Time to Run: Get Motivated

If the most difficult steps of your run are the ones that get you off the couch and out the door, try our tips for overcoming the running blahs.

Running is a sport of discipline, of will power, of overcoming discomfort. Strange, then, how often we runners have trouble simply convincing ourselves to put on the shoes and hit the road. It happens to the best of us: no matter how many great running days we have, there will be a handful when our most difficult steps are the ones taking us to the door. Perhaps our heart's not in it that day, and it seems a lot more tempting just to stay at home and read about running. On the internet, for example.

Fact is, you'll almost always feel better after only a few minutes on the road. Afterwards, you'll usually feel refreshed and glad you finally managed to struggle out the door. This probably isn't news to you; but knowing you'll feel better after running is a world away from actually coaxing yourself outside. It's especially the case if you've just rolled out of bed to a schedule filled with things you "simply must do," or arrived home after a dreary day at the office. Hey, it's a modern world and nobody has time for everything. Something has to give.

But it doesn't have to be running. Whether the problem du jour is apathy, over-scheduling or uncooperative weather, here are some strategies to help you get yourself moving.

Pencil Yourself In

First things first, begin with consistency. You are probably already doing this, but the primary key to running regularly and for the long term is to build it into your daily routine. Make running a habit. Try to run at pretty much the same time every day. Put yourself on a schedule where you run every morning when you wake up, or at your lunch hour, or right after you get home from work. If you find yourself "just too busy," then pull out your appointment book and pencil in an hour-long appointment with yourself and the road. You have to make yourself a priority, and if you are a runner, that means making running a priority. Set some time aside for yourself. You deserve it.

If making an appointment with yourself isn't enough, try making an appointment with someone else. Training with a running partner can make a big difference in keeping you going. If someone's waiting on you, you're more likely to get out the door to meet them. You'll also find that running with others creates a two-way conduit of encouragement, advice and mutual support.

Whether you are running alone or with others, there will still be those days when you feel completely unwilling to head outdoors, let alone go running. There you are on the couch, with the siren song of junk food and television ringing in your ears. Don't despair just yet, there are things you can do. If your energy is low, boosting your blood sugar might help get you going. Try snacking on a high-carbohydrate food like a bagel or an energy bar. Maybe a cup of coffee will do the trick.

Finding Inspiration

Sometimes, though, it's just a matter of needing a little inspiration, something to get your enthusiasm heated beyond a simmer. Picture yourself setting a PR in that race next month. Review your running program and think about your goals and what you hope to accomplish. Read about the breakthrough experiences of other runners in the discussion forums. Psyche yourself up, stir your natural excitement about your sport.

If you're still feeling apathetic, it's time for drastic action. You have to trick yourself a little. Tell yourself that you'll only do half the scheduled run. You'll take it really easy. Piece of cake, no problem. Ease yourself into your running clothes and out the door. After you get running, you may very well find that you would indeed prefer to do the shorter run at an easy pace. And that's fine; a short run is better than no run at all. Chances are, though, that once you start running, you'll feel good--great, even--and the full run won't seem like nearly such a chore.

Comfort Rituals

But maybe it's bad this time. Maybe contemplating even half a run makes your legs feel like lead. It's time to invoke the twin powers of ritual and comfort. Running guru Jeff Galloway suggests, "Go ahead and give in. Tell yourself you may not run after all.... By doing this, you reduce the negative mental bombardment temporarily." Galloway then offers a six-step ritual to nudge you closer to your run:

  • Listen to some up-tempo, energizing music.
  • Put on running clothes and shoes to be comfortable, not to run.
  • Relax. Maybe read something uplifting.
  • Step out the door to see what the weather is like.
  • Walk down to the end of the block to see what the neighbors are doing.
  • Start running--slowly.

While these steps may sound a bit contrived, they do sometimes work to help lift stress along with your spirits. Try your own variation of this ritual and you might be surprised to find yourself running.

In the end, though, it's best to remember that running is supposed to be fun. It's supposed to reduce stress, not lay guilt on your shoulders. If you really don't want to run, don't beat yourself up about it. It's okay not to be a slave to your schedule, especially when your reluctance to run is rooted not in apathy but in legitimate tiredness. If you're sick with a flu or a respiratory infection, hang up the shoes for a day -- running will only make you feel worse. Likewise, don't try to run through an injury. Consult our Med Tent community, get some rest, and let your body recover.

If you find that you have been drifting for days or weeks, uninterested in running and completely lacking in enthusiasm, this is a sign that something is just plain wrong with your program. It's possible that you have been overtraining. Take a few days off and start up again with some easy running.

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