How to Keep Running When Motivation Fades
You start your new running program with good intentions and high expectations.
It’s exciting and you feel really motivated.
Who needs motivation to run in the morning?
You almost jump out of bed when the alarm goes, this feels great!
Then somewhere along the line, life (or an injury) gets in the way and things start to slide.
That ‘five runs a week/sub three marathon training schedule’ turns into ‘one run at a weekend if you’re lucky’ reality.
Disappointment and frustration sets in, your self confidence takes a knock and you begin to wonder if you’re cut out for running at all.
Then read on for some tips on how to motivate yourself to run and overcome the classic mistakes new (and more experienced runners) make once the initial excitement for running fades away, and you need all the running motivation you can get.
Good Habits, Organization and Time Management
Rather than throwing lots of “you got this” quotes or other motivational running quotes at you, how about we focus on what you can do to make running a little easier to stick with.
I have organized a beginners running group in the UK for nearly 15 years.
We have two sessions per week and runners pay a small fee to attend.
Of course they could run on their own, or find a time that might suit them better or even run for free.
But they don’t. They come to the group.
Because there’s a set time when it’s happening.
That creates a commitment and a schedule and makes it easier to turn up and get it done.
When it’s cold, dark and wet, it would be tempting to curl up on the couch… but when there’s a group waiting for you and it’s part of your schedule, you’ll get your running clothes on (dressed for the right temperature of course) and make the appointment.
It’s pretty simple really.
Of course there are a million other benefits to my group; great coaching and social interaction, friendship and supervised and structured running.
But I’m pretty sure the number one reason it’s so successful is because there is an organized group run with a start time.
It makes it an appointment which you don’t want to miss.
The same goes for with running with a friend.
Make a set appointment with a running buddy and you’ll be far more likely to turn up.
I know this for a fact.
When I agree to meet my best friend for a run at 7am I know it’ll happen.
We’ll both be there, a bit bleary eyed, but it’ll happen.
When I say to myself ‘I’ll go for a run at 7am tomorrow’… suddenly the dishwasher needs emptying, or some emails need to be answered, and before I know it, it’s 8.30am and the ‘window of opportunity’ to run has disappeared.
So if you run on your own and you find it hard to get out of the door, then try joining a group or finding a regular running partner.
It’s a really simple strategy but it works.
How do I stay motivated to run?
For a start, don’t rely on ‘motivation’ alone.
I’d argue that this thing we call ‘motivation’.. or lack of it.
Is actually just a lack of organization.
We all have good intentions, but life just gets in the way.
Instead of beating yourself up about ‘lacking motivation’… perhaps the question to ask yourself instead is ‘how can I get more organized and make it easier for running to happen?’
Running is so much easier in the holidays isn’t it?
When we have more time in the day and we don’t have to go to work, it’s easy to find the time to run.
It’s when we have to juggle work, school runs, family and commuting, cooking and housework – the window of time to run gets squeezed out.
In my house, we organize our weekends with military precision.
If we didn’t, I wouldn’t get to run.
It means planning ahead, going to bed early and making use of every ‘opportunity’ to get a run in.
Left the car at the station?
Run there and pick it up.
Got a long run to do?
Politely decline that dinner party invite (sorry, boring I know) so you can get up early to run.
Kids playing in a sports match?
Take your running clothes and head out for a run at the same time.
It’s not easy, but with the busy lives we all lead, it’s often the only way to make it happen.
Develop all the strategies you need to put it into place in your life.
Think through your obstacles and coach yourself to finding some solutions.
Beat Your Excuses Not to Run
That brings me nicely onto the subject of barriers.
Otherwise known as excuses. These are the things that prevent us doing things we want to do.
Or so we think.
Some barriers are real, such as a sick child or relative who needs to be cared for, or illness or serious injury, or a work deadline, but most are perceived, ‘I’m busy at work, I don’t’ have time, I’m too tired’.
We all have barriers, it’s how we deal with them that matters.
Regular readers will be familiar with my love of the concept of ‘Growth Mindset’ coined by Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck.
The Growth Mindset is all about finding solutions to problems, and seeing problems as simply as obstacles, rather than barriers.
Just a challenge to overcome.
Lets take a few examples and how applying the growth mindset can help:
Of course these are just a few simple examples, but try to think about your own excuses and ask yourself if they really are barriers or are they actually just obstacles?
More importantly, what solutions can you find to overcome them?
