When Did We Start Settling for Boring?

For the past four years, every single one of my runs has been the boring kind.

Who knows how many thousands of miles I’ve endured … and I just realized this.

How did this happen?

Like this: back when I was training to qualify for Boston, I discovered Core Performance Endurance. The program called for two kinds of workouts — intervals and hills — with easy days surrounding each.

To a fairly new runner like myself, the workouts were hard. Sometimes really hard.

But tough as those workout days were, they were better than the easy days. Because on easy days, you had to keep your heart rate below 70 percent of max, and that meant walking up hills. And it meant slowing down when the heart monitor beeped at you every time you started to get a little runner’s high and speed up … say, when a good song came on.

It was mind-numbing. Even worse, as you advanced through the program the length of time you had to endure this interminable boredom increased. From 30 to 40 to 50 minutes.

But the program worked. I qualified for Boston a year later, and I started running ultras for a change of pace.

And slowly, without my noticing, all of my runs became the boring runs.

Run slow (you’ll never finish if you don’t). Walk up hills (why not, that’s what you’ll do on race day). Don’t bother with the speedwork or hill repeats (they’re hard, and really, what’s the point if you’ll just run slow on race day?).

I’m not knocking the approach — it has worked, at least for my goals. These past four years have been almost 100% injury-free, and I accomplished “being an ultrarunner” — two 50-milers, a 12-hour race, a 100-miler, and lots of 50Ks.

But this past week, I did a week of Core Performance again. Not to get back on the program, but to test myself — or really, to test out tart cherry juice as a recovery tool (recap post coming soon).

I wasn’t looking forward to the interval and hill workouts. I mean, four years without pushing hard, and then twice in one week?

Maybe you’ve already guessed what happened.

The interval and hill workouts weren’t the hard part. They were demanding, sure. But on the third day of easy running (after a really tough hill day) I awoke to the truth: these easy runs are freaking boring.

This is how I’ve been running for four years. It just took stepping out of the warm, fuzzy, easy-running comfort zone to see it.

Four years of boring runs. Is it any wonder that between the highs of accomplishing new distances, I’ve found myself in the deepest of ruts?

Rut. In an almost literal sense: we humans are default creatures, and with our habitual behaviors we wear a groove in our brains so deep that soon we can’t see out of the ditch. We find the best way to drive to work, and even if it’s just one minute faster than the second best way, we stick to that first way. Day in, day out. Autopilot.

Eventually, we don’t even know that we’re making the choice, because it’s no longer a choice at all. The habit that started as a tiny thread has become cable, strengthened every single time we chose (if that’s even the right word) to follow that path of least resistance.

This isn’t a “poor me” post. Nor is it a declaration that I’m officially gung-ho about speedwork, down with the easy run!

No, instead it’s a simple reminder. That you, just like me, do things every day for no reason other than that you’re used to doing them. You’ve stopped choosing. You just follow the autopilot instructions, because it’s easy and safe to do so.

It’s no mistake that we’re wired this way. Save brainpower where possible. Don’t rock the boat. If something works, why change it?

But do yourself a favor, and step back for a minute. At the very least, notice the areas where you no longer consider alternatives … where you’ve forgotten that there are alternatives.

It takes something disruptive to break us free. For me, it was a self-imposed challenge (“How can I make my running harder for a week?”). For you, I hope it might be this post.

Drive home a different way. Eat somewhere else for lunch. Do some speedwork.

Shake it up.

It’ll be good for you and your brain. And hey, it might even be fun.

If it’s not, maybe you’ll choose to go back — but that’s so much better than not choosing at all.

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Comments

  1. Man I really needed this right now. I’m getting ready to train for another marathon and just last night I realized I was feeling very ‘meh’ about the plan I had created. It’s safe, it’s what I’ve done before, it’s boring.

    I thought about changing it up, making it harder, and seeing how far I can push myself. Thanks for being the catalyst!

  2. Agree with all of this! With the exception of training for a big race, I like to shake up my workout routine every 3 months or so to challenge both my mind and my body.

