The alarm goes off at 5AM; you feel like you haven’t slept at all. It’s raining outside. The treadmills are all taken. Your friends are planning a big party the night before your scheduled long run.
Running has its challenges, especially when life gets in the way. Do you go back to sleep, skip a run, or open a box of cookies when faced with an inconvenience? Or do you turn that adversity into opportunity?
Optimists and those who see the silver lining in any situation can turn any challenge into an opportunity, especially with running. Training for a race requires a lot of running. But the training also consists of drills, strength exercises, gym sessions, and supplemental aerobic exercise. There’s always opportunity to build on your fitness when you can’t run.
And sometimes you just need to develop mental toughness. It’s an undervalued trait in distance runners and one that will serve you well when you’re hurting in the final miles of a race. My high school track coach used to always tell us to “get out of your comfort zone” during races and workouts. It’s equally important to get out of your comfort zone during unpleasant training conditions.
Changing your perspective can help you get your workout done – even when you want to stay in bed. Here’s how:
Problem: There’s snow and ice outside!
Solution: Instead of throwing in the towel, there are a lot of options for you to still get in a great workout:
- Slow down and run your scheduled route. The unstable footing helps you build lower leg strength, balance, and coordination. Just be careful and make sure to run slower. If you own Yaktrax, now’s a good time to use them!
- If the conditions are truly horrible, cycle on an indoor trainer, run on a treadmill, use the elliptical, or go pool running. The aerobic exercise will still help you develop endurance.
- If that’s not possible, then do a core or strength workout in the comfort of your living room.
Problem: It’s hot and humid outside!
Solution: Like the other weather extreme, you can still gain a lot of fitness in the midst of summer:
- Running in the heat and humidity can simulate many of the effects of running at altitude. So tough it out – you’ll be developing even more cardiovascular endurance and metabolic efficiency.
- Doing an indoor workout might be necessary if it’s truly brutal outside and you can’t run in the early morning or evening. The best thing for you to do at the gym is run on the treadmill, but you can also pool run, spin, or use the elliptical. Strength workouts are another great cross training alternative.
- Go swimming! It’s not specific to running, but it can be therapeutic and contribute to your general fitness level. Besides, who doesn’t like swimming on a hot day?
Problem: My gym has a leaky roof, broken treadmills, meat-heads that dip while they lift, and heat that barely works (my own true story).
Solution: This is clearly not a place I want to spend a lot of time in, so I focus on compound, multi-joint exercises like dead lifts, squats, lunges, pull ups, bench press, and dips. I skip the machines, keep my workouts short but effective, then get the hell out of there and stretch at home.
Your gym may not be as dilapidated as mine (hey, it’s free!), but the lesson here is to focus on the 20% of exercises that give you 80% of the results. You don’t need to chat with friends at the gym, do silly Swiss Ball crunches, or spend 30 minutes static stretching after a 20 minute run. Stretching is overrated anyways.
Problem: I’m injured and just can’t run. I might as well rest.
Solution: Complete rest is actually not the best rehabilitation for most injuries. Of course it varies on the severity of your injury, but in most cases it’s more beneficial to do some light exercise that will promote blood flow to the affected area without further hurting it.
Light strength exercises, core workouts, mobility exercises, and non-impact cardiovascular exercise like pool running or cycling are your best options. As long as it doesn’t hurt more, you’re helping yourself recover.
Problem: You start a race and immediately feel terrible.
Solution: Instead of completely giving up, give yourself a thirty second window to jog slowly or even walk. Collect yourself, let your heart rate come down, and refuse to give up. Then do a short 20 second surge where you build up to a near sprint and slow down to a jog.
After your surge, slowly build back to your goal race pace. You’ll likely feel a little better and you didn’t lose too much time. Keep in mind that it’s often easier for your body to speed up slightly than slow down – the physiological markers for fatigue are much higher than your brain’s (that is, your brain will try to slow you down before your body really has to, according to Fitzgerald’s Brain Training for Runners).
Problem: This winter weather is giving me SAD. I need motivation!
Solution: Watch elite runners dominating a race or crushing a workout. I find that incredibly motivating to go running when I see others performing well.
If that doesn’t work, think about your support group: your friends, family, Daily Mile, or fellow Strength Runners. What would they think if you skipped your workout? They provide accountability, so don’t disappoint them.
Just last week I was running a tough workout on the track and considered not running the last repetition. I thought to myself, “What would my friends on Daily Mile think?” I finished the workout and ran a negative split on my last mile interval. Don’t underestimate the power of peer influence (both positive and negative) on your training.
When you can find the silver lining in a subpar training situation and find an alternative workout, you’ll miss far fewer training days and get closer to your goals. I am constantly preaching that consistency is king and it’s true now more than it has ever been.
Skipping workouts for whatever reason is usually never a good thing. So find motivation within yourself or from others to get it done. You’ll be a far better runner for it.
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