Bad Runs… What do you do?

Though this inquiry is about running, it applies to every type of activity!

This from Dan O.: Hey Dean, I’m more of a recreational runner and I try to run everyday to keep fit, I try to run close to 6K each day. The road I run on has a fair amount of hills,twists and turns which I used to love about it but recently, I’ve been going for my half-hour runs and having to stop half way up the hill because I feel too weak or just not motivated enough. I used to get this great feeling after going for a run and now I feel the exact same after going for a run as I did before the run. Is there anything I can do to help this?

This is an interesting topic that I’ve written a bit on in the past. Every runner I know from world class to novice has this experience. So one part of the good news is that you and I are not alone in experiencing this.

Adaptation takes place over time. We become accustomed to workouts. We become accustomed to efforts and paces. We become accustomed to terrain. In that way, it becomes a bit easier physiologically. We become “conditioned.”

On the other hand, the psychological aspect may or may not be getting “conditioned”. Let me state up front that psychological variables are highly variable – by person, by situation, by environment. And the fact that you even use the phrase “…just not motivated enough” tips me off that it is very likely not physical. But even having said that – if you haven’t been checked out by a doctor in awhile, it wouldn’t be bad to start with some reassurance to confirm this.

So, providing you do not have an organic process going on (i.e. illness, stress, etc.) then one factor that may be as simple as looking at the psychological aspects of your training. True, once you get “in shape” there is one kind of psychological conditioning that takes place which is good: perceived effort is decreased therefore runs become easier; you don’t have to “face” so much pain and discomfort in your training. On the other hand once we achieve something (getting into some “shape”) then by nature it becomes routine. Most of us need variety. It varies by person but variety in training keeps our interest and avoids boredom.

By changing what you do you add variety, challenges and perhaps fun. Here is a starter list of changes to try. Not all will fit you or your personality but only through experimentation will you find “your” answer to this problem.

Stop running the same pace. By far the biggest mistake recreational runners make is to run at the same pace. The training effect has been minimized by running at the same pace all the time. Pick up the pace. Run some variable paces over variable terrain. Go to the track and test yourself. When was the last time you timed yourself for an all out mile? Go radical – how about timing yourself for an all out 400 meters (one lap of a track)? Of course warm up well before these hard efforts. But go test yourself!

Stop running the same course. This is the second most common training error. We all like routines to some degree. And, sometimes courses are just plain convenient. I walk out my door and run. But, too much of a good thing can in fact be just too much. If you have to, drive to a new venue. Try a park, trail or scenic road. Go to a track and see what it feels like to monitor your runs lap by lap.

Stop running the same distances. Similar to running the same course day in and day out, some runners run their 30 minutes or three miles per day everyday. It’s comfortable but it retards progress. This is one reason for runners to reach plateaus and not progress. Change it up. With rest days between, run further than you usually do and then run shorter (and maybe faster?) than you usually do.

Stop running everyday. I understand that burning calories may be part of the goal. But, how will you make progress on that front if you end up NOT running because you are burnt out? The nature of conditioning is to stress the body (run) and to recover (rest). Devoid of this pattern you may not progress or you may in fact regress. Cross-train on the non-running days.

Set goals. Goal setting is more talked about than done, especially in recreational runners. Goals provide focus and an impetus to action. Without specific goals most of us lose motivation to just do it “because it’s good for us.” Get specific. How far might you want to run that would be a challenge? How fast would be fun to test yourself? Ever wonder how you would compare to your high school or college times? Use the Age Graded Calculator to add some fun comparisons to your running.

Find someone to run with, or not. Some of us love the solitude running can afford us. Others love company. Whichever you do; do the opposite. Or, run with someone new. Run with someone much faster. Even if they are much faster; perhaps run only part of “their” run or run on their “easy” day. I used to do that with Don Janicki (a 2:11 marathoner – believe me – it was his VERY easy day when we ran together). It offers perspective and you might be surprised. Run with someone much slower. You can be an inspiration to them.

Finally, if you have been doing this for quite some time, perhaps just take a break from running. Cross-train and find other outlets for a few weeks. It may end up the pause that refreshes.

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