the founder of The Mother Runners and a VDOT-O2 certified running coach. She lives in Knoxville, TN with her two crazy, beautiful kids, pups, and husband. She is currently training to qualify for the 2024 US Olympic Trials marathon.

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