Burnout and Coming Back

One year ago I was in top form. I hit the podium in every race I entered. But then something happened, something in my mind and body. Suddenly I just didn’t care. I just couldn’t summon the will to train. I didn’t enjoy it anymore, I didn’t care about racing, and I just felt tired all the time. I was just burned out.

I half trained for awhile, thinking the feeling would go away, but it never did. I got back into running some, did a couple of half marathons, but didn’t really interest me. In April I stopped riding entirely, put my bike up for sale, and just ran in the mornings. Nothing fast, no music or minions, just running around the neighborhoods letting my mind wander.

Today, for the first time in many months, I felt like getting on the bike. I was sitting at the kitchen table, listening to Dame Rebecca do TTGTOS, and wished I was riding it with her. I think the time may have come for me to return to Sufferlandria. After all, I can’t miss the ToS.

I’d love to hear about others experiences with burnout, and how/if you came back from it.

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I had the same thing. It started around August 2018 and lasted until about October 2019. During that period, I had zero interest in riding my bike. I had a lot going on in my life at that time – moving house and selling a company were two rather stressful events – and my motivation plummeted.

To stay active, I did two things:

  1. I started the Strength Training programme (right at Beginner Level 1A) which allowed me to feel like I was doing something that would benefit me when I eventually got back on the bike.
  2. I took up BMX. My kids were riding it and instead of standing around trackside I started participating in gate practice, learning how to ride the track and was amazed with how hard it was! It’s like doing The Trick as it’s so anaerobic and physical. I didn’t start racing, but I spent a lot of time learning the technique, which is so different than road, mtb, etc.

Those two things allowed me to eventually find the motivation to train again. I didn’t go looking for that moment – I allowed it to find me and when I did, I got stuck straight into Full Frontal to see where I was. The numbers weren’t pretty – in fact, they were the worst I had ever tested – but it gave me a starting point that I just accepted.

Now it’s been about six months of regular riding and my fitness is coming back – it’s not where it once was, but I’m closing in on it and feeling motivated and I’m really grateful for that.

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I raced all of 2017 and most of 2018, rode some big climbs in the Alps, and did my best FF ever September 2018. And then I couldn’t train to my numbers. I was tired, frustrated, and didn’t recognize that I was overtraining. The more frustrated I got the worse my performance got. I had to change my perspective and come to terms with the idea that it was not fun to kill myself on the bike. What I really wanted was to ride for fun and exercise. So I built new road bike, got my old Mountain bike tuned up, rode with my kids, and steadily found a healthier balance of mojo. When I ride outside now I pick a few Strava segments and turn myself inside out to beat my PRs. I don’t have any desire to race and that’s ok. My mojo seems to coming back and now my goal is to do more big climbs in France hopefully in 2021 since my 2020 trip was canceled. The stress and uncertainty of COVID-19 hasn’t helped any of us. Good luck

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Did Long Scream this morning,… humbling

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Yikes talk about restarting with intensity. Maybe you should have re-started with TGTTOS with Dame Rebecca. :grimacing:

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Definitely not at full intensity.

-CB

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I understand what you’ve been / are going through, although from a different sport angle. Here’s my story … I hope it helps.

I was a late-onset runner, although I had been a serious athlete all my life until my 30s.

  • In 2013 I ran my first marathon. I got into running as an easy way to get fit again and set a goal to run a marathon by the time I was 40. I discovered that I enjoyed running so much. I was pretty pleased with my marathon time, and that motivated me to continue and take it up a notch. More speed and higher training volume was next…
  • In 2014, things continued to go well and I won my first race (1/2 marathon) and that motivated me to continue and take it up a notch. Another marathon and more training volume was next.
  • In 2015, things continued to go well and I beat my previous marathon time by 20 minutes and that motivated me to continue and take it up a notch. A mountainous ultramarathon and more training volume was next.
  • In 2016, things continued to go well and I stood on the podium in a really tough local ultramarathon and that motivated me to continue and take it up a notch. An even bigger ultramarathon and more training volume was next.

As you can see, I “took it up a notch” and increased my training volume a lot in the between 2012 and 2017.

