If you frequent the running (or triathlon, or cycling, or OCR) blog world, you’ve probably noticed a topic that every athlete-author writes about at one point or another: burnout. Be it physically overtraining, emotionally overextending yourself between racing and your family life, injury, plateaus, or just an evil, unfortunate combination of all of the above: it seems to happen to all of us at one point or another. And I am no exception. In fact, I may just be an expert in this topic. The burnout often leaves you feeling physically and emotionally wrecked, and more than likely, a bit (or incredibly) bitter towards the sport you are training for.
You see, so many of us walk a very fine line as athletes. We are FAR from claiming elite status, and will probably never see the podium in anything more than a local 5K or sprint triathlon. There is no financial gain or loss for us on the line if we choose to race, or not race. There is no race that will make or break our future careers. Our families and friends will not disown us. There is no reason we absolutely HAVE to train our poor legs off and participate in any one particular race. But there is FOMO.
Fear Of Missing Out.
I first heard this term from my sister’s triathlon team back in D.C. many years ago. For example “I really didn’t want to ever do a full Ironman, but everyone else on the team registered, and FOMO got the best of me, so I’m racing” (example based on a true story.)
FOMO can be a wonderful tool at times. Certain instances of FOMO-induced-peer-pressure can be life changing. For example, take a group of friends who all decide to train for and tackle their very first 5k or half marathon together. You know that there was at least one person in the group who really didn’t want sign up for that race, but FOMO made them do it anyway. And in the end, they may have accomplished something they never dreamed possible.
Then there is the evil side of FOMO. It combines with the type A personality that so many of us endurance athletes possess, as well as the horrible habit of comparing ourselves to others, and becomes detrimental. Everyone else is running 50+ miles a week, so I better too. Everyone else seems capable of back-to-back races, so I must be able to as well. Everyone else can wake up to run at 5 am, juggle a household, husband, three kids, and a full time job on top of a triathlon training schedule without flinching, so I should be able to as well.
And in the blog world, FOMO is even more prevalent. People are watching you. Each race is an opportunity to make more connections, to write a review and get more page views. It’s all about PRESENCE. No one really cares if you sat around in front of the TV all weekend. Nope, they want to see your epic adventures. And since blogger x, y, and z, seem capable of travel and racing every weekend…well, FOMO!!!
Now, don’t believe that all cases of FOMO are due to peer pressure, outside influence, or comparing yourself to what others are doing. Sometimes FOMO can be triggered by other random factors, such as an inaugural event (and inaugural race bling!) or location (it’s just 15 minutes away, I’d be silly NOT to race).
By this point I’m sure you have already come to the conclusion that I am no stranger to FOMO myself. In years past, it had caused me to completely quit running for long periods of time, because I would become so damn frustrated. I burnt myself out on races, I burnt myself out on trying to get faster, to get an elusive BQ time, all of this while trying to keep my head above the water in my personal life.
It’s silly, really.
My older and MUCH wiser sister, Holly, has always told me from day one of my running career that “racing is not going anywhere.” In other words, why am I stressing out about doing everything NOW? Why did I insist on putting time frames on things? I wanted a BQ this year, an Ironman finish next, I have to do this race and this race and then this race and then…you get the idea. I used to let her words (regarding this topic) go in one ear and out the other. I was stubborn, foolish, and I felt like if everyone ELSE could do it, I could to.
FOMO is such a jerk.
Now. I’m learning things about getting “older”. 31, in my opinion, is still a spring chicken, but that of course, is based upon the fact that I fully plan on living to see 110. But I digress. Each year that passes, my eyes open to realizations that I may have previously turned a blind, “I know everything about the world” young eye to. Things such as eating a ton of junk food eventually will make you feel AND look like a slug, despite how amazing your metabolism is at age 24. That sleep really isn’t overrated, and in fact is quite necessary. That doing your dishes immediately after you use them is so much more convenient than letting the sink overflow into something resembling “Mount Dishmore”. And that unnecessary stress is so UNNECESSARY.
This last one is something I am working my way through now. In trying to be strong though all of the unavoidable stress in my life (money, the kids, moving, etc), I tend to find myself overreacting (code for: freaking out) over the silliest of things. Workouts. Races. Not blogging enough. Things that don’t really matter in the big picture, but instead, the stress I’m letting them cause is negatively affecting things that really DO matter in the big picture. Relationships. Work. My health.
I’m growing to realize that it is OK to not have to be the best at one thing, and it’s quite alright to enjoy many things. And more importantly, that we don’t have to do everything. I realized a few weeks ago, when I was running out of time to register for the New England Spartan Sprint, but dragging my feet to do so anyway, that maybe there was a reason behind my hesitation. I LOVE obstacle course racing. But I feel an urge to take a little break from traveling (I feel like I’ve lived in my car this summer). My body craves a long , peaceful run through the woods. Some down time to sit on my bed with my boyfriend, a good book, four cats, and not have to be anywhere. As much as I love the mud, the barbed wire, the glory, I just don’t feel like getting beat up on a course that will likely leave me bruised, cut, covered in poison ivy, and sore for days. Shocking, I know (and that’s not sarcasm, I’m shocked myself).
Of course, FOMO raged it’s ugly head. How could I, the girl who is self described as an OCR addict, who bleeds Spartan blood, skip the race that’s practically in my backyard? What would people think? What would my sponsors think when they realized that instead of posting countless pictures of myself covered in mud across social media, I was riding a mountain bike through the woods near my house, and contemplating which road (gasp) marathon I want to sign up for this fall?
In the end I realized it’s because I love the obstacle course racing world, and myself as an athlete, that I’m not racing this weekend. Because I love what I do too much to ever become bitter with it again. So this weekend I will rest, and next week, I’ll be back to training, better than ever. It’s that simple.
Moral of this mini novel: life ebbs and flows, just like the ocean’s tide. None of us are superman, and most of us aren’t elite athletes. If you need downtime, take it. If you want to try something different, do it. Let the things you love become you, but don’t let those things become a source of unnecessary stress. So many of us are proponents of living a healthy lifestyle, but seem to forget that mental health is a part of that big picture. We are constantly bombarded with images and “motivational” sayings telling us to “STFU” and train, or how those who are truly dedicated put training before all else. I’m here to tell you, it’s not the truth. Now I’m not saying to do everything half assed, but instead saying that while motivation may have the best of intentions, it’s meaningless if it is not resulting in a positive outcome…physically AND mentally.
In other words, don’t let the FOMO beast get the best of you. Never sacrifice who you ARE for who you think you should be. Instead, be the best YOU that you can possibly be. And most importantly, find your happy, and don’t let it slip away.