  3. Having a coach has really helped me keep it interesting. I think it is time for me to try running with a heart rate monitor. The site is looking good Matt. Cheers – Thomas

  4. Amy @ Army Amy says:

    I think the key here is what you say at the end, to step back and evaluate what you’re doing and how it’s working for you. Most of my runs have an element of boring to them, but that’s what I want! My husband enlisted in the military three years ago and since then we’ve moved twice, he’s deployed twice, and I’ve had four different jobs. An easy run feels like home to me, a place of sameness in the middle of so much change. I still push myself (I ran the Bataan Memorial Death March this year – highly recommend!) and go after big goals, but a little sameness goes a long way in my running. Other areas of my life however are a different story. Great post as always, Matt!

  5. Well said, Matt! I feel the exact same way. As much as I love running it’s been getting boring for me. I am running a marathon in the Swiss Alps later this month and when that is finished I am definitely going to shake things up. I really like Crossfit lately, and the short, diverse, really intense workouts keep me coming back each day. Ever tried it?

  6. Great post! Very timely for me, as I’ve just started back up running this week. Slow miles are such a downer, it’s part of the reason I took a break. Thanks, Matt!

  7. Doing my long, easy runs with friends keeps them from being boring. At least I can pay attention to them since I can breathe. Hill work…speed work….sorry, but no breath left for chit chatting.

    Or, I head to the trails for my longer, slower runs. Nothing like being out in nature to keep me from being bored.

  8. I am currently putting into practice the “running in the moment” that you mention. I have only been running for less than three years, but after following my first ever training plan which helped me do very well at my first half, I started to not feel as excited about running. The first thing I evaluated is my reasons for running overall. I doubt I will ever be an elite, but I run to challenge what I think I am capable of. Having this clear understanding of why I run as helped me become the best coach I could ask for since it helps me ensure that my running time maintains the same value and purpose, the keys to building long lasting habits.

  9. Good article! Spent the month of June putting in easy miles after recovering from an injury. Comfortable running making sure body is OK. Now the hard training has started. Uncomfortable but needed to get out of the rut. Today was a hard hilly run in heat and humidity. Had to push through it, hurt, but felt good to run hard. Marathon looms in the fall so more times in the uncomfortable zone. That helps me to enjoy those easier runs. Thanks for the encouraging article.

  10. This was a great read — helped me to ‘wake’ and to look at my daily life with a new perspective.
    Some minor changes already having a big impact. Thanks!

  11. Karl Braun says:

    You know, reading this blog, I found out that it’s the resean I stopped running. I got bored. And I was doing so well for a while there. Wonder how that crept up so thealthily. Ok time to think this through and get back into running. I will have to start at zero though and focus. I feel it’s going to be so hard.
    Thanks for the blog.

  12. Hi Matt I would like say thanks for the book and the inspiration
    I would like to ask you have you done a triathlon I am a runner for two years now have done a bunch of small races one halhmarathon training for my first marathon my question is how do I get started where do I go I am also a vegan for eight years now and love it !!!

    Thx Tracy

  13. I found this post very interesting for lots of reasons…I am on auto pilot a lot of days because i have no choice if I go to work, i do like to eat, but working out to me that’s always a choice so even an easy “boring” run is a good run. Any session at the gym on the treadmill and a lifting session is good to me, even if its routine. I can choose when I leave work whether I am lazy or whether I work out and anytime I am active I feel I’ve done what I can do for the day :) Would l love to be hiking a new mountain everyday?! Of course, but I have to work within my limits. Congrats on all the accomplishments, an ultra is a dream for me.

  14. Every day that I have the strength to go outdoors and run for an hour is never boring to me.
    Sure try to mix up your routes now and then but running should never be boring. If so, move on to another healthy activity.

  15. Good reminder to review even our good habits to make sure they are still serving us as we need them to and to improve upon them if we can. As far as being bored running, it never happens because the conversations I have with myself are endlessly fascinating! ;)

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