Friday, August 8, 2014

Beating the Blah: 6 Ways to Conquer a Running Rut

There comes a point in every marathon training cycle when I stop, think and ask myself, “What the hell am I doing?” It usually happens when I reschedule key workouts because of weekend plans and/or insufficient sleep and find myself doing a long run on, say, a Tuesday morning two days behind schedule.

This time around, it happened this week. I’ve been doing pretty well, it turns out, hitting my pace goals in track work and exceeding them in my tempo runs. Running itself hadn’t worn me out. Everything else had -- the jobs, the yardwork, the ever-full summer social calendar. On Wednesday, collapsed in a heap on the couch, my wife turned to me and said, “You look half dead.”

The next morning, I dragged myself out of bed for a tempo run. I extended the warmup by half a mile, figuring I’d need it. Then, a funny thing happened: I hit my pace goal for the first three miles. When I missed it for the fourth mile, I came back stronger for the fifth and sixth, finishing 10 and 18 seconds faster than my goal. One run undid a week malaise.

Running ruts aren’t uncommon. The constant pounding of the pavement takes a mental, physical and emotional toll. Proper training takes months; anything lasting that long inevitably provides highs and lows, and running is no exception. Plus, no matter how much we hate to admit it, running can be boring.

Conquering a rut -- “breaking the blah,” as I (cleverly) decided to call this post -- can happen in one of several ways. I highlighted having a kickass tempo run because that’s what just happened to me, but five other things will do the trick:

Cross-training. When I travel for business, I leave the running shoes at home and bring my bathing suit instead. I’m a terrible swimmer, mind you, but I enjoy it, so it gives me something to look forward to amid the long days, forced networking events and long nights that turn running into a chore. I return home recharged and ready to get back to running. If you’re in a rut, try biking, swimming or even walking.

Running “naked.” I run without a watch on my first few runs after marathon recovery. By not worrying about distance, pace or time, I enjoy myself more. If all the numbers associated with running leave you feeling overwhelmed, leave the watch at home for an easy run.

Resting. Never underestimate the value of a good nap. My test of whether I’m too tired: If I lie down and start to drift to sleep within 15 minutes, I skip the run. Yes, there’s value in running when you’re tired, as it prepares you for those final miles of the marathon, but there’s a difference between “a little tired” and “passing out on the couch tired.”

Racing. My ruts either fall smack dab in the middle of training or, conversely, when I’m not training for anything. With no goal in sight, I begin to wonder if it’s all worth it. Nothing changes my mind more quickly than signing up for a race. (Hint: To give yourself no choice but to commit, run with a friend or a team. Better yet -- volunteer to organize post-race brunch.)

Pausing. If nothing else works, maybe it is, in fact, time for a break. I’ve never reached this point, so unfortunately I can’t tell you how long your break should be or what you should do to pump yourself up in the meantime. But running pros take breaks, so there can’t be any harm in doing it.

We love running, and the last place we want to be is stuck in a moment that we can’t get out of. If you get yourself together, though, you won’t be able to lace up those shoes again.