Before I continue the story, I should introduce myself as a guy in his very late forties, married, two kids, demanding career, etc. Training was always a juggling act, especially as I kept raising the training volume and intensity. But ambition and competitiveness are double-edged swords and while they brought me to higher levels every year, eventually I had to repay the debt I had accumulated.

In my case, I lost my Mom to cancer in early 2017 and injured my back while running down a steep hill at the end of a long run and tough training cycle. Injuries were nothing new to me as a runner (so many injuries!), but this one stuck and I found myself withdrawing from my target races for 2017. Many people know how tough it is to watch your fitness slip away and your races go by without you participating. It’s a bad place to be.

So I started to cross-train and eventually, I had to find a new sport entirely because my back wasn’t going to improve (multiple medical opinions) to run at my previous levels of performance.

So I decided to commute to and from work by bike, bought a gravel bike, and in the fall, bought a Wahoo Kickr Snap with a trial subscription to The Sufferfest. I figured I’d get fit on the bike and eventually start following the triathlon plans without the swimming.

In 2020 (yes THREE years later), cycling has finally become my new sport because I finally accepted that I’d never run as often or as long as I used to. I spent all of those three years riding while trying to re-introduce running into the mix. Every autumn season I had a running race lined up and it didn’t pan out because my back got in the way. I only looked at cycling as cross-training - a temporary sport I was practicing until I’d finally make a triumphant return to running. I never gave cycling a real shot as a lifelong sport that I could enjoy for enjoyment’s sake (both the riding and the training). I do that now, and I even do plenty of run-walk sessions (which my ego would never have let me do while I was a runner) because I enjoy it, and because it’s not hard on my back (not because my aerobic system can’t handle it).

So now as I get closer to the big 50, my “comeback” is mostly about cycling (esp gravel) and the occasional hike because it gets me to the mountains and nature which I find inspiring, even if I’m not running.

As you can see, my story is quite different from yours, but it’s still about burnout and coming back. I burned myself out by increasing my volume too much while trying to handle life stress until I injured myself. To make matters worse, I refused to accept that I had burned myself out … I was blind to the fact that my “cross-training” could be my new sport.

In the end, I wish I had been more open to the possibilities of what a comeback would mean. For me, it wasn’t (and couldn’t be) a return to my previous status quo. In a sense, I reinvented myself. I found something that I could call an adventure again.

Maybe that’s what coming back is all about …

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Wow, man, that’s rough. I think about how palpable your love for cycling was when you were doing your Tour limericks and so on - this is quite a distance removed from that.

I’ve been in a similar place. I did some big events in 2018 - I trained hard in winter, went on a training camp, rode the Fred Whitton Challenge and a couple of other tough sportives, and finished in August with Paris-Geneva - 400 miles in 4 days. And, like you, I finished that in great physical shape but mentally shot. I went on a long downward slide which was compounded by getting sinusitis in December 2018/January 2019; the further I slid away from my best numbers, the more I couldn’t be bothered to test, because I knew the numbers would be down. I gained about a stone in weight and got frustrated that I didn’t want to ride. I’d decide that I was going on a ride, faff about getting ready and end up feeling anxious about it.

Like @David.McQuillen.KoS, it came back. I got myself to do a Full Frontal and decided I’d accept whatever numbers I came up with; they were down, but not as bad as I’d feared. Perhaps more importantly, I realised that it didn’t matter; whilst I couldn’t do the sort of thing I wanted to do at my peak, I could see it as the beginning of a process. I’ve been able to string together 6 months of solid consistent riding now, and I’m stronger than I’ve ever been.

Burnout is absolutely a thing. Overtraining is a thing. I thought I’d be able to spot it in myself, but I didn’t; it’s only with distance and time that I’ve recognised it. It sounds like you’ve had it pretty bad, @Sir_Clayton, but if my experience is anything to go by, the mojo will come back. Take it steady.

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What about riding on level mode and RPE, turn off the power numbers, do that for a couple of weeks then look back and see what sort of numbers you were hitting. It’s gotta be better than getting into the downward spiral of reducing intensity in ERG which is really demoralising.

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I may have lost my love for cycling, but not for limericks!

