When I was 8 years old, I idolized Michael Jackson. I plastered my bedroom door with his photos, slept with his image on my pillowcase, and even had a Michael Jackson belt. The "Thriller" album was on constant rotation for months. My obsession only increased when I went to a friend's house and saw the "Billie Jean" video on MTV. Mind blown.
Until one day it wasn't. After what seemed like an eternity to my family, but realistically was more like a few months, I'd immersed myself in Jackson's music to the point I was oversaturated. Too much of a good thing proved to be too much. It would be years before I could return to that album.
Exercise, running specifically, can be thrilling at first, especially when we see physical improvement and have a taste of success. The first year I found running was a delightful affair. When I wasn't running I was planning a run or scouring the internet for workouts and gear. I watched races, read running magazines and, of course, signed up for every race with the fervor of a kid before Christmas. I started having local success, even winning a few races, which only increased my appetite for more.
A decade later, I still love running, but my relationship with the sport has been fraught with injuries, disappointments and a few breakups. These days, I bask in the glory of a good run, but I'm careful not to let it devour me. I know when to back off or take a break. Not sure if you need to step back from running or any exercise? Ask yourself a few questions.
Do you wake up dreading a run or workout? I never wake up saying, "Hooray! Sleep is over! Time to exercise!" It's normal to not be enthusiastic first thing in the morning. But dreading a workout is a step beyond.
Does your run or workout feel like a chore? Usually after a mile or two even a tough run becomes fun, sometimes meditative. When it feels like work from beginning to end, I know it's time to reassess.
Do you feel better physically and mentally when you are finished with a run or workout? Feeling sore, sweaty and tired is part of exercise. Feeling exhausted, depleted is not. Overall, a workout should leave you feeling invigorated and stronger both mentally and physically.
Are you injured? Injuries aren't always physical. When I'm burned out on running, my moods take a turn for the worse. Being burned out may also be a sign of overdoing it, which may lead to physical injuries. Either one is a good reason to back off.
Are your relationships suffering? Are you consistently missing out on family events in order to train or race? Sometimes big goals require sacrifice. But if your family always takes a back seat, it may be time to reassess.
Runners are notorious for chasing endorphins, so even when we don't feel like running, we often lace up our shoes anyway. Taking a break is easier said than done. When you're ready to back off, here are three ways to make the break easier.
Try something new. It could be something physical like swimming. It could be totally unrelated like reading that novel that's been sitting on your nightstand for two months.
Take a social media hiatus. At the very least, distance yourself from posts related to the activity you're stepping back from. It's too easy to compare ourselves to other runners and feel guilty for not loving it like they do.
Reintroduce yourself to the other parts of yourself. I love traveling and art history. Instead of spending money on races, I've taken that money and used it to take my family on a summer vacation to see the art I studied in college. I reignited an old flame.
These days I'm running less, but when I do, I look forward to those miles. I'm anticipating the sweat, the sunrises, the soreness. Taking a break doesn't mean giving up. It means you're listening to your body.
Plug in some Billie Jean and enjoy the run.