by Mike McMillen
This time last year I was still in the denial stage. "The lock-down will just be a couple of weeks. My race in the summer should be fine. Even if that falls through, I still have Chicago," I told myself. I soon fell into yearning for any race possible before withdrawing and disengaging, skipping workouts and diluting long runs at the first sign of struggle. Those were dark days for all of us, but from darkness there is always light. Sure, it was nice to take several weeks or months off, but that euphoria soon disappears. Many runners felt the same way. As we entered the new year, we began searching for the motivation to train with purpose again despite uncertain race timelines and restrictions.
If you ask my wife why I run, she'll likely tell you it's so I can buy more running shoes. But in truth, with races cancelled and my lack of motivation to train, I was questioning it too. Was it just for those race moments? The likes or recognition on social media? The sense of accomplishment earning a PR? These are all reasonable reasons for why we may run but take a deeper dive and I'm sure you'll find something more meaningful.
Heading into 2021 I decided to take a new approach to make training for a race fun again for both myself and the athletes I coach. Here are some tips on how to freshen up your own running while training for an upcoming race:
Play and Create
Just because we are adults doesn't mean we shouldn't get to play. Have a 16-mile-long run coming up? How about creating some cool Strava art with your route to take your mind off those miles? Not one for the arts? Freshen things up with a new route. Better still, just head out the door, hit some new roads and figure out the route along the way. Had your eye on a juicy segment for a while, or maybe someone stole your crown? Go at it! Not into segments? Try fartleks, ladders, hill repeats, sand dune running, or create your own workout by mixing and matching something you've done before. This is your time to experiment.
Cut the Strap
How often do you run without looking at your watch? Technology can give us lots of helpful and important data, but sometimes we become over reliant on them and stressed over hitting the right pace. Your body gives you lots of helpful and important data so leave your devices at home and run on feel. Scan and analyze your body one part at a time to become fine-tuned with it. It takes practice, but over time you'll recognize and respond the right way. If you're like me and still crave the Kudos, place some tape over your watch face so you can still record your run, but don’t look at the data as you're running.
Find Balance in Your Life
I ran seven days a week because I felt that was what I needed to get faster. On the advice of my fellow running buddy, Joey Woltjer, I dropped down to six and still got faster. What did I do with the extra day? I made it a weekend day so that I could be with my family or work on fun projects. Not only did this make me feel great, but I also banked some valuable brownie points with the family for next month when I'll be resuming Saturday runs. If I push my luck, I may even be able to convince my wife I need a new pair of shoes!
Get involved in the running community
Without race day volunteer and pacing opportunities, this is becoming even trickier. Stay connected with the running community and help local races that ARE happening. It can be empowering to be on the other side of the course tape. Now that more run clubs are beginning to open, hook back up with your old club (if you feel comfortable doing so) or be adventurous and try out a new one. You never know, you might just meet that perfect pace partner!
Try Something New
Freshen things up and set your sights on a race that is a little different or out of your comfort zone. Many small trail races have been able to go ahead safely and successfully, so now is the perfect time to switch the road for the mud. If you're used to training for long distances, aim for something shorter. Training for something different allows you to break from your status quo and can provide an air of excitement to strengthen areas of your running you've not focused on for a while.
Become an Expert
Kids ask on average 120 questions a day (as a teacher I think it's higher), while adults ask just four. Use this time to research and learn more about one area of your running that you’re interested in. For me this was nutrition. I played with new recipes, spent two months being a vegetarian, experimented with different meals before a big workout and gels during the run. It was my own personal project that involved lots of trial and error, but it kept me interested in my running. The result: I found new ways to fuel that I'll continue to use in the future. You could do something similar… try measuring and recording your sleep cycles, screen time, time of day you exercise, amount of time you sit at a desk. Experiment with these habits and see what impact they have on your running.
So, the question is - Why do you run, and how are you going use this reason to increase your motivation during these continually uncertain times? I hope these suggestions provide some useful insights and give you ideas of your own. If so, I would love to hear from you.
Mike McMillen is a Physical Educator who offers running advice, personal insights, and coaching at www.flowmotionrunning.com. Follow him on Instagram @flowmotionrunning.