We all have times when our running gets sidelined by the rest of our lives. The novelty wears off and we can get bored with our usual routes. Trying something new can rekindle our love of the sport and help us appreciate how lucky we are to be able to get out and run. Try one of these ideas this week to help you remember how good running makes you feel.
1. Be the coach for a day: Introduce a friend to running. Take the focus off yourself and put your energy into motivating someone else to run. Be the coach with the stopwatch and guide them along an easy walk/run route. The time will fly by and you will remind yourself what running is like for a beginner.
2. Reverse your route: Most of us follow the same running routes. Next time you run, turn the opposite way once you go out the front door. Reverse the usual route and notice how many different things you see. Even a small change like this adds variety and interest to your run, and it helps the body because the gradient on the footpaths and roads is the reverse of usual.
3. Leave your watch at home: Run free and take time pressure off your run. We can often be so focused on the outcome that we forget that we are actually running. With the freedom of being watch-free, your time doesn't matter. You can enjoy the run for what it is and no one will judge you on your pace, sprint finish or distance.
4. Become a tourist: Run somewhere different in your local area where you have never run before. Imagine you are bringing someone on a tour of your neighbourhood and design a route that passes all the highlights. There are roads close to home that you may never have explored, fields and parks on your doorstep that you may never have ventured into, and tourist sights and buildings that you may never have even noticed.
5. Go off-road: Take to the hills or the trails. Many of us are guilty of pounding the pavements when we could be taking a detour on terrain that has a little less impact on our bodies. Running on different surfaces – grass, sand, trail – can make a pleasant change from a footpath. Explore local parks and trails, and see what running off-road does for your focus, concentration, headspace and agility.
6. Get a new perspective: Run a route you normally drive or travel on by public transport. Get a bus or a train to a location and run home. Make it a novelty; go somewhere new and notice how life is different when you travel on foot rather than see it from inside a car or bus. You might even find, if you are in a city or a town, that it can be quicker to run than take the car.
7. Get off the flat: Find an area near you which has a long gradual hill. Try doing some fast uphills followed by slow downhills. Focus on your hill-running technique and enjoy the change in the gradient. Naturally this is going to feel a little harder on the lungs, but once a week this is a great session and you will return home feeling powerful and energised.
8. Get a running buddy: Running with someone else is a great motivator. First, if you have arranged to meet someone, you are more likely to go and not procrastinate. And second, once you are out running you will encourage each other, the time will fly by and you will have less time to focus on those negative voices in your own head.
9. Change the speed: If you are new to speed work, be flexible and be guided by your body, not by the clock. You don't have to sprint, just occasionally introduce faster sections followed by slower recovery sections along your route. Run fast when you feel good, then pull back and recover regularly. Over time, your comfortable running pace will get a little quicker and you will enjoy the speed challenge.
10. Take breaks along the route: A run doesn't always have to be about a consistent time on your feet. Use park benches, steps and walls to build in some mid-run exercises. Try some lunges, step-ups, wall squats, planks and anything you can think of to introduce variety. This is a great session to do with a friend – take turns in deciding what exercise to do next.
11. Become a dawn runner: Another way to get a new perspective is to run at a different time of day than usual. Morning runners get a different view of the city and countryside before it wakes up. They also have the benefit of having their run ticked off and not having all day to make excuses to put off an evening run. Try a dawn run once, and feel smug and energised for the day.
12. Make it a game: Count the number of cars you pass or the number of runners who return your greeting, or focus on being mindful and count the number of different noises you hear along your route. Notice more of your surroundings by challenging yourself to observe what is going on around you as you run.
13. Slow down: Occasionally try to focus on your breathing rather than your pace. Can you run purely by nasal breathing? Keep your mouth closed and breathe in and out through your nose. This will slow your pace, increase your focus and do wonders for your fitness. It is harder than it sounds and quite a challenge when you know your body can run faster if you just opened your mouth. Try it for one-minute sections of your run to start with and notice how your body feels different.
Variety is the key to keeping your running interesting. It also makes you a stronger runner. If you do the same run, at the same pace, in the same location, your training will stagnate. When running stops being fun, you risk giving it up. It’s up to you to challenge yourself and keep your runs fun and enjoyable.
Try something new this week. It might just remind you how much you can get out of running if you just give it a chance.
Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with forgetthegym.ie. She trains beginners and marathon runners and everyone in between to enjoy running. She is also the creator of all our Irish Times Get Running programmes: Beginners Get Running, Get Running 10k and Get Running Stay Running. Sign up at irishtimes.com/life-and-style/get-running or followIrish Times Running on Facebook