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.
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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