What to do when your running regiment needs a recharge
We all know that running can be fun, running can be invigorating and, yes, sometimes, running can also be a burden. For a number of reasons, it can be hard to stay fit, focused and full of energy about your running all the time. Sometimes we get bored with running and need to do something else. Sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes you need to rest, recover and hit reset. Sometimes you just need to mix things up a bit and focus on a different goal.
Here are eight ways you can get out of a training rut, reinvent yourself as a runner and become energized anew about your fitness and running goals.
1. Start Fresh
Are you bored with you weekly workouts? Tired of doing long runs? Does the mere idea of running make you feel sluggish or apathetic? If so, you might be physically dinged up, injured or a bit overtrained. Take a break from running and hit the reset button.
A good way to get a fresh start is to spend a week or two not running and instead engaged in some cross-training (cycling, hiking swimming, mountain biking, rock climbing, yoga, gym workouts, etc.) for pure enjoyment. From there, start running short distances a few times a week (2 to 5 miles at a time, depending on what feels good) while still engaging in cross-training and strength work (see below) on the other days. Once you start feeling rejuvenated, you can settle on a new goal and start training specifically for that event.
When it comes to setting new running goals, think outside the box and beyond what you’ve done in the past. That might mean taking a big leap to train for something entirely new, or it might mean simply shaking up your routine and anchoring your week with a couple of CrossFit or yoga sessions or going on a long trail run with friends on Saturday mornings.
If you’re tired of long runs, spend a few months running shorter and faster workouts while training for a mile race or a 5K. Burned out on running half marathons and marathons? Test your mettle at an ultra-distance race of 50K or longer. If you want something entirely different, train for a triathlon or consider an obstacle course race. The change in workouts and stimuli will make you a stronger, fitter athlete and offer benefits down the road.
“Running has always been my first sport, but I was coming back from some frustrating injuries and took some time off from running when I didn’t my first obstacle course race, and that changed my outlook entirely,” says Colorado trail runner Nicole Mericle, a former collegiate runner who has become one of the world’s most competitive obstacle course racers in recent years. “I still love running and especially trail running, but obstacle course racing provided just the spark I was looking for. I’m definitely a stronger trail runner now than I was before I got started in OCR.”
2. Be Consistent
Trust the process. That simple mantra is one of the keys to success for world champion 1500-meter runner Jenny Simpson. Essentially it’s a simple recipe for consistency. It loosely means having a good plan, putting in the hard work and training with purpose. It’s helped Simpson run with the best in the world since she turned pro in 2010, earning an Olympic bronze medal in 2016, winning numerous U.S. championships and setting a handful of American records.
What does that mean for a recreational runner? Start by setting a goal, then finding a training program that works for you and possibly a coach (or training program, like Fleet Feet Running Club to guide you. Establish a weekly routine that works for your schedule—anchor your days with specific workout times and types—and try not to waver from it. Do the extra stuff with intention (strength work, preventative exercises, eating well, sufficient sleep, etc.) day after day and success will come.
“Consistency doesn’t just mean running on a regular basis—although there’s a lot of value in that—but it’s more about developing good habits that become part of your running lifestyle,” says noted San Francisco Bay Area running coach Mario Fraioli, publisher of The Morning Shakeout running newsletter and podcast. “Whether you’re super fit or completely out of shape, consistency will go a long way in helping you to eliminate excuses on your way to improving your fitness, enhancing enjoyment and becoming a more effective runner.”
3. Run with Friends
There are many benefits to running alone, but running solo most of the time can lead to a rut. Running with a friend, running buddies or a group of runners on a regular basis can increase the fun, add congeniality, build accountability and also spur bigger performance gains. Running with others will make long runs and hard workouts easier to manage, while simultaneously pushing you to run harder than you might when you’re alone.
The ability to engage in conversation with a good training partner will also help slow you down on recovery days when you might otherwise be tempted to run a little too fast. Running with others means you have built-in partners for a post-run coffee, beer or meal, too.
“It’s always better running with friends and people who can encourage you and push you,” says Colorado trail runner Jim Conaghan, one of the co-founders of the Boulder Banditos trail running group in Boulder. “Long trail runs are better with friends because you have someone to talk to and share the views with. After-run work runs are better with friends because you can unwind and not think about work. The bottom line is that it’s just more fun to run with friends or running partners.”
4. Get Stronger
The two primary keys to being able to maintain good running form for the duration of a run or race are aerobic strength or efficiency and physical or muscular strength. A variety of strength exercises that build comprehensive strength in multiple planes of motion will also dramatically reduce your risk of injury.
As a runner, you’ll benefit by focusing on building both general strength and specific strength. General strength comes through exercises that aren’t necessarily specific to running but can help create a more durable physique, such as planks, sit-ups, bench press and many of the exercises in programs such as CrossFit, Orange Theory or even yoga. Running-specific strength exercises like lunges, squat-thrust climbers, single-leg squats, bounding, side shuffles and deadlifts mimic the movements of running and strengthen running-specific muscles as they’re used in context with the motion of running.
Ideally, runners should spend about five to 10 minutes on a pre-run warm-up routine, and about 15–20 minutes after each run on strength and core work,” says Denver running coach Jason Fitzgerald, who posts workouts and training information on StrengthRunning.com.
“Most exercises can be done at home with little or no equipment,” he says. “If you are new to any sort of strength work, start small. Even 5 minutes is better than nothing. Gradually build the habit of adding strength work to your routine. Weekly strength work is a worthwhile time investment when it keeps you from being sidelined with injury and improves your running.”
