What are the Causes of Runner’s Burnout?

For some long distance runners they come to a part of their running life that nothing seems to be going right, they are more lethargic than normal and everything seems so much of a chore. But it is hard to put your finger on the exact reason you feel this way.

If this is happening to you then you may well be suffering from what athletes call burnout. It is difficult to describe and diagnose burnout as it can take so many different forms. But normally it can feel as very bad fatigue, and this comes from overtraining and pushing your body too hard. It is much a mental phenomenon as a physical one, and the great problem is recognizing it. Most athletes push the rev counter too close to the red line as they want to be properly prepared for their next race. But how can you achieve maximum levels of fitness without suffering burnout?

Burnout Symptoms

Burnout has two medical identification matrixes, EABI (Eades Athletic Burnout Inventory) and MBI (Maslach Burnout Inventory), and they both cite the following as indications of burnout.

  • Weight loss
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Increased resting and exercising heart rate
  • Regular respiratory infections
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Increase in muscle fatigue and soreness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle glycogen decrease

Common causes of this can include: chronic fatigue, anemia, overtraining, mental burnout amongst others.


When you have a deficiency of hemoglobin in your blood then this is termed as anemia, and it is a common cause of fatigue in athletes. Basically your body needs certain levels of iron to fight off weariness, which will also include shortness of breath and lead to general poor physical performance.

Chronic Fatigue

CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) often first gets noticed by an athlete having low levels of energy for an overly long period. This condition is normally faced by professional athletes but can also be found in marathon and long distance runners, who regularly train and run hard. When CFS strikes hard it can really debilitate the person involved, some athletes who have had the condition have been known to sleep for up to twenty hours a day. It is also common that it causes your immune system to crash leaving the person susceptible to viruses.


It is hard to define what exactly is overtraining, after all each body is different and the limitations are never the same. Suffice to say it means you are putting your body through stresses that it is not prepared for. Usually this happens without major problems, as running in itself is a type of stress.

Even for the most seasoned runners who have been performing for many years, every time they step out on the road there is still stress on their bodies. Preparing for a marathon, the long miles and heavy runs takes its toll. Muscles start to be continuously sore and weariness creeps in.  There are tell-tale signs that this is not general wear and tear if the following starts to happen:

  • Slowing down regularly on easy runs
  • Not being able to hit the pace
  • Feelings of stiffness and soreness


If these symptoms persist there is a good chance you are heading for burnout, and if this is the case you need to take action immediately. Talk to your coach, cut back on your training and give your body the time it needs to heal itself.