Running not working its usual magic? Me neither…

So here I am, with all the time in the world… and I’m trying to figure out why my beloved running feels so bloody hard.

Imagine someone offering you the chance to train without interruption. You can run daily, if you choose, on near-traffic-free roads, through parks swaying with blossom, woods carpeted in bluebells. And you’ll still have time for that daily core workout or strength session, too. Nutrition-wise, there’ll be no dinners out, no takeaways or boozy evenings fuelled by crisps and peanuts. All your usual commitments and routines – work, travelling, errands, family visits, nights out – will be temporarily put on hold while you focus entirely on your running. It sounds like something I might have wished for in the past. But now? Well, here I am, with all the time in the world… and I’m trying to figure out why running feels so bloody hard.

Maybe it’s all the energy I’m expending on worrying. When will this be over? What if I get it? What if I give it to someone else? Will a hug ever feel safe? What will become of my business? Will my teeth decay? Should I try to dye my own roots? Am I drinking too much? Am I thinking too much? Will life ever be the same? Should I want it to be?

Or perhaps it’s just that running’s lost some of its purpose. When we say we ‘love running’, is it truly the act of running – the process of putting one foot in front of the other – that we mean? Or is it the end goal that drives us? The shiny medal, the time on the clock… Or the opportunity to connect with others in a shared experience? Or the need for some respite from all the things that normally crowd our days and overfill our diaries? With all these ‘drivers’ absent, some of my reasons for running have just melted away.

In the lockdown world, I find myself setting out for runs and simply conking out halfway through. I slow to a walk while my body and mind squabble over the question ‘what’s the point?’ It’s not a happy place to be – so I’ve been looking for solutions. I’ve found it’s better when I run with a purpose – doing what you might call a ‘session’ – rather than just a run. Having to concern myself with hitting or maintaining a specific pace, or running for a set distance or duration, makes it feel less futile and more engaging.

Other distraction tactics have also helped me stay the course, which I’ve outlined below. Regarding number 5: At the end of yesterday’s run, utterly spent and walking, two magpies landed in the field next to me. I cursed, and wearily executed 10 squat jumps before carrying on. For some reason, I felt better afterwards.

  1. Count your cadence (the number of steps you take) for 1 minute. Then see if you can up the number by 5-10% over a subsequent minute, by thinking ‘fast and light.’
  2. See how many different types of birdsong you can hear, or even identify (although birds are bastards and hide/fly off so you can’t identify them!)
  3. At the end of each km you run, speed up for 20 seconds before returning to your previous pace. This is called surging and a) teaches you to recover on the move and b) prevents you getting into a plod.
  4. Pick up a pebble or stick. Run fast for a short time – such as 30-60 seconds, put your item down and jog back to where you started. Now run fast again, aiming to get at least as far as your pebble/stick. If you get further, move it before jogging back. Repeat as desired. Works on hills, too!
  5. Play running roulette: you pick a random scenario – eg. you see a cat/postbox/magpie on your run. A red car (or any car, if you’re in the sticks!)/horse/bus passes you. Any and every time this scenario happens, you stop running and do 10 jump squats (or pick your own poison!!) before continuing.
  6. Run for a view. The bluebells are out in force at the moment. Blossom trees are in bloom. The fields are awash with sunshine yellow rapeseed. Go and look at something beautiful.

Author: Sam Murphy

Journalist, author, running coach and educator

2 thoughts on “Running not working its usual magic? Me neither…”

  1. Hi Sam. I’ve been thinking about this since reading your tips on Twitter. I wondered what’s keeping me motivated with my running despite having nothing to train for (Wharfedale half and Chester marathon were my two biggies this year, plus all the usual club road races). One aspect has been that my club have been amazing at finding new incentives to run – nothing ground-breaking, but just nice simple challenges which we can then share on our FB page. So we’re doing a treasure hunt of ten objects every month, last week we did a rainbow challenge where we had to run/do an activity wearing a different colour of the rainbow, we’re spelling out the name of our local parkrun on Strava (volunteers have a letter each), and I’ve shared your tips with them too which were really welcomed. It’s really helped having something else to think about than just the run itself, and has led to some really entertaining pictures, discussions, ideas etc. You might be doing something similar with your club, but thought I’d share as it’s really helped keep us all connected and motivated!

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    1. Thanks Lucy. We began a Your Best Mile Challenge when the lockdown started: everyone posted their best mile time and we’re now on a specific training programme to better than mile at the rematch, which coincides with Roger Bannister’s anniversary of the first sub-4 mile. Prize for the biggest improvement!

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