You cross the finish line spent. You look up at the clock and see a new PR. For a second, all the lactic acid is forgotten. You feel only the electric tingle of excitement. You did it.
Now what? Take time off from running? Laze around eating junk food?
Even for runners who vow that's exactly what they're going to do, after a few days of mileage deprivation, withdrawals set in. The excess energy leaves your legs itching for a run. The lack of endorphins transforms the most genial of runners into edgy beasts. You crave a run and nothing but running will do.
But your body and mind need a break. Here's why.
Running is hard on your body. It's a constant experiment of pushing it enough to get results, but not too much that you wind up injured. And it can only take so much.
Liken this to when you taper for a race. To breathe extra life into your legs, you reduce your volume. Workouts shift from callousing and hardening to sharpening and maintaining. You plan your peak for the races that count. But that peak doesn't last forever. Once you wind up flat, it's time for a break. Physiologically your body needs it. Training has cycles and the last cycle is rest.
Just as the body has training cycles, so does the mind. Early on, when races are still months away, there isn't as much pressure on workouts because you're still in the building phase.
As you enter racing season, the mental reserves start to become more demanding. Elevating yourself to your race-day mental state is more taxing than regular workouts. Even though the excitement and adrenaline are catalysts for this, it still takes more mental work to race than train. Through the course of a racing season, a runner only has so much mental energy to use. For this reason, it's important to use it sparingly.
Burnout is usually a combination of mental and physical taxation. Symptoms include excessive fatigue, harder paces, a lack of snap in the legs and, worst of all, dreading the run.
More: Relax Your Mind and Body
This usually happens because no break was taken in between seasons. Skipping breaks has a carry-over effect to the next season because you never give yourself a chance to regroup and re-energize. Because it's cumulative, the ramifications of skipped breaks can show up multiple seasons later. A runner may beat their competition at the onset of next season, but they may end up injured later on because they didn't give their body and mind a chance to recharge.