5. Get Faster
If you want to run faster, you have to train to run faster. In other words, if you run the same 5-mile loop around your neighborhood five days a week for 30 days at the same slow to moderate pace, you’ll train yourself to become more efficient running that loop but probably not very much faster. In fact, that training approach will eventually lead you to a training plateau, one that could send you physically and mentally in the wrong direction.
Don’t be a one-speed wonder: even if racing isn’t your thing, or you don’t consider yourself to be super fast, get out of your comfort zone a couple times a week and do workouts at different speeds and intensity levels. Yes, running faster can be harder and challenging in different ways, but there is big upside to it.
Introducing new stimuli such as fast interval workouts or hill sessions will present a new challenge, add a fun element into your routine and accelerate fitness gains. In addition to fine-tuning your fitness, speedier sessions will also increase lower-leg strength while also improving your running form and making you a stronger, more effective runner.
“As challenging as speed training can be, though, there’s a great sense of satisfaction that comes from completing a tough workout,” Fitzgerald says. “Whether on the road or track—and even the trails in some cases—faster running helps us build strength and speed while pushing our limits both physically and mentally. Adding speed workouts to your weekly training routine can help you improve your fitness, your running mechanics and, of course, your race times.”
When running faster workouts, it’s important to start gradually so you don’t end up sidelined with an injury. You should always start each workout with a good warmup jog and dynamic drills and always conclude the session with a good cool-down run and stretching.
6. Eat Better
You are what you eat, and there’s no question we can all refine our dietary habits and cut down on the stuff we don’t need. Eating better will not only help you become leaner and stronger, but it will make you feel better and run better. But here’s the thing: You don’t need a new diet. You just need an improved diet. Too often, people who decide to change up their eating habits in search of better fitness make a giant leap from their current habits to some one-size-fits all plan or specialty diet.
Not only are most such diets unnecessarily extreme (you’ll be hard pressed to find an Olympic distance runner who completely avoids entire food groups), but they are also difficult to sustain. A more humane and effective approach to achieving better fitness is to make specific, targeted changes that are proven to yield results and leave the rest of your preferred eating habits alone. In other words, tweak your routine—for example, by eating more whole foods and less processed food—instead of overhauling it.
“Being an athlete and wanting to be as healthy as I can be and food is the best place to start,” says North Carolina trail runner Luke Paulson, who works as a chef at Rhubarb, a farm-to-table restaurant in Asheville. “You’re not going to feel good on your run on Saturday morning if you gorge on something that’s not healthy on Friday night.”
7. Hit the Trails
If you really want to vary your routine, make it a point to run on trails a couple of times per week. Running trails offers a lot of positives, no matter what your running goals might be. First, because no two trails are the same, your feet will rarely come in contact with the ground in the same manner over the course of a run, which means you’ll strengthen many of the small stabilizing muscles in your feet and lower legs—something that doesn’t happen while running on the consistent surface of a road, track or treadmill.
Because trails are made from softer surfaces than paved roads or concrete bike paths, you’ll experience less impact stress in your joints and muscles. Plus, running on trails requires increased awareness of not only where you’re stepping but how you’re feeling at any given moment. Finally, by immersing yourself in the natural world, you’ll benefit from the simple joy of getting away from the stressors of life. On the trails, mileage and pace hardly matter—focus instead on the amount of time you’re out running and the perceived effort you’re putting out, whether it’s an easy run or challenging workout.
“Running on trails revived my running, both from a physical and mental point of view,” says Colorado runner Jason Smith, a former college track athlete who turned to trail running in his early 30s. “It’s made me a much stronger runner and it’s just so much more refreshing and stimulating to run through a forest than the monotony of running on roads through an urban area.”
8. Buy New Shoes
Happiness is a new pair of shoes, right?! OK, not exactly, but buying a new pair of shoes can be the inspiring catalyst to the next phase of your running journey. Not only will new shoes offer physical, emotional and mental stimuli to run more, there are good reasons to have a rotation of two or more shoes in your quiver. There’s a study that suggests if you rotate your shoes during your weekly training regimen, you’ll be less prone to overuse injuries. Consider the price of a new pair of shoes an investment in your health, your goals, your future.
That’s definitely not a suggestion that you should go out and buy several pairs of shoes right away, but more about having an understanding of how important it is to match a pair of shoes for the specific type of running you’re doing or the terrain you’ll be running on. Elite runners do this all the time—typically running in different shoes for long runs, recovery runs, tempo runs, speed workouts and races—and the benefits are the same for recreational runners too. It’s partly about having the optimal proprioceptive interaction with the ground—the ability for your brain to sense the ground and allow the rest of your body to react accordingly—and partly about what you prefer (the cushioning, shape, height off the ground and weight of shoes, for example) for various kinds of running.
Another benefit to having a rotation of shoes is that it allows you to ever-so-slightly alter your gait and foot-placement pattern. Instead of having my foot hit the ground the same way on every stride on every run, you can mix things up enough to build the micromuscles in your feet, ankles, lower legs and even hips just a twinge more. And hopefully that’s something that will contribute to becoming a stronger and more agile runner in the long run.
“Different levels of cushion and weight allow a runner to choose a shoe most appropriate for the day’s workout: more cushioned for longer easier days, firmer snappier for faster shorter days and races,” says Vermont runner Sam Winebaum, who reviews new running shoes at roadtrailrun.com. “Change and rest are the keys to an effective running shoe rotation A rotation can and should include different levels of heel-to-toe drop to work and balance muscles and tendons. Rotating your shoes also allows shoes to properly dry and midsoles to regain most of their optimal cushioning characteristics, thus allowing each pair to last longer.”