Last Updated on February 18, 2016 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
Over the last year I’ve seen a ton of blog posts and online articles regarding burnout when training. Hell, I’ve even written a few myself. And every single one seems to have similar content and suggestions. Beat burnout by taking rest days, cross training, leaving your GPS at home, signing up for a fun race, etc.
Over the past 6 months I’ve discovered another way to renew my love for running, and it wasn’t something I had ever considered before:
GIVE BACK to the running community.
When I moved to Myrtle Beach in June I was fortunate enough to have a job waiting for me at a local gym. Upon discovering that I was a runner, and in their eyes, a crazy one (I had just ran INFINITUS a few days prior) my boss asked if I would put together some sort of running program for the gym. OF COURSE I said yes. In the past I had coached little kids in running, and I had casually provided running advice here and there for friends. I was excited to finally apply all of my experience and knowledge as a decade long runner & exercise physiologist who is kind of obsessed with running on an actual running group.
But as it all came together, we had the realization that it likely wouldn’t be an overwhelmingly popular program, despite our best efforts and intentions. You see, my gym is in a quaint waterfront town south of Myrtle that is predominately a retirement community. In fact, our “busy” gym hours are between 9 am and noon, you know, the time you’d want to roll out of bed and head to the gym if you were living the retired life. Anyway, the point is, this community is more likely to jump at a Silver Sneakers class marathon than actually running a marathon. So my boss hesitantly told me that they wouldn’t be able to pay me for my coaching services, and asked if I’d be willing to do the work on a volunteer basis.
I hesitated, I won’t lie. “Work for free” isn’t something that someone who just moved 1,000 miles away from home, and was currently (and still is) pulling all of the bread winning weight in our house wanted to hear. It was, and is, a lot of work and time to put together individual training plans, weekly workouts, and meet twice a week to run with my athletes. So while a huge part of me was instantly disappointed, something in my heart said “do it anyway.”
So I did.
We started our training group in September. It was small but mighty group, with runners from a variety of backgrounds. Our “long runs” early on weren’t very long (maybe 3 miles) and were full of frequent walk breaks. Walk breaks that some struggled to even make it to. I would give them verbal cues just to get them through a run interval: “Only thirty seconds left and then you get to walk”. And I promised them, that as much as these runs sucked now, one day they’d be easy.
In the beginning, I’m not sure who actually believed me.
And in the beginning, I asked them to trust me. Trust me when I said you need to rest on these days and run on others. Trust me when I said cross training and strength training was vital. Trust me when I said to SLOW DOWN on the long runs, almost to the point where it feels ridiculous.
Again, in the beginning, I’m not sure who actually believed me.
But believe me or not, they did what I asked of them, and they kept showing up time and time again.
They showed up for the speedwork sessions, in which I would hand them a printout of what we were doing and either send them off to the pavement or onto the treadmills while they gave me the sideways, disapproving look of “you must be freaking nuts to think we can do this” .
But they did it anyways.
They showed up for the long runs, even as the number of miles became larger and more intimidating. Even when the temperatures soared in the 80’s and plummeted in the 20’s.
They showed up, and they ran the miles anyways.
And over those miles we laughed, we told stories, and we bonded. We bonded over stories of our children, of our experiences, of planning how we would outrun potential alligators as we strolled through Huntington State park, over good days, bad days, great runs, and not so great runs. We celebrated each others victories, such as first 5 mile runs, then first double digit runs.
We commiserated and brainstormed together over maladies, such as low blood sugar and sore knees. I taught them about handheld water bottles (and the importance of making sure the lid is tightly secured, especially on a cold day) and the importance of fueling (who DOESN’T remember their first GU experience?)
Over the miles I watched friendships blossom and grow.
And over those miles, those people who were once clients of the gym I work for, instead became people I consider my friends.
I love how running works that way.
I won’t lie, in the beginning, I wondered how my time working with this group would affect *my* training. Putting in miles when I should be resting. Having to slow down significantly for longer runs (yes, I realize the irony of me preaching the importance of “slow” to my group, yet wondering if it would hurt my running). But now, 5 months into the program and only two weeks away from the culmination of our first training goal (the Myrtle Beach half marathon) I can say without a doubt that this group has made me a better runner in a way that, to me, is far more important than my physical capabilities.
