For those times when running sucks, but you want to overcome the suck
I love to run, but sometimes it sucks and I hate it. Usually, the suck is merely a perception — a distracting ruse, a ruse that visits me as I’m sitting in a warm house looking out at a gray and rainy day. Sometimes I experience the suck while I’m out running, during those times when I feel slow and not as fit as I want to be in that moment. Other times it’s during the last 200 meters of an 800 meter interval or on a trail run at a false summit, when I discover that there’s more UP remaining than I thought. I’ve felt this way quite a few times during my recent comeback training.
The suck is powerful — but even more powerful than the suck is the feeling of kicking this ruse to ground, overcoming the suck, and doing what you told yourself you’d do: run, get fitter, lose some weight, blow off stress, get that Personal Best…
Anyone hate running?
At the start of my running workshops, I ask some simple intro questions to learn what motivated the attendees to sign up and show up. The most common response isn’t to help them get a new marathon Personal Best, run their first ultra marathon or avoid injury. The most common response is that they HATE running. Everyone laughs when hearing this answer, but that group laugh happens simultaneously with head-nodding. Some really do dislike running, but they have to do it for their job or in training for sports they enjoy. Others say they hate it, but want to love it because they feel better after doing it. They express dislike for a variety of reasons, perhaps because it hurts, is boring, or doesn’t feel “fun” in certain weather or terrain conditions.
The funny thing is that very often these runners love their running experience after it’s over, yet forget that post-run feeling right before the next opportunity to run is there.
Sometimes even runners who LOVE running and are incredibly fit for running aren’t motivated to go out and run on a given day. This is normal, but frustrating nonetheless!
Whether you love running but occasionally struggle with motivation — or hate running but need to do it and want to change your mindset, this article offers tactics to overcome the opening friction that often stops you from even starting a run.
3 Ways to Overcome
Here are my top three tactics for dealing with times you just don’t feel like running:
1. LUNP it!
2. Make it a Game
3. Use your lack of motivation as fuel
Let’s look at each in more detail.
1. LUNP it!
For Flow State Runner, I created a coaching tool called the LUNP Evaluator. LUNP = Likely-Unlikely (probability of occurrence) and Negative-Positive (potential impact).
Here’s how this handy tool with a totally made-up name works. Simply write down a list of things that could happen during the run or that you somehow have associated with this run. Give each a letter. Start with any excuses in your mind. Then, add any other events that based on your prior experience running or your wildest thoughts could happen from the moment you lace up until you are safely back in the door. Now, plot them to the chart, over the continuums of likelihood (from unlikely to likely) and long-term impact (from positive to negative). Next, step back and review the chart.
Notice what shows up in the positive and negative long-term impact zones, as well as the area of vast uninhabited real estate, which I call the Land of Wasted Worries. The LUNP Evaluator helps remind you that there’s nothing to see in the Land of Wasted Worries.
Whenever you are wavering on whether or not to get out for a planned run, imagine your coach asking you to fill out this evaluator and to review it together. You are often, if not always, your own coach, so sketch out a few empty copies and have them on hand. Then, when you’re feeling unmotivated to run, but motivated to think of numerous excuses, grab the sheet and fill it out. Often just the thought of writing down excuses and the host of likely benefits is enough to urge us out the door!
2. Make it a Game
Gamification means simply making a game of an activity in a way that motivates you to keep playing the game. Make your run a game of numbers, a mission or some other type of adventure. I used this technique in many of the workouts I designed in 2015 when designing the workouts for Hill Running: Survive and Thrive.
A simple example is 5-4-3-2-1. It works like this: Run 5 minutes, and then walk as long as you wish. Run 4 minutes. Walk as long as you wish. Continue this ladder until you finish the final 1-minute run. The running parts can be a hard run or sprint, and the walking parts an easy run, based on your needs. What is important is that the game serves as a gateway to get you running. I’ve used decks of cards, dice, and a variety of the mind hacks from Chapter 11 of Flow State Runner to gamify workouts. I’ve used spy games (fartlek intervals to ideal “dead drop” locations, like benches, trash cans, walls…), mock escape runs and spontaneous sprints whenever a certain color of car is seen.
A game does not need to be complex, as the point is simply to create energy and distraction to get your mind off the ruse of excuses threatening to stop you from running. Using games in your running also reminds you that running can be fun, even when mixed with high intensity efforts.
3. Try this “I don’t want to run” workout
This motivational technique is inspired by my friend Guy Spier, author of Education of a Value Investor, who mentored me on the writing process by encouraging me to deal with writer’s block by forcing myself to just write something, even if it’s page after page of the words, “I hate writing.” Most of the time I’d laugh and snap out of my block just thinking about this, but occasionally I did what he suggested, either writing those precise words over and over, or writing about how I had no ideas and didn’t feel like writing. Every single time I broke out of the mind block, and many of those sessions turned into my most productive and fulfilling moments of writing.
Borrowing from this lesson, here’s one of the workouts from Flow State Runner that I named the “I don’t want to run” run:
Complete 8×1 minute intervals following the scheme below
This is an alternating focus interval run. Your task is to “act” a specific way for each interval. For the odd intervals (1,3,5,7), focus your mind and body on the run being terrible. Rest 1 minute after each interval. For the even intervals (2,4,6,8), focus your mind and body on displaying a mock celebration of the perfect run.
For each of these 1 minute intervals, exaggerate the targeted emotional state, including body language, facial expressions and any sounds or comments that seem fitting. Four of the intervals should leave no doubt to any observer that you are unmotivated and not enjoying running today. The other four intervals should send the opposite message.
The best thing to do when you need a run, but aren’t in the mood, is to just make it happen. This run accomplishes that, and also gives you a chance to make fun of yourself and use humor and distraction to get yourself engaged.
Building your toolkit
I’ve offered you 3 simple, yet powerful ways to overcome the initial struggle that steals running opportunities from many. I hope you test them out and add what works for you to your toolkit. I encourage you to keep building and refining your toolkit, as it will change as you explore different types of running challenges and go through different parts of life. If you’d like to share your experiences with these or other tools, please say hi on Facebook or drop me an email.
Wishing you the best,
— Coach Jeff
Jeff Grant is the author of Flow State Runner: Activate a Powerful Inner Coach’s Voice, Hill Running: Survive & Thrive, Run Faster: Unlock Your Speed in 8 Weeks, Running Heavy, and UltraRunning: Ultimate Guide. Based in Switzerland, Jeff is a coach and writer who specializes in mental coaching, peak performance, and transformation. He is also a Co-Founder of BridgeX Teams LLC, a global virtual team building company. Jeff’s popular newsletter is a digest containing inspirational and instructional resources, including his latest content. See recent issues and subscribe for free here. Refer to Jeff’s bio for more information, and please check out Jeff’s Coach & Author page on Facebook.