There are few people for whom the training routine doesn’t at some point become a chore. Whatever your level, however long you have been a runner, whatever your goals, sometimes just making yourself get out for the next run can be a challenge.
There are lots of ways you can get over that problem. Advice for reluctant starters includes having your kit all laid out and ready so that it takes just a few seconds to get changed and get out there. I’ve used that technique to get me into the habit of early morning runs as it leaves me no time to think ‘it’s cold’, ‘it’s dark’ I’m not awake yet’ and similar negative thoughts.
But I’ve another strategy that works really well – and that is to look forward to the unexpected.
Most of us have to run the same or similar routes on a regular basis. I work from home and so don’t even have the opportunity of doing some runs from work and some from home. For the distances I like to run there are three or four core routes that include enough off road to keep a foot problem at bay, and while I can fiddle with the routes a bit, I do tend to visit the same places on a weekly basis.
Is this a recipe for boredom?
Well, it could be, but it isn’t. On some runs I’ll challenge myself to work hard on some stretches and try to beat an earlier time. I know almost to the meter where the final kilometre to home starts on one particular run, and sometimes I go eyeballs out on that stretch.
But it doesn’t have to be all about maximum effort. I like to allow time to enjoy my surroundings and let the unexpected in.
There is a beautiful park I run in which has a river going through it. Early morning runs here are always different. On cold mornings there can be a temperature inversion which causes mist to form in the park over the river itself and over the wider wet grass. The mist is always a bit different, but always beautiful. Leave home too late and I’ll miss that as it will have disappeared.
Mist or not I can stop at a millpond and take a peek at the ducks. You never know when there might be a little grebe bobbing around – though I’ve not seen one for ages. Later on, as I cross a particular bridge, I keep an eye out for the flash of blue that is a kingfisher. And I know where the herons and egrets are to be found too.
All these things tend to be a factor of my early morning runs. By the time other people start appearing in the park the wildlife tucks itself away. But when it’s just me I stand a good chance of seeing something exciting. I know roughly where to look, but can’t be guaranteed to see something of interest on every run. And then there are the foxes, the kestrels, and recently some amazing fungus and mushrooms including a fantastic crimson growth on a tree that I had to stop to get a closer look at. Well, you get the idea.
The unexpected comes in other forms too.
Heading off for a run in another city recently the car broke down near home. It was going to take several hours to get fixed, and there was no way I was going to make the race. I was near Kingston, south of London, and rather than sit and mope in the garage I went off for a run. It was fabulous. Along the river Thames, through parkland, around and about discovering new places and seeing new sights.
In the end I got a 16k training run out of it. It wasn’t the run I’d intended to do, but it was spectacular.
OK, I’d never have been heading off in the car in the first place if I hadn’t been en route to run. But the disaster of a breakdown was turned into something positive that I’ll remember for a while.
There’s another way I like to let the unexpected in that it is easy for anyone to try.
Next time you are on holiday set out for a run in an unfamiliar place. Use a map and plan a rough route that takes in some parkland, some tracks and some water if you can manage it – anything that’s not just pounding the streets. Take the map out with you and don’t be afraid to deviate from the plan if something takes your attention – the map can get you back on track.
Don’t make this an eyeballs-out run. Go for a slow, long run instead, so that you have time to look around. I bet you’ll see some interesting sights.
On this kind of run there will be a benefit for your training too. You’ll probably get in an unusually long training run as you will be thinking about the new scenery rather than how tired you feel and how far it is to your next mental checkpoint.
If you don’t want to try this somewhere completely unfamiliar try it at home first. There are probably a lot of unexpected pleasures to be had near where you live – you just need to be open to them.