This group has made me love running even MORE.
Years and years ago, running changed my life. It has always been my goal to share that with others, and hopefully instill the love I have for running with someone else. And I think I’ve done so, or at least a little bit, with all of my online presence and writing. I’ve had people message me from time to time, saying that a certain post of mine helped motivate them to do something they’ve never done before. And that is an awesome feeling.
But to witness, first hand, the change running has made in peoples lives over the course of 5 months has been an incredible, indescribable experience.
Last weekend my group was scheduled to run 12 miles. And they did it…in the freezing, pouring rain. To think that mere months ago some of these people thought a half marathon was out of their realm of possibilities, and now seeing them brave weather even the most hardcore of runners would hesitate at going out in to run 12 miles, is amazing.
THEY remind me what this sport is about: friendship, camaraderie, pushing your limits, and being the best YOU can be.
So, the point of this long rambling blog post is this:
If you ever find yourself feeling burnt out on running, training, or the endurance community in general, turn your thoughts outward. Instead of thinking about your next race, your training plan, or what the running world is doing for YOU, think about what YOU can do for the running world. Sharing your passion for and knowledge of this sport with someone else, while watching them grow as a runner to develop the same passion and knowledge, is absolutely priceless. And I can almost guarantee that it will make your love for the sport even stronger.
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.
This post nearly made me cry. Thanks for sharing your experiences – you really are an inspiration.
(Also, thanks for the reminder to slow down! I took a look at my own long run stats from the last few weeks, and my average heart rate has been way too high.)
Aw I just love this so much! I just started a running group where I live and I hope to inspire them the way you have yours!
Julie @ Running in a Skirt
What an amazing experience! This goes to show that running really is about more than just numbers and races. It’s about the experience and sharing with others.
Your passion for running – and helping others exudes through your writing! What a great opportunity 🙂
great post Heather! I am working with a friend now to get her back to running and I love it! Sometimes it is not about our own goals but about what we have to give to others and you have alot. I am glad you reignited your love for running and made some friends in the process.
this is beautiful 😉 I have not coached groups like you have, but there have been people along the way that have reached out for help and advice. And it’s been such a blessing (for ME) to watch them grow. What a great post!
What a rewarding experience. Sometimes cash isn’t the best payment anyway 🙂
Sonali- The Foodie Physician
Wow, this is such an inspiring post! I’m not a runner but it makes me want to start 🙂 I love that you’re sharing your passion with others and motivating them to do things they never dreamed they could do!
Run Away With Me
This is amazing! I felt a teeny tiny bit of this when I coached Girls on the Run last spring – it was a ton of work and volunteer hours out of my week, but watching those little 3rd-5th grade girls cross the finish line of their first 5k after all their hard work was amazing! Congrats on creating an amazing group and helping these runners reach their goals!
Such an amazing post!! What an incredible and very moving experience. I loved reading the difference you made in these people’s lives!! You are pretty amazing and they are also for going for it even when it got tough. I love the running community and giving back to others really is a gift. 🙂
Your post did make me cry! My sister, Lynne, is in your running group. I had the pleasure of meeting you at the Turkey Trot, her first 10K! I have never seen such a profound change as the one running has made in her life. As she entered retirement, she would often comment about finding things to fill her time. Not only have you helped fill her time, you have filled her life as well. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for how you have given of yourself! If you ever find yourself in north Georgia you have a place to stay. Not only do we leave the light on, we wait up until you safely arrive! Lynne has always been my hero. Now, thanks to your help and knowledge, she is my Super Hero! Please know that when your group crosses the finish line Saturday one more cowbell will be ringing. They will not be able to hear it with their ears, but I hope they all feel it in their hearts! You and Lynne have inspired me to start my own running journey. She has saved all of your weekly tasks and will be passing them on to me, so now you are my coach as well! God’s speed Run 843, God’s speed!