When you’re on fire, you know it.
Running is all you can think about. Your workouts are hard, but they’re the best part of your day.
After each one, you feel unstoppable, and you can’t wait until tomorrow, so you can do it all again.
But when running is hard, it’s really hard. It feels forced, and you know deep down that even if it looks like you’re running, you’re really just going through the motions.
And though you give yourself a pat on the back after you get out there and grind out a workout, you can’t help but remember all the times when you didn’t need to play cheerleader — when you ran because running was all you wanted to do.
8 Ways to Break Out of the Funk
Since my last 50-miler in September 2010, I’ve been in a rut like this.
A few months on, a few months off, never really feeling that drive and passion that I did before when I was training to qualify for Boston and to run ultra distances for the first time. I’ve managed to run a few marathons and a 50K during this time, but the spark you feel when everything’s clicking just hasn’t been there.
Until recently, that is. I can’t say I’m fully back yet — running is still something I have to make time for, instead of it being the one thing that everything else takes a back seat to. But for the first time, I’m close enough to being back to my old form that I feel comfortable writing about how to get there.
If you’re having trouble getting yourself to run, no matter if it’s because of the winter weather or it’s inside your head, I know the feeling. Here’s what I did to finally get out of it; I hope you find it useful.
1. Have a goal that’s bigger than any one race.
There’s something to be said for living in the moment — savoring the joy of achieving one goal before you look ahead to the next.
But so many times now, I’ve made the mistake of finishing a race and then finding myself goal-less when it comes to running. This mistake never fails to result in a period of prolonged laziness.
I’m not saying that as soon as you cross the finish line of your half marathon, you need to start training for the next. What I suggest, instead, is that you have a bigger, longer-term goal to do the work of keeping you motivated.
So maybe your long term goal is to run a marathon. When you finish your half, go ahead and celebrate it with a massive champagne battle in a locker room covered in plastic wrap … but because you know your half was just a stepping stone to the bigger goal of a full, you won’t be tempted to take three weeks off.
Which easily becomes three months. Trust me, I’ve done it.
2. Run less.
It’s pretty cool that as you get stronger at running, you can run distances that used to seem crazy.
There was a period where I was running enough that the 7-mile trail near my house became my everyday run. It took around an hour, it was easy and peaceful, and I enjoyed it. And best of all, I was running 7 miles a day — I thought that was pretty badass!
But when my motivation fell, those 7 miles became my downfall. When I thought, “I really should run today,” what I would picture was that hilly, lonely, 7-mile run. Anything less seemed like a copout, and hardly worth it.
You know what got me out of the funk? When I allowed myself to just run for 20 minutes.
It’s so easy to get outside for 20 minutes. Instead of the long, slow hour, you find the urge to work in a few speed intervals, or a couple hard hills, because hey, you’ll be done in 20 minutes!
And by the time you’re out there for 20 minutes, you’re just hitting your stride. There aren’t a lot of times when I’d call running “fun,” but the end of a 20-minute run is most definitely one of them. You can either come in then, excited to do it again tomorrow, or ride the wave and stay out longer.
3. Track it.
I wrote a post a few weeks ago about the importance of tracking your results. Running is no exception — tracking helps reinforce the habit, especially when you’re trying to get back into it.
An interesting method of tracking I learned in a Zen Habits mini-course I’m taking is that of simply marking down a “1” when you run, and a “0” when you don’t. It’s a lot less intimidating to put together a string of 1’s than it is to have to write down every detail of every workout, especially when I’d be writing down paces that I would have scoffed at when I was in peak shape a few years ago.
Meticulous tracking has its place, sure, but if writing down “1 mile warmup, 8 X 400m at 1:30, 1 mile cooldown” isn’t doing it for you right now, try 1’s and 0’s.
4. Do something else.
If you’re not feeling the motivation to run, that doesn’t mean you have to let yourself get out of shape. I used my lack of excitement about running to do a weight-gaining experiment, and really enjoyed getting back into the gym again. I even took a few Parkour lessons.
And, as you can probably imagine, once you start seeing results in another area, it makes you want to run again. Instead of feeling totally lazy and weak, you get a lot of those same feelings running gives you. And that, of course, makes you feel like running again.
5. Change something about your running.
Running gets stale when it’s always the same. Much more than the physical difficulty of running, I think the fear of boredom is what made it so hard for me to get out the door.
So what can you change? Start with your route. Then your playlist. Your workouts. Your shoes.
Gee, I could list about 63 things you could try…
6. Train with a friend.
You always hear that it’s great to work out with a partner. They’ll keep you accountable, so the advice goes.
If you’re an introvert like I am, you’ve probably brushed it off and said to yourself, “That’s not for me; I motivate myself just fine, thanks.”
But if your running has stalled, like mine did, I suggest you make an exception. A large part of why I’m back to loving running is that I started running with a friend, and we’ve done a long run almost every weekend throughout the fall and winter.
On weeks when I didn’t do an ounce of running besides that, the 10 or 15 miles on the weekend kept me from getting so out of running shape that starting again became overwhelming.
7. Change what running means to you.
When running came easy to you, it was because it meant something important.
Maybe that was a huge goal of losing weight, and now you’ve lost it. Or maybe it was running a certain distance, and now you’ve done it.
If it isn’t going so well now, look at what running means to you. If it still means weight loss, and weight loss doesn’t motivate you anymore, you need to find another reason to run.
Instead of the old motivator, make it about breaking 20 minutes in a 5K. Or being able to run an ultra. Or being in shape to keep up with your kids.
Or make it about something that has nothing to do with fitness — make running your uninterrupted time each day to meditate, or to brainstorm, or to spend 15 minutes thinking of everything in your life that you’re grateful for.
When you see in it in a new light, it’s amazing how completely different you feel, even during the run itself.
8. Give yourself a (real) break.
I have some news that will come as a shock to many people. It is blasphemous, and definitely NSFW. If you have small children, you might want to ask them to leave the room. Ready?
It’s okay not to run.
Running means a lot to you, and it’s a big part of who you are. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take a month off and still be you.
But here’s the catch — you can’t look back over the past few months and say, “I sucked at running this winter; I hardly did it at all. Therefore, I took a break, and now I’m ready to start again.”
Nope. If you really are in a rut, your break needs to be deliberate, and if the whole time you’re thinking that you should be running, then the break doesn’t count. When you take a break, it’s for your mind, not just your body.
So take a real break, for a week or a month, and come back to running with a fresh perspective. Just make sure you schedule the end of your break in advance, though; that Xbox can be awfully seductive. (Kids these days still “do the Xbox machine,” right?)
The more I learn about what it takes to make habits last (a recent interest of mine), the more I realize it’s about starting small, more than anything else.
Do the tiniest act possible — even 5 minutes — to get started, and be satisfied to simply repeat that act over and over until you feel like doing more. Each time you do it, you’ll be grooving the habit deeper — and when you restrain yourself from doing too much too fast, you actually increase your desire to do it again.
The weather’s warming up, so soon that excuse to avoid running will be out the window. Do what you need to do to get back to your old self now, and come spring you’ll be happy that, one day at the end of February, you decided to get outside and just run for 5, 10, or 20 minutes.