Running isn’t always fun. It can be hard – even painful.
But as Desiree Davila said, “If I planned on backing off every time running got difficult I would hang up my shoes and take up knitting.” Click here to tweet that quote!
Running is so universal that it doesn’t matter who you are or how fast you can go. Elite or beginner, we all experience the same struggles:
- Loud alarm clocks on dark mornings
- Overuse injuries and sore, tight muscles
- Low motivation and negative thoughts
- Hot, humid runs under a scorching sun
- Bad workouts and slow runs
Sound familiar? I bet it does!
Running adversity knows no age, performance level, gender, or ability. It’s an equal-opportunity villain.
So when I got an anonymous question in my subscriber-only survey about how to push through the lows of training, I knew many of you would like to know how to conquer these struggles.
Here’s the question:
“How do I deal with the weeks and months when things suck? How do I handle the lows when things aren’t clicking even though I’ve put in the work?”
Let’s first recognize that everyone experiences this. Some days suck (and some weeks suck). But months of bad training or low motivation isn’t normal as long as your training is sound.
Make sure that poor training over a long time period isn’t anemia or over-training.
But if you have a temporary struggle – like an injury or self-doubt – here’s how to stay motivated and avoid the negative emotions when running isn’t fun.
Learn to Love “Small Wins”
Don’t focus on your main goal (or stretch goal) like “qualify for Boston” or “stay injury-free for a year.” That’s intimidating just to think about.
The big goals are important but they can sometimes make you feel like you’ll never get there and it’s pointless to try. Run away from these thoughts immediately!
Instead, it’s much more effective to focus on racking up as many small wins as possible. Small, frequent wins help you build and maintain confidence and motivation when training gets tough.
Not only are these “little victories” good for your motivation and mental health, but they help you continue improving physically. If you have a few every week, you know you’re moving forward. You’re progressing and on the right path.
Small wins make training fun – you feel like you’re on auto-pilot because they’re relatively easy to accomplish.
So what exactly are small wins? They’re easily achievable victories in your training that make you feel proud. If you can create a sense of pride about your workout a few days each week, then you’re going to feel much better about your training.
A simple small win is finishing a run faster than you started it. Also called “negative splitting” a run, it’s simplest when you’re doing an out-and-back run so you can time each half. Since you’re probably starting your runs at a slower pace anyway, this type of run isn’t difficult at all.
Feeling like hell on a workout? Don’t let that sabotage your entire day – use the Plan B Technique to feel more accomplished about it!
Focus on the Process
We love focusing on our goals. Stretch goals or small wins, they’re easy to quantify and are often why we’re running in the first place.
But instead of always being goal-oriented it’s helpful to be more process-oriented.
Focus on the process of training instead of a far-off race or intangible idea like “get healthy.” Your goal every day should be to do whatever is on your training plan. Execute that day’s workout – even if the workout is to rest and do absolutely nothing.
You have to break down your workouts in to incredibly small chunks of manageable goals to be process-oriented. First focus on the dynamic warm-up. Are you doing every exercise to the best of your ability?
Then there’s the running warm-up. Are you running the correct pace? The correct distance?
Now the tempo: did you start a little slower? Ease into your goal pace? Run the goal pace and no faster?
Be super specific about every aspect of your workout including the easy miles after the tempo and the strength work that keeps you healthy.
It’s not sexy. It’s boring. And you’ll have to do it for weeks and months to see progress.
But when you perfectly execute a workout – even a simple distance run – with the right warm-up, pace, distance, and strength work it makes you feel incredibly accomplished.
And that feeling easily gets you through the lows of training.
I chuckle when I ask runners what type of injuries they’re dealing with and I hear things like:
- Tight calf muscles
- Weak ankles
- Sore hips
Coaching tip: these are not injuries!
When I first started running as a frisky 14 year old I couldn’t finish a 3-mile run. And the muscle soreness that I experienced had me hobbling for an entire week! I asked my coach if this would ever go away and I’ll never forget his reply:
Yes, you’ll definitely feel normal again. But, you’ll always feel something if you’re running regularly.
Running is a contact sport. You can’t lose motivation because of a sore calf or tightness in your hamstring. You’ll always feel something.
