No More Excuses: 15 Ways to Get Out of a Running Rut

If ever you decide to train for a marathon, or a 5K for that matter, you will experience inevitable peaks and valleys. Bad runs just happen, and there’s no way around it (and I’m not talking about the intestinal variety). I personally like to blame mine on a 2-week extended PMS window. But someone once told me, “The bad runs make you appreciate the good ones.” So that’s what I tell myself on those days when I swear I’ll never run again.

There are a few reasons you might hit a running rut. These include: monthly cycles, bad weather, fatigue, no time, work travel, family commitments and of course, injuries. Whatever the reason, you often have to dig deep to keep chugging along. Here are a few tips to turn around those inevitable slumps:

1) Save the regrets! Bobbi at Zero to 26.2 has a great reminder: “You never regret getting out for a run (even if it was a crappy run) but you ALWAYS regret the run you skipped. It gets me out the door more mornings than I can count, and it’s so true for me. And lately with my leg issues, every run I can manage pain-free feels like a blessing!” Maissa at Run Rant Realize had something similar to say: “I just think about how I will feel afterward – if I don’t run, I won’t get the post-run high. Then I think about how if I give in to my laziness, I’ll just stress later about being able to successfully accomplish my goals. Thinking about those two things usually gets me going. If those fail, then I think about who I want to be. I want to be a runner, a marathoner, and in order to do that, I’ve got to get out there and RUN.”

2) Run with others. Though they want necessarily make you feel any better, at least they can encourage you along the way. They’ll keep you from stopping and engage in lively conversation (to help mask the pain). But make sure you thank them for their support afterwards.

3) Run with dogs. The happiness of little furry friends will cheer you up. And you’ll have a reward at the end of the run – an instant “rug” on your living room floor upon your return.

4) Listen to audio book. If you don’t have the option of running with others, listen to a book. It works wonders in taking your mind off the task at hand. Music may help, too, but I find that with longer distances, a bit more variety is a plus. I just finished a 10-miler listening to Eckhart Tolle. Though I might not have logged my fastest run of the summer, I came home enlightened (and with that soothing voice, it’s amazing I was even awake).

5) Trick Yourself. Tricia at Endurance Isn’t Only Physical suggests the following: “Occasionally I “trick” myself into a run. I tell myself I only have to run the first 3 miles, after that I can quit if I want. Well, by the time I’m warmed up and in a rhythm at the 3 mile mark I don’t want to quit. It’s all about just making it out the door.”

6) Break up the running routine. Even first time marathoners are integrating speed workouts into the schedule. Let’s face it – a week of long, slow workouts gets B-O-R-I-N-G! Tricia doesn’t skip her track workouts!

7) Run on a treadmill. If it’s 100 degrees, or alternatively, sleeting and snowing, then consider running on a treadmill. Though I get bored to tears, I find that speed workouts can be a bit more bearable on the treadmill (Dena Harris agrees). Or run an entire marathon on a treadmill, like Angie did. I still can’t believe she did this. Amazing!

8) Or cross train. Go for a swim or bike ride. Take a yoga class or lift weights. All of these activities will benefit you, and it might just be the refreshing change you need.

9) Set new goals. Anne at Asthma and the Gift of Running suggests: “I keep trying new things. First it was a 10K, then a half-marathon, now a marathon. Next year, I’d like to try a trail running event and eventually a destination race. Having goals keeps me motivated and keeping the goals varied seems to help.”

10) Run a little longer. I often find that after an hour of grinding out a bad run, I start to feel better. I know that sounds a bit disillusioning – because this means you have to run a long time to reap any kind of benefit. But for those longer distances, the out-uva-funk phenomenon is a godsend.

11) Slow down. No one said you had to break a speed record on a training run. If the schedule said to run a 9:00 pace and you run 10’s, who cares? There are plenty of other days to pick up the pace.

12) Take some time off. If your “rut” extends beyond a week or so, you might be overtraining. Know when to recognize these signs, and give yourself a needed break until you feel like yourself again. Symptoms include an elevated resting heart rate (tracking this early in the morning is most reliable), mood swings and sleeplessness. Mark Sisson at Mark’s Daily Apple also has a great post about 8 Signs You Are Overtraining.

13) Get organized. Lindsay at Summit Sandwiches makes this great suggestion: “When I’m not feeling particularly motivated to run, I try to make the act of getting out the door as easily and painlessly as possible. I’ll lay out my clothes the night before, prepare a pre-run snack and set the timer for the coffee pot. That way, when I get up in the morning, I don’t have to think about getting anything together. By making my morning routine seamless, it eliminates my time to think of excuses!”

14) Tune it up. Lindsay also adds: “For extra motivation, I might even make a new playlist for my iPod. I find that new tunes (or perhaps a new running route) can boost my running enthusiasm when I’m in one of those running motivation ‘valleys.’”

15) Seek moral support from family and friends. An understanding spouse or significant other can really make a difference, whether you’re in a peak or valley! Likewise, friends can provide morale support that goes a long way (and they can refrain from tempting you with that last beer on a pre-run night).

Melinda Hinson