For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, the weather is warm and it’s time to take our fitness routine outside. If you are like most people, that means strapping on your running shoes and going out for a jog.
Two miles, three miles, five miles. Repeat the next day. And the next. Same speed. Pretty close to the same distance — over and over.
I get it. I was a distance runner for years. I almost religiously ran five miles every day, except for the days when I went long (like five miles wasn’t long enough) and did ten to fifteen miles.
None of those runs were particularly fast or really all that taxing.
Not surprisingly, I burned out.
My runs weren’t fun or inspiring. I headed out the door more from a sense of obligation (it’s good for me, right?) than a feeling of joy.
It took me a couple of years before I was interested enough to re-explore running again. But this time, I’ve kept the burnout at bay by mixing in some different kinds of running workouts. Here are my four top tips for taking the routine out of your running so you can enjoy it again.
Tip #1: Do Sprints
Now, not every run is long. In fact, it’s the short runs I look forward to the most. My new go-to running workout is sprints. Short, fast, and fun.
With sprints, I can get a really good workout in fifteen to twenty minutes. All I have to do is:
- Find a straight, even surface, pick a distance (I usually go tree to tree or light post to light post).
- Run (I mean really run. Not the slow jogging I used to call running).
- Once I reach my landmark, I walk back to my starting point.
- Then I go again.
- I do that eight to ten times and I’m done.
If you haven’t gone out and run fast lately, give it a try. It will remind you of being a little kid and racing across the playground to get to the swing set first so you could get your choice of swings.
Just remember, fast is relative. If you haven’t done a full-on sprint recently, work your way up to it and make sure you are fully warmed up before you even try. If you’re like I was, the first mile of your five-mile run is your warm up. That doesn’t work with sprints.
Before you go all out, do some easy jogging. Then spend at least ten minutes working up to faster and faster efforts. Your entire first sprint session should be at around 70% effort. You can slowly work up to a true all-out effort over several training sessions.
Tip #2: Decrease Your Mileage
Sprints will not only make your running routine more fun but you’ll decrease your weekly mileage. “But wait,” you say. “Decrease my mileage? Why would I do that?”
There are several reasons you can actually get more from doing less:
- Increased stamina: The harder you run over shorter distances, the stronger you get. The stronger you are, the easier it is to run at a slower pace for longer distances.
- Better recovery: The less time you spend pounding the pavement, the fresher you’ll feel when you come back — and the more you’ll enjoy your running.
- Mental toughness: As you push through short bursts of high intensity, you’ll develop the grit to finish any distance. Pay attention to your self-talk and practice developing the inner script that makes you face adversity head on.
- More time for other stuff: Putting in thirty-plus miles a week felt like a second job when I did it. That was part of my burnout.
Yes, at some point if you want to be able to run distances, then you have to put in time on your feet. But with a varied approach to your training, the long runs and distance trials will be easier and more enjoyable.
Tip #3: Add Some Incline
Once you’ve successfully worked sprinting into your running routine, it’s time to add a little incline into the mix. You can easily do this by finding a hill to go up or some stairs to climb. Keep your steps short and light on the way up and take your time coming back down before starting on your next ascent.
Everything I talked about with taking a reasonable approach to easing yourself into sprinting also applies when it comes to taking on hill or stairs repeats. Warm up fully and work your way up to higher intensity.
Incline training offer similar benefits to sprinting coupled with building stronger legs and hips while having less impact on the joints since the distance from the top of your foot lift back down to the running surface is less on an incline than on flat ground.
Add inclines to your routine and the next time you’re doing that local charity 5K run and you see a hill in the distance and hear the moans of those around you, you’ll just chuckle to yourself and unleash your inner mountain goat.
Tip #4: Find Your Inner Goat
Oh, but here’s the thing about mountain goats: they don’t just run in a straight line. They zig. They zag. They jump from side to side across boulders.
You should be able to do the same thing.
Why? Because the only time you run in a straight line is when you run for fitness. If you are playing a sport or playing with your kids, you are likely running sideways and backward.
So add some change-of-direction drills to one of your longer runs. It will break up the monotony. It will help strengthen your joints. And, maybe best of all, you’ll gain the attention of everyone around you.
Here’s how to do a change-of-direction drill:
- About ten to fifteen minutes into your run, turn and run sideways for a few yards.
- Then, turn the other way for a few yards.
- Then, try running backward. Note: make sure you have a clear path and even surface ahead before running backward.
Focus on nice gentle movements. Don’t try to go at full speed or make quick cuts. Just enjoy the feeling of moving in a different way. Then, go back to your regular run with a new appreciation for how natural it feels.
Do this a few times during your run. Notice your posture when you are running in a different direction. I find it’s nearly impossible to slouch when you are running backward. Make a mental note of that good-posture sensation, and then try to maintain that posture when you turn around and resume running forward.
Take the Routine Out of Your Running
These are just a few ways to keep your running practice fresh. Don’t be like me and keep pushing through when you’ve lost the joy for the movement. Trust me, cranking up Don’t Stop Believing on your earbuds will only take you so far.
Actively find new ways to change up training. Be creative and find what sparks you.