Sometimes it just requires a bit of creative thinking.
It’s important to recognize that there will be times when it might get really tough.
When you have some big deadlines at work for example.
Hopefully those really crazy patches will be short lived.
If not, maybe time to change your job.
Finding Motivation to Keep Running When Tired
Training Pace is one of my soapbox topics, and one of the main reasons I believe so many beginners give up early on in the game.
Most beginner runners (and I’ve been coaching them for nearly 20 years) start out trying to run too fast.
They think running has to be hard and often have little ability to pace themselves, which only comes with experience and practice.
If your brain associates exercise with pain and discomfort every time you train, it’ll be harder to stay motivated.
Initially you might be driven and can push on through the pain, but eventually you’ll give up.
Here’s the deal:
The single biggest mistake new runners make is to think that running has to be hard to be of benefit.
Of course it’s going to feel tough to begin with, but not so much that you’re in agony for days or totally exhausted.
Everyone is different and will progress at different rates, and your body needs to build a solid fitness base, which can only be done if you run at an easy pace for up to 80% of your running.
My mantra for beginners is at that if at the end of your run you think, ‘ok, so I know I’ve done something, but I’m not exhausted and could easily do more’, then you’ve hit the nail on the head.
Keep the pace nice and easy (5/10 on an effort scale) for the majority of your training and you’ll be far more likely to stick with it in the long term.
Scientifically you’ll be training the right heart rate zone too (around 70% of your maximum).
And as for that fancy GPS watch that tells you how fast (or depressingly slowly) you’re running… switch the setting to heartrate instead (which will help you run at the right pace).
Or better still:
Leave it at home and run with an old school stopwatch and train by ‘time’ rather than distance.
Running easy most of the time (where it feels comfortable and you can chat easily) will mean running will be far more enjoyable.
Your brain will associate it with pleasure and you’ll keep doing it.
My only ambition is to still be running when I’m a really old lady.
And if you share that goal with me, you need to develop a deep love of running too.
One where it’s part of your life and soul, and not all about PB’s, races and hard training.
Running needs to become who you are.
So don’t beat yourself up, push a pace that’s too quick for you or think running has to be hard all the time.
Give yourself a bit of a break and enjoy it instead.
Finding the Best Training Plan for You
Another one of my pet hates is cookie cutter online training plans.
Many of the plans found on the web are too hard for most people, and don’t take into account the many variables that impact training, such as your training history, ability to progress, current fitness level, other lifestyle stress, training load tolerance or injury history.
What generally happens is that runners try to follow a plan to the letter, then they either get injured/find it’s totally unrealistic/or get overtrained or sick.
The training plan (and self confidence) eventually ends up in the trash when reality kicks in.
The intention is great, but you have to make it realistic for you, your life and your goals.
This is where our marathon training programs or half marathon training plans are the only online running plans that are based on your invididual circumstances, and we will tweak your training plan to match the curveballs that life throws your way.
To be effective, a plan has to be realistic, work for your schedule and be progressive but safe.
If you are not quite ready to jump in to having an online coach, consider our free 9 part marathon training schedule video series, where we give you the tools you need to tweak your own training.
Err on the side of caution too.
Better to do a little less running, and more neuromuscular fitness training, but with more consistency and frequency to improve your pace.
For complete beginners, I generally suggest no more than 3 runs per week, but include lots of walking as well and some strength and conditioning work (2 x per week for 20-30 mins).
Do that for 4-6 months before adding a 4th run.
That helps you progress safely and sensibly and keeps it fun and varied.
Is Your Running Plan Working for You?
How you measure success can be a deal breaker for your ability to maintain a running habit.
If you only measure success by your pace, times, race PB’s, podium places and total mileage, then when those things start to slide (and eventually they will), you’ll find yourself unmotivated and struggling to find a reason to run.
Instead, try to think about measuring the success of your running in other ways.
How about any of these?
The friendships you have through running, the scenery you enjoy, the company of your dog or your partner on your long runs, combating stress, benefits for your health, enjoying the freedom of fresh air and being at one with nature…and most importantly for me, completing a run without any aches or pains.
Too many of us focus only on outcome measures (time, performance, race goals, pace etc) when in fact there are hundreds of less tangible, but probably more important, ways to measure success in running.
Focus on those measures instead and see what happens to your motivation.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself with a deeply embedded and lifelong love of running.
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