One of my favorite examples of this is from a great Running Times article:
Take a look at one runner’s injury log, dating back to late 2009:
- Two strained hip flexors (too close to the bone for cortisone injections)
- Strained right Achilles tendon (treated with two sequential cortisone injections, which lasted two weeks and two days, respectively)
- Achilles surgery (included three longitudinal slits to promote healing)
- Strained calf (due in part to miscommunication over longitudinal slits)
- Broken third metatarsal (compensation injury)
- Strained left Achilles tendon
- Nerve damage in left ankle
- Tweaked hamstring
- Sciatic nerve pain (related to hamstring injury)
What are you saying to yourself right now? This person is unfortunate? Cursed? She needs to see better doctors? Switch to barefoot running? Maybe her body simply isn’t built for running, right?
Does that perception change if you know this is the log of 2008 Olympian Amy Yoder Begley, and that in the midst of those injuries she ran the 10th-fastest time in U.S. history for 5,000m and won a national title in the 10,000m?
Crazy stuff, right?
Injuries are the bane of every runner’s training. But they’re not the end of the world – or the end of your running career. They happen to recreational runners like you and me and elite runners who have access to the best medical professionals in the world.
Use your injury as an opportunity to learn about yourself. What caused it? How can you fix it? How can you learn from it and come back even stronger?
When you embrace an injury – a real injury – as a learning opportunity, it will motivate you to train even harder.
Get Help (Nobody Succeeds Alone)
For the first 8 years of my running career, I had multiple coaches and 15-30 teammates to support my training every single day.
When I had a question, there was someone to answer it. When I got hurt, there was someone to offer advice. When my motivation was low, there was someone there to push me forward.
And when I had doubts, I was told: “You’re ready – you can do this.”
Every runner needs a support network – a group of runners who can help them through good and bad times. Through every injury question, every PR, and every bad workout.
When was the last time you had a problem with running – and didn’t have to spend hours researching on the internet to find the answer?
How many of us just need a nudge in the right direction – but don’t have anyone to give us that nudge?
Find a friend, coach, or running buddy to be that person. A little bit of accountability goes a long way.
Nothing Happens Without Consistency
Consistency is the secret sauce of good training that allows average runners to accomplish superhuman personal bests. And it only happens when you run through periods of low motivation when you just don’t want to.
I wrote before about the power of consistency:
Consistency is the fiber that connects workouts, weeks of training, and years of a running career. Without it, you’ll never improve and be doomed to repeat the same race performances.
It’s what makes your half marathon pace last year your easy run pace this year.
It can keep you healthy, build your motivation, and allow you to perform at a level you previously thought impossible.
Yes, I just quoted myself.
What could you accomplish if your motivation wasn’t so low? Or how easy your tempo runs would be if willpower alone wasn’t what got them finished?
Consistency is what builds your confidence and makes you achieve injury-free, faster running. It’s why my runners commit to 1-on-1 coaching for three months at a time – I don’t bother with coaching people for just a few months because real progress happens after consistent work (and believe me – they work).
Consistent running changes your entire attitude and makes progress exciting. It’s damn powerful stuff.
Just look at Lydia, Joe, and Jessica.
Consistency is the bedrock principle of the Strength Running Boot Camp, a program that helps runners develop running into a habit that sticks (i.e., become more consistent!).
In fact, the first two weeks of the 28-day program focus exclusively on habits and motivation. Without the mentality of consistency, runners will never succeed (see a sample of the program here).
And with that framework – in addition to a week on injury prevention and another on smarter training – runners are experiencing powerful results. Like these:
“The Boot Camp helped me plan running into my schedule and make it a consistent behavior and helped me change my mindset to keep putting it off. I set a goal to run a 7K with a buddy, I did it yesterday! Overall I feel like running is fun again! Thank you!”
“It feels awesome and I’m really digging it. I’ve gotten up to three runs a week, and am planning, in the next week or two to be moving back to four or five runs a week. I’m super pumped. I’ve had nagging injuries for several years and have been longing to get back to this kind of schedule – it’s awesome.”
Results from runners like you is the only thing I care about.
It’s what separates theorists from real-world coaches who get things accomplished. And it’s what I’m most proud of here at Strength Running.
I might point these runners in the right direction, but they’re the ones who do the hard work. To them I say well deserved and congratulations!
Consistency is indeed the “secret” to running when you don’t want to and accomplishing more than you thought impossible.
Today, I challenge you to take your running to the next level and join the Boot Camp. You have nothing to lose (I offer a ridiculous guarantee) and everything to gain.
What are you waiting for?