...has got up and gone, what can you do?
We all have those days, even those of us making running our livelihood as well as a hobby. Days when, for whatever reason, and sometimes for no reason at all, we just don’t want to run. The pull of the duvet or the sofa is greater than the pull out of the door. Now and again it’s fine to accept that; if you really, really, really don’t feel like putting your running shoes on and heading onto the trails, you could be heading for burnout. A day, a week, or even longer (I like to take a fortnight running-free if I can each year), doing something else entirely could do you the world of good and result in you coming back stronger and raring to go.
On the other hand, lack of motivation is often a more temporary occurrence. Perhaps you’ve got home late from work and the thought of your favourite TV programme is calling; perhaps it’s dark and cold outside and you just can’t be bothered to wrap up. Your head and heart say ‘Run’ but that inner chimp is tempting you not to. What little things can you do to make sure that in the battle between you and your chimp, you win? Here are some strategies that help me – I hope they will help you too:
Have a goal that you really, REALLY want to achieve. It could be something as simple as being able to get back into your favourite jeans or beating your own parkrun time. For me, a having a more major goal such as completing an iconic race, is the key. Whatever it is, it needs to be something you want so badly that you’ll get out of that door and run, no matter what your chimp says.
Make a change. If you normally go for a longer, slower run, try running short and fast; if you like to head out in the evening, try an early morning session. It doesn’t matter what you swap; just try it! As I write this, I’m thinking of a road run later instead of a trail; they say a change is as good as a rest and that applies just as much in running too.
Set a date, a date and time to run with someone else that is. It could be a friend who you meet before work; you wouldn’t let your friend down, now would you? Going along to a running club or group session works too; just remember to put it in your diary just like you would any other appointment. If you can, tell someone you’re going; it’s often easier to go along than to explain why you didn’t!
Find yourself a nemesis. Unless your name is Usain Bolt, there is someone out there who runs just a bit faster than you. Not so fast that you have no hope of ever catching them, but someone who is just far enough ahead that catching and passing them is something you could realistically do. They might be in your running group or at your parkrun, or maybe they are just someone you see running along your street or even on Strava! If you get out there and train you are increasing your chance of catching them, especially if their chimp has persuaded them to stay at home on the sofa. When you do catch and pass them, find a new nemesis to add to your list. Even better, have two or three on your list at the same time for double or triple motivation to train!
Plan a reward for yourself, something healthy that won’t undo all of your good work of course! It could be £1 in a jar at the end of every run, saved towards those dream running shoes you have seen, or an hour in a hot bubble bath to warm up after that cold wintery run. It could be a can of ice-cold coke at the end of a very long run (OK, that’s not very healthy but it worked for me on a hot 22 mile run!) or a day out at the seaside with the family. What the reward is does not matter, as long as it works for you.
Set a limit. Tell yourself that you will go out but you are only allowed to run for 10 minutes and then you must stop and go home. Do it and the chances are you’ll want to carry on. Some of my best runs have been on days when I nearly didn’t go out at all but allowed myself 10 minutes and then kept on going because I just did not want to stop.
Get yourself a coach. It's amazing what having someone working alongside you on your running can do for your motivation. Suddenly you are accountable to another human being for what you do; someone who'll be asking how that run went and why you thought about skipping that session. And having someone do the thinking for you when it comes to planning your training can leave you to just focus on the running itself. A great coach can be a great source of motivation.
Motivation is a strange thing; it ebbs and flows and sometimes we just don’t know why. But with a few tricks up our running top sleeves, it’s much easier to head out of the door when our chimp says ‘No!’