I appreciate that. My “Why” was always some race, with Covid I’ll need to find a new “Why”. Not getting dropped by Dame Rebecca is a pretty compelling reason to get moving….

-CB

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Thanks all for sharing, especially Sir Clayton for starting this. After more than a decade of triathlon and ironman competition where I had mixed results, always lower middle of the pack, I too lost interest, not in the underlying swim/bike/run, but in the time consuming training and the repetitiveness of it all. Frankly, I got tired of running a half marathon every Sunday in -40 C (same as F.) and spending three plus hours on the trainer regardless of how compelling Sir David made it.

So I just “semi-retired” and switched it up. I started trail running (and racing), winter biking, hiking, snowshoeing and gravel grinding all of significantly shorter distances. I also joined a local masters’ bike club/racing team.

As a result, I’m far happier - last race season I podiumed several times in my first ever criterium, time trial and road races. - all my other triathlon/ironman medals were participatory (thanks for showing up and paying the fee :roll_eyes:

I had big plans for this race season…but you know, The Covid. I did do a rim to rim Grand Canyon hike and am planning several bike packing expeditions.

Point is, I may go back to Ironman, once all this social distancing and contagion nonsense clears up. But I will go back it, because I want to, not because I feel compelled to.

Switching things up, getting out of routine and doing what I feel like doing when I wake up has meant the world of difference to me. I also did some lifestyle changes and lost a schwack of weight and feel stronger than I have for decades.

Chin up Sir, if an old fart like me can figure it out, anyone can!

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Thank you all for sharing your stories.

All of your amazing experiences of getting back into training on your own terms… That’s exactly what I needed to hear.
Sometimes, when I get up very early in the morning to train in my small pain cave, I forget that I am not alone with feelings of doubt and demotivated thoughts.

I am pretty new to cycling but loved running since I can remember. For the last 12 month I followed a pretty strict regimen of nutrition, exercise and overall life changes in order to become a good role model for my son. I feel much better and I am proud of the change.

But since the middle of june, when my first real vacation in a long while started, I feel like my grip on training is slipping away quite fast.
It started with a few bad food choices to “reward myself”, continued with a few skipped training days and went into full on binge- and laziness-mode by the end of june. …a month passed… Somehow now I am also fighting chronic lower back pain.

My “burnout” is not as long or as drastic as some of you experienced, but I still fear it. And I am trying to actively fight against it.
I always were an all-or-nothing kind of person.

Right now, it’s my first week back on track and I am still struggling. Baby steps.

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A hastened reply before my next meeting for work starts :slight_smile:

My lower back pain is worse on rest days. At a minimum, I need to do some Yoga or something on those days.

Never stop coming back! :muscle:

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This mirrors my own experience - older dad in my case, 1 year old son, determined to get fit and lean for him as well as to me. The last 8 weeks have been such a struggle, but one day at a time of skipping and not eating properly. Two weeks ago I decided to turn it around, with support from my wife, so I’ve lost 2kg, I’m counting calories to keep me alert to the dangers, plus I am back on the indoor bike. The only problem is that losing 8 weeks of strength and fitness makes it pretty damn hard to return to the same levels as before - def a case of eating humble pie (rather than a big fat delicious pukka pie) and dialing these workouts down.

I wanted to thank everyone who has opened up here. I felt ashamed and forgot how quickly you can turn it all back around and start climbing back up Mt Sufferlandria.

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This absolutely resonates with me, I too burned out after training hard and completing challenges like The Fred etc, but coupled with a gruelling work schedule, a horrific divorce, being attacked by my boss in work and then overtraining with medical issues compounding…I now find myself in 2 years of drinking and partying to get a break from the training regime…it’s tough to get back in there and I admit to failing almost daily.
The new wattbike sits gathering dust most days and I feel that with every ride I (almost} complete I discover another injury or reason not to continue.
I’m lucky in that I have my own gym, but rarely use it. The App used to be anough to spur me on, but now I can’t even bring myself to do a 15 minute yoga session…I need to break this cycle but I’m wary of overtraining again whilst being fatigued, thus causing more damage.

