Mojo rising: How to cope with overtraining and loss of motivation

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After a successful marathon season, many of you will be full of energy and looking forward to your next race. But while the majority will be on good form, a few of you may be less than enthralled about your running. Perhaps you feel tired and unmotivated, or maybe you’ve lost your running mojo.

A high-impact sport, running is a demanding hobby and can take it out of us. Once you’ve completed a milestone event it’s not uncommon for post-race ennui to kick in. If you’ve suddenly lost your love for the open road, now is the time to take stock and reassess your running goals. We speak to the experts about resurrecting your running mojo, identifying overtraining and how to tell when it's time to stop.

Where’s my mojo?

Are you tired, sluggish, unmotivated and not in the mood for a run? Even the most devout runners can struggle with motivation, but it’s important to remember that it’s not permanent. More often than not it’s your body telling you to take a break, which you will benefit from in the long run.

‘Don’t beat yourself up about it!’ says running and triathlon coach Ellie Barnes. ‘Try not to over-analyse it, just take time out and focus on something else - maybe a form of exercise you haven’t tried before, or how about setting a fun training goal you can work towards with friends? Or just do nothing at all - you’re not going to lose any of your fitness by not training for a week or so.’

Overtraining

One of the main reasons you may be struggling with motivation is that you’ve overtrained and need a break. But how do you tell the difference between lack of motivation and overtraining?

‘I think mojo is quite a dangerous word,' says sports massage therapist Simon Lamb. 'An exhausted running mojo doesn't really exist; it is really overtraining and over-racing. I see it every single day in my clinic and it is probably the main cause of running related blowout.’

‘To prevent overtraining, follow the 90 per cent rule,’ says personal trainer Alex Chapel. ‘When you’re doing workouts, make sure you push yourself but ensure you have some energy left over. After finishing a quality workout you should feel the burn from working hard but you should also feel like you could have done a little bit more. Overtraining occurs when you push yourself too far to complete a quality workout at maximum effort each time – this is likely to result in an injury.

‘You should also always take rest days. This is super important as your body needs rest time to rebuild the muscle tissue that has been broken down with each workout. If you prevent yourself from having rest days, your fitness level can actually decline and even cause injury.’

'When we run we stress the body, and as the body recovers from this stress the muscles and cardiovascular system grow slightly stronger, thus making us slightly fitter/faster over a period of time,' says running coach and elite masters athlete Claire Donald. 'Overtraining occurs when the period of rest between sessions is too short. The body hasn’t recovered and then more stress is placed on it. The more and more we train without letting recovery take place the worse and worse our results become and in an effort to improve we train even more, when in fact what we need to do is to stop training and have a week off running.' 

But how can we identify that we're overtrained as opposed to unmotivated? 'The trick is knowing when recovery has taken place,' Donald explained. 'Our resting heart rate is a very good indicator of this. Taken every morning when awakening should give a pretty consistent reading. If at some point this figure is elevated by roughly 2/3 beats it means that the body is under stress. This might be because you have an illness, or one coming on, you have a hangover, you haven’t had enough sleep OR you haven’t recovered fully from your last training session. Either way this should be a rest day and hard training should not resume until the average previous resting heart rate is restored.'

Mind games

If you rely heavily on running to cope with the stress of life and struggle with the concept of taking a complete break from exercise, it may be worth looking at the bigger picture.

‘Sometimes your head may still be telling you to run - you feel you ‘ought to’ - but your body is very firmly telling you not to,’ says Ellie Barnes. ‘If that happens, listen to your body - it really does know best! To reduce the chances of pushing it too far and ending up side lined, make sure you always include rest days in your schedule, and use tapering to stay fresh.’

‘If you really can't cope with the idea of stopping for a bit, go and see a psychiatrist or counsellor,’ says Simon Lamb. ‘Addiction to exercise is a very real and dangerous phenomenon and if you struggle with not training to the point that you are pushing yourself into injury and burn out then this is a serious psychological issue that needs addressing.

‘Save your money from physiotherapy appointments and book some time with a psychiatrist or counsellor instead. In the long run this is a psychological issue not a purely physical one and addressing your wider psychological issues will help much more in getting you back running and training safely in the future.’

Twitter tips

Struggling with motivation? The runners of Twitter offer these excellent tips for resurrecting your running mojo.

‘Going out with friends works well, but for me it's heading out into the hills to explore new trail. That's never failed.’ @TeamB_O_B 

‘Try something else for a bit, I switched to yoga for a couple of months, now back to running and it's feeling better.’ @MissPond

‘Hit the trails, along coast or in the woods, leave watch/gadgets behind & immerse myself in surroundings. Take plenty of photos.’ @LaraTrewin

‘I have a break from running but eat the same amounts. I moan about not running then when my jeans don't fit, I start running again.’ @MaraFunRun

‘I take it right back to basics. Remember that running is only a hobby and for fun. Run with friends and forget about time/miles.’ @Susie__Chan

‘Sulked for a bit post couple of ultras, reassessed stuff, got back into cycling and slowly found I started enjoying running again!’ @AlanThornburrow

‘New goal! Goal gives you focus & a plan & a place to aim for. Can be anything-new race distance; PB times; interesting race location.’ @MilkE73