Digging Out of a Running Rut

By Ryan Warrenburg, ZAP Fitness

This morning we were in our local coffee shop reheating after an exceptionally nasty morning of practice with our elite athletes and the barista was astounded that we were outside running on a 36-degree morning with steady rain. It was a morning that would keep most people in bed (our athletes run for a living so excuses are harder to come by), but for amateurs and professionals alike quality spring racing depends on consistent winter training. Full disclosure: I was bundled up with an umbrella holding a stopwatch so I’m not touting my own toughness. The point is, the training can be done, but those dark mornings and early evenings can drag the best of us into a winter rut. The key to performing your best at your goal race, even if it’s months from now, is to defy the lure of the snooze button and dig yourself out of those ruts.

Most runners don’t love every single run, but are grateful for them and realize that those are the days that make the accomplishment of a good workout or race even sweeter. Running should be fun however, and the more you can enjoy it the more you’ll get out of both your training and your race performances. If you’re finding yourself hitting the snooze button more and more this winter here are some tools to help dig yourself out of a winter running rut.

Training Partners

Perhaps the most powerful tool is the accountability of a running partner. If you can find someone to meet you for some runs throughout the week or on the weekend you’ll be far more likely to get your runs in on days where you’re struggling for motivation. The accountability of training partners played a huge role in my own running over the years, and not wanting to let them down helped push me to get the most out of myself. Running is an individual sport, but having running partners allows you to harness the team atmosphere that propels people to great things. Additionally, there is comfort in having someone to share the cold morning or evening darkness with.

Trying New Routes

We have a lot of people who come to our ZAP adult running camps looking for motivation and a way to reconnect with the joy of running. There are two primary ways that is provided that at our camps: being surrounded by other runners and exploring new places to run. Most people tend to do the same run at the same pace day in and day out. Exploring new training venues is a great way to rejuvenate your running. If you are a person who trains primarily on the streets and roads try to find a local park and get lost in the woods for a bit. Even if that isn’t an option for you changing up your route is a good way to reengage and get off of autopilot. I am a big fan of destination runs, especially as something outside your normal route, because you there is a sense of purpose and accomplishment halfway through the run and then again at the end of the run.

Non-Running Activities

For many people training for spring and summer racing the winter can be a good chance to mix in some cross training and non-running activity. One of the areas people tend to struggle with the most is the recovery part of the training process. Having a period in the year where you perhaps run a little bit less is a good way to keep things fresh both physically and mentally. Attending a spin class with a friend once a week, for example, is a great way to add variety to your routine. Variety, whether it’s in your exercise modality, your running route, or type of workout, is ultimately the key to overcoming performance and mental plateaus.

Try New Workouts

Changing up the type of run you are doing once or twice a week is an important variant that can provide positive change as well. As I mentioned, it’s common for people to get stuck doing the same run at the same pace day in and day out. If you vary the distance as well as the pace throughout the week that will provide a different stimulus that will not only help you improve but add some excitement to your routine. One of the traps people can fall into with adding faster running to your routine is over training, increasing the risk of injury and burning out, so it’s important to keep most harder running at a submaximal effort and limit hard workouts to 1-2 times a week.

One harder workout that is under utilized and is perfect for winter training is hill running. Hills are an excellent way to build strength in your legs and also provide a challenging aerobic stimulus. For most people the winter is a base building phase and hills are a good way to work variety in to your week. The stress of running uphill is less than running on the flat so the risk is minimized compared to running a hard track workout.

If you are in the midst of training for a late winter or early spring race try mixing up your workouts as well. For example, if you typically do a 3 mile tempo run switch it out with a fartlek run once every 2-3 weeks, or do 3 repeats of 1 mile each with 60-90 seconds rest at a pace 10 seconds per mile faster than you would do your tempo run. This is a great way to mix up the stimulus in a way that will increase your rate of improvement and also make things more exciting.

We all have our days where the warmth of the bed wins the battle against the cold morning air, but it always feels better once you get out there and if you can use some of these strategies to dig out of a winter rut you’ll be better prepared come the spring and summer.