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You can’t fail. You’re on a mission from God. :smiley:

Perhaps the mindset is a contributor to this. The only people who have to ride their bikes are pro cyclists. For the rest of us, it’s something we do for fun. If it has stopped being fun for you - even temporarily - then it is not a ‘failure’, per se, to make the decision that you don’t want to ride your bike. Punishing yourself for a perceived weakness will only kill your enjoyment further and make you associate the bike with negative thoughts.

It’s tough if you’ve got a vision of where you want to be and don’t feel you’re moving towards it - God knows that I’ve experienced the sort of fatalism that can be experienced in that situation over the past 18 months or so (“I’m way off my ideal weight anyway, so what does it matter if I delete this entire cake?”). What I think I learned from it is that the first step to recovery is accepting where you are now. The sort of life events you’ve described take a long time to recover from. They are the sort of thing that absolutely could kill your desire to suffer on a bike for a long time. Take as long as you need to recover from it, and see the recovery as a positive thing, rather than beating yourself up about not being where you were.

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Oh my, I can relate with all of your stories. I’ve been asking myself for a few years, “why am I doing this? What am I training for?”

My answer was to stay healthy. But with all my events canceled, I stopped training for 2 months. Now I’m getting dropped on group rides. For a guy used to riding in the “A” group, that’s humbling. And motivating.

And I guess that’s the thing, Feeling compelled to do something is not the right motivation for me. But I absolutely love the wind in my face, conquering a challenge and pushing myself to my limits. I just have nothing challenging me at the moment.

Right now I’m in the demotivized zone between Couchlandria and Sufferlandria. But I can’t live here, because its not sustainable. So I’m still working through what that looks like. For now, that’s turning my commutes into HIIT workouts and longer weekend rides. But I’ve got to up my game because there’s only two directions to go and I refuse to live in Couchlandria.

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I’ve been going through this for about 2-3 years or so. Most say it is just because I am slowing down and getting older, 60 next April 2021. But to me, there is something more to it than that. Huge weight gain, barely 50 miles per week combined, etc. Thankfully, Covid has me riding my Fat on local dirt roads just for fun and nothing else. This has helped with getting weight back off, gaining a bit of fitness back again, and fun being outside like only the Fat can do. There are other physical factors that I don’t really want to get into, but those are slowly being overcome. Basically, what everyone in the local endurance community who knows me told me, when your mind and body is ready to get back at it, you’ll know. And get back at it slowly, like really slowly, like from the beginning with no expectations. Oh… and read the book Thinking Body, Dancing Mind. It really is helping get over the hump.

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Appreciate Sir Clayton’s post here. I’m going through my own crisis at the moment but I’m still standing! All started off well at the start of year with a good custom Duathlon plan which was going to get me in great shape for some really exciting events over the season. Then it all went downhill, illness, torn Achilles’ tendon on the second workout of the 12 week plan, then the pandemic struck, father goes into hospital before dying about 6 weeks later, another family member passes also. The knock on effect from the pandemic has made sorting out all the family affairs a long dragged out affair and the tendon has not healed aswell as it should. The world just completely went upside down and all of a sudden my roles were completely changed. I was so jealous during lockdown on the hours exercise we were allowed each day when all the cyclists and runners would pass me as I’m hobbling along the path. Lockdown was an opportunity for a lot of people to get fit and I just couldn’t do it. That was massively frustrating. Motivation was at all time low and the lockdown belly grew and grew. I started to ride again a few weeks ago, but only on a weekend as I just can’t get motivated during the working week. I started with full monty to get some new numbers, then started off with workouts that would last around an hour but as I’ve gone along those workouts have gotten shorter and shorter and now I just struggle to get beyond a 30 minute workout. It just isn’t happening. I’ve hit that wall! I’ve decided to just keep doing those 30 minutes workouts on a weekend or go for walks, there will be no competitions and I just feel I want to get through this year in the hope the next one is better. I have set a target of returning to training in November but until then I’m just going to embrace the time to do other things and hope that I’m ready to roll!

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I’m finding that unplugging from devices is very helpful - and if I feel like I’m done, I just stop. If you feel ‘done’ after 30 minutes, then just train for 30 minutes.

Better than zero minutes!

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