Busting Through the Boredom

imageIf life were like the cover of a fitness magazine, we would always run alongside breathtaking mountains or into a tropical sunset (and we’d look really hot while doing it). The truth is we need to get our runs in when we can, which often requires running the same routes close to home or, worse, staring at our basement wall while we cram it in on the treadmill.

Yes, I’ve written about how much running means to me, how much it defines me, how much I love it! But lately, despite living in a place with amazing trails and a beautiful lakeshore, I’m bored. Here’s the problem. I have precisely one day a week when I can afford the time required to drive somewhere to run. The rest of the days it’s the treadmill or cul-de-sac.  So, how am I supposed to keep the love affair alive when I’m pounding the same pavement day after day?

It’s Saturday morning. I’m lying in bed playing the age-old runner’s game of, if you don’t get out of bed now, you won’t have time to get your run in. I manage to flop myself out of bed and into some random spandex ensemble. I shove a bagel in my mouth and spend way too long looking for my running shoes. (Seriously do these things come alive at night?)

I open the front door and stare at the shadeless concrete cul-de-sac that lies before me. I sigh and shut the door. I can’t do this. I can not run the same maddening suburban loop of cul-de-sacs and cookie cutter houses. I certainly can not run the same routes where the wind howls in my face three out of four directions, or on the street where I swear people swerve to intentionally try to hit me, or on the main road where the road noise is the only thing louder than the teenage boys yelling inappropriate things at me.

imageAlright, I tell myself, I’ll just run on the treadmill, it will be quicker anyway since there are no traffic lights. I step on the treadmill. My body has a physical reaction; my brain is still on it, but there my body is dismounting the machine. I open the front door again, sigh and head outside. Maybe this time I’ll find a new route, or discover an unexplored street or a hidden path.

My body switches to autopilot, turning right, then left and right again without me telling it to. Before I know it, I’ve completed the familiar six mile loop completely lost in my own thoughts. There’s something to be said for that. I have to admit though, I’m bored. I’m a bored runner.

The easiest fix for me is to run with a friend. I’m lucky enough to have a running buddy that lives just a few doors down. There is comfort in the fact that we always run the same route. We’re usually too immersed in conversation about our day to even notice the all too familiar landscape. And on those early mornings when I don’t have enough time to drive to meet people, I can sometimes convince people to come meet me at my house. As we wind through the dark pre-dawn streets, I’m the leader. My friends don’t know what combination of lefts and rights gets them back to their cars or which turn adds on just one more mile.

imageOn days when no one is willing to get up and out the door in the dark, I trick myself into feeling the excitement of a new route by running one of the usual routes backwards. It usually feels strange, like my shirt’s on inside out, or like I’m wearing mismatched socks, but it gives me a fresh perspective. It’s kind of like looking at the world upside down. Sometimes all it takes is a change of perspective to notice a beautiful old tree, a house you’ve never seen before or a yard full of curious lawn gnomes.

Another trick is to designate a run as a “choose-your-own-adventure.” If I’d normally turn right, I turn left just to see what the outcome will be. Crrrrraaaaaazzzzzy! I look for streets I’ve never run down before. Sometimes I discover disappointing dead ends, or whole new neighborhoods to explore. I’ve even found myself miles deep into a maze of dead ends, causing me to return home an hour later than I planned.

imageAnother good way to mix it up is to multi-task or do a destination run. The other night before I left for vacation, I had about an hour and a half to run a few errands and get my run in. I only needed a few small things, so I strapped my spybelt on and ran to the local running store, pharmacy, and Target. My pace was much faster than a normal easy run and I didn’t even notice it because I was running to the next place I needed to be and focusing on getting it done in the allotted time. Think of all the possibilities! You could run to the post office to mail a letter or to the RedBox to return a movie. You could even run to your kids’ soccer practice.

And if none of those will cut it, make your run a workout. Add some strides or some fast intervals between familiar trees or landmarks. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, simply something for you to focus on other than how many miles you have left on your usual loop.

How do you deal with boredom that comes with running the same routes day after day?

I'm a running mom of two little girls, who is busy balancing life, work and marathon training. It's always training season for me because I'm on a quest to run a marathon in every state, while constantly striving to be the best runner I can be. Running has led me to some great adventures and I always have a good story to share!

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  1. Ha! I do all the same things! I’m especially fond of “running errands.”

    Although, I have to admit, if I’m running in the dark (and I usually am), then it doesn’t much matter the route – they all look the same … dark. Kinda like running trails – endless dirt, rocks, or roots – doesn’t much matter the location; gives a whole new meaning to the term “scenic overlook(ed)” when your head is down.

    Really, I’m lucky in that I don’t seem to get bored easily – I can happily run loops around a parking lot for hours if it’s my best choice (safe, well lit, good footing).

  2. I have, in fact, run to the library with a book wedged in my running vest and returned with another. Avoid the bestseller hardbacks for this adventure.

    I do have a 3 mile loop that’s really just a 1-mile loop plus an out-and-back that I run A LOT. No traffic, no stops for street crossings, nothing. It’s well-lit, safe, no hecklers. And I frequently run it in the dark, or at least partially in the dark, so I can’t see what’s around, anyway. Apparently Liz and I are the same creature.

    What’s funny is that I used to be a very bored runner. I hated running from my house, I didn’t want to go if it was solo, and I probably hadn’t run more than 12 miles by myself ever. Last fall, something clicked and I was running by myself, in the dark with a headlamp at 5:30 a.m., on that same mini loop day after day. And you know what? It worked. I tied my 6-year-old marathon PR (and broke it in the spring). I just zone out and plan my Pilates classes, plan our meals for the week, visualize upcoming races …

  3. I’ve done all these things as well! Sometimes I just have a stern talk with myself and tell myself it’s not about whether I’m bored or entertained. But, of course, it’s supposed to be fun. Running the usual loop backwards is probably my most common coping strategy.

  4. I live in the city, so no boring cul-de-sacs, but the downside is there are always stoplights. I ‘run’ errands. I run the loop backwards and forwards and turn around and run it again. I run to the next park. I’ve run home from brunch. I’ll stroller-run two miles to the splash pad, spend half an hour chasing a toddler around, stuff him back in and run home. And I have on more than one occasion ended my run at Trader Joe’s to pick out a bottle of wine along with the groceries. (The first time I tried this I discovered that no wine is sold anywhere before 10am on Sundays in Massachusetts. Bah humbug!)

    Also, when desperate, donuts.

  5. love the suggestions! I never thought about running a route backwards! I’m very fortunate that I have lovely paths next to a river and a canal near my place so I don’t do much neighbourhood running these days, but I do get into ruts of running the same routes, especially in the worst of winter since the paths get cleared of snow or in the heat of summer, since they also have the best fountains.