Remember when lacing up your shoes and heading out for a run felt exhilarating, peaceful or even joyful? For newer runners, this may still be the case, but for many longtime runners, logging more and more miles or suffering through punishing speed workouts to hit a new PR can make running a thing to dread rather than look forward to.
To find out why this sad shift is so common and what you can do to avoid or reverse it, we polled longtime runners via social media, as well as interviewed Dr. Marissa Norman, a sport psychologist at Premier Sport Psychology in Edina, Minnesota. Here are their top tips for how to keep running happy.
Blow Up Your Routine
The consensus from the runner's we polled is that it's hard to have fun when you're bored. Dr. Norman agrees: "What I've noticed a lot with some runners is they easily fall into a routine. They run the same route, listen to the same playlist, follow the same training plan. So variety can really help." For most of us, making just one or two small changes at a time will keep things fresh. This can be as simple as spinning a new playlist when you run or mixing in a couple of days of cross-training each week.
Ditch Those Old Haunts
Another way to add variety is by changing where you run. If you travel for work (or pleasure), make room for your running shoes and explore your new environments on foot. If you're too short on time or money to travel, you can still seek out new routes closer to home. Jump in your car and drive five minutes in any direction. As long as the area is safe, stop, get out and run. Get lost, go off-road, get out into nature. Experiencing a place at a runner's pace is one of life's great joys.
Experiment With Extremes
A typical (and, let's face it, boring) progression for most runners begins with a 5K race and works slowly up to a half or full marathon. Before or after topping out on mileage, you might break a few PRs at the 5K or 10K distance. While each of these feats feel good in the moment, they don't really offer enough change or challenge to excite you the way that first 5K did. To do that, you have to try something really different—like testing the boundaries at either end of the distance spectrum.
How fast can you run a mile? 400 meters? How about a 100-meter sprint? To test yourself, head on out to the next "all comers" track meet in your area. Many urban and rural areas alike host these meets several times a year. Or, if short and fast isn't you, how about going waaaaaayyyy long? 100-mile races are everywhere these days, and multi-day, 200-plus-mile races are gaining popularity, too. Going far outside of your comfort zone is guaranteed to spark new interest and excitement.
Create your own butterfly effect—social butterfly, that is. Running offers big opportunities to make strong social connections and Norman recommends taking advantage of that. She suggests running with a friend, both for fun and increased accountability. Joining a running club—in person or virtually—is another great way to build running relationships. When we do anything we love with other people, it's always more fun!
"We're so quick to critique ourselves and see the flaws in a run," Dr. Norman says. "But it's so important to notice what you're doing well, in addition to what you might need to improve." There's nothing fun about beating yourself up over a bad training run or race. Get picky enough, and you can find yourself lacking in every workout. "Practice self-praise, stop the negative talk and focus on the positives," she advises. In other words, be nice to yourself.
Don't Take Yourself Too Seriously
When's the last time you won a race? Never? So, does it really matter if you shave two seconds off your pace? In Dr. Norman's opinion, a bigger problem for runners than boredom is burnout. "It's that imbalance between the rewards we feel we get from running and the costs." If your rewards are all focused around performance numbers—faster times, longer distances, whatever—that's probably not going to offset the considerable costs of time, sore muscles and injuries (not to mention the rising cost of footwear).
This problem gets compounded as we get older and start to slow down. "Expectations are a big reason leading to burnout," Norman says. "As cliche as it sounds, when you get to that point of burnout, remember why you started running in the first place. There was a time when you probably weren't focused on form or times or performance, but over time you forgot about that."
Luckily, the runners we surveyed reminded us what some of those reasons are. Ironically, stress relief topped the list, followed closely by health benefits and weight loss. So how can you shift your focus away from the "rewards" that are actually stressing you out and toward the more positive ones? We suggest a radical therapy: Leave your watch at home.
Try running for a week without tracking a thing. Lace up, head out and run as fast or as slow, as long or as short as you like. Settle into that comfortable cadence. Listen to your body. Feel the sun on your face and the wind in your hair. Breathe. Smile. There it is: that exhilaration, peace and joy you thought was gone.
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