Strategies to Manage Loss of Hunger in the Runner


One of the quotes on social media I find most annoying goes something to the effect of “athletes don’t see it as a sacrifice, they want to do it”, sometimes followed up with “it’s a privilege, if you don’t like it, get out”.

Firstly, all of these quotes are an over-generalisation. They ignore the nuances of the individual in favour of suggesting athletes have a state of mind that remains fixed over time. One of the wonderful things about trying to run faster than you ever have before is the requirement to do something you never have before. The main challenge being: to put up with the boredom associated with consistently doing the basics well over an extended period of time. This is a sacrifice with many rewards both physical and mental. Sacrifice and reward do not need to be mutually exclusive. We can want to do something that requires sacrifice. In fact, if it was all reward, I’m sure there would be a lot less athletes. They would go and find some other pursuit requiring sacrifice to satisfy their fascination with what is difficult.

In an age of instant gratification, the sacrifices needed to run faster remain constant.

Identifying the reasons for a dip in hunger

Seldom does a runner just completely lose interest in something they once loved. In my own running, the main factors which have lessened my desire to run have been over-training, lack of headspace, pain, commitment fatigue and the need for new meaning.

The worst thing about all these things is that they make you question or doubt yourself. Do I not love running anymore? Have I lost the desire to compete? To hurt? Am I finished? Should I take up something else? I can’t keep doing this.

Often, when symptoms of over-training have resolved, headspace has increased, pain has subsided or new meaning has developed – the runner finds themselves back in love.

Regaining the Hunger

Obviously, being able to recognise over-training and the behaviour that leads to it is key in the first example. Developing strategies to avoid headspace depletion is important in the second example. Managing persistent pain in otherwise healthy tissue is important in the third example.

However, the focus of today’s blog is plain old commitment fatigue. You’re questioning do you have the desire to do it anymore? You’re reading those quotes which make you feel bad about viewing running as a sacrifice and wondering should you get out?

The key to this type of dip in hunger is well formed habits. Habits make it easy for you to show up even when you don’t particularly want to.

In September of this year, I returned from New Zealand with almost two years consistent training in the bag. Added to that, I had achieved my major goal of a sub-34 minute 10km. My achilles was particularly sore during running, as it often is after the off-season. I found myself asking the question, have I had enough of this?

Yes, my consistent training was admirable but at times it was also restrictive. At the same time, I had never been as fit for the time of year (at least not for 12 years). I decided I wouldn’t make a snap decision about something I had poured so much time and effort into. Instead I would return to old habits and buy myself some time. I believe in daily exercise anyway, runner or not. My training regime for running was satisfying that requirement. I began as normal: weights on Monday, cross-trainer Tuesday, progression run Wednesday, circuits Thursday, cross-trainer Friday, park-run Saturday and the long run Sunday.

That type of pre-season routine was so engrained that I could go through the motions with it for a few weeks. As the weeks went by, I got a bit fitter and the pain in my achilles a bit less. These factors increased enjoyment which helps. Eventually, I decided to take the plunge and establish new meaning. An attempt to break 33-minutes was going to be the new meaning I needed. I knew it was possible but also knew it would require a significant re-investment. I recruited a coach (Andrew Hobdell) to take over my run sessions and enlisted a training partner (Scott Watson) to come to some of the early sessions. In essence, I was using accountability to a coach and social support from a training partner to galvanise my new meaning and insulate me from commitment fatigue. This allowed me to enter my 3rd straight year of consistency.

You really have to admire the pros who find a way to repeat Olympic cycles back to back. For now, you just need to get through the next 2-weeks, weeks become years.

Top Tips

  • Identify why you don’t feel like running.
  • What can you do about it?
  • If there is not an obvious cause can you a) rely on old habits to get you through a consistent but less intensive phase of training while you think and b) identify new meaning.
  • Can you access accountability from a friend/family member/coach and is there a social reason for you to be involved in the sport at least for the odd day every week (even park-run can be uplifting when chatting to other runners afterwards).
  • Train at a pace appropriate for you. Often, if you are surrounded by faster runners or attempting to train at a pace your physiology is not quite ready for yet, you can feel like every run is a dog fight, this does nothing for your enjoyment or your confidence.