You just don’t feel like going for a run, but you know you should, so you push yourself out the door anyway. But once you’re there, it’s a drag. You’re not enjoying it. Your legs feel heavy. Your heart isn’t joyful. You just want to stop, and maybe you do and walk for a while, or cut it short and head home.
Many, if not most, of us have been there. When you run as much as we do, it’s pretty inevitable you’ll reach a point when running just isn’t fun. Maybe it’s just for a day, maybe it’s for a period of time after a big race or maybe it’s a longer-term slump when you’re not training. What to do? Should you spice up your training? Change your strategy? Sign up for a race?
I recently had an insight that these running slumps are a sign that something is out of balance, and although it’s a stretch, I thought maybe I could help myself by thinking about levers. Teeter-totters. See-saws, if you will.
You may remember from elementary school that a lever is a simple machine made up of an arm with two ends and a point of leverage in the middle, called the fulcrum. When one end of the arm is heavier than the other, the lever will be out of balance.
Think of our metaphorical Running Slump Lever as a teeter-totter with you on one end and your running slump on the other. You’re sitting there up in the air, dangling your feet. The slump is down there texting on its cell phone like a 20-ton brick with no sign of budging. Is there anything you can do?
Yes! Lengthening the distance of the lighter side of the arm will allow you to apply the same amount of force but still lift up the heavier side. So if you scoot backward on your teeter totter, you will gain some leverage against that slump and maybe find some balance.
So cool! But back to the struggle bus.
Why am I riding the running struggle bus? I love running! Running has always been a source of peace and joy, and the physical exertion makes me happy! But where it usually lifts me up, right now it’s dragging me down down down, physically, mentally and emotionally. If I’m not going to keep plummeting toward demise, I need to adjust my position on the lever so I can get back to the business of happily teeter-tottering away.
Did you spend an hour struggling through four angry, frustrated miles today, most of it walking and whining to yourself that you’re not fast enough anymore? Perfect! That means you’re in excellent shape to experiment and try adjusting your position so you can find some leverage.
Change Your Physical Position
Running is an explosive physical force in your life, and Newton’s Third Law says you need an equal amount of the opposite kind of physical forces to help your body find its balance point. Consider the “run” you did earlier an opportunity to join the #extrasalt challenge by doing some active recovery.
While you’re blobbing in front of the TV, blob with your foam roller. Blob with a lacrosse ball. Blob with some self massage or get your stretch on. Or turn the TV off and draw yourself a lovely relaxing ice bath (srsly). Or a real bath is okay too. Hell — just go the F to sleep, betch! Sleep counts!
Change Your Mental Position
Any distance runner worth her Saltiness knows that 90% of the game is mental. And if your head just isn’t in it, you’re going to have a shitty run, whether it’s a race, a long run or an easy jaunt around the block. This is where you’re going to have to experiment a little more, because disruptions in your mental game are widely varied and very personal.
You might think cross-training belongs under physical, but I’d counter that by pointing out how easy a bike can seem compared to a run, or how much more fun it feels to swim or take a long hike or even bounce on a trampoline or playing a (gasp!) ball sport. You get a good workout plus you get to break up the mental monotony of just running all the time.
Additionally, non-running stress in your life can cause your running to feel extra hard. For many of us, a run is time we use to think about what’s going on in our lives, and if things are tough right now, that can make running seem extra hard. Maybe it’s time to put in the headphones and crank the music or start listening to a really awesome podcast. Heck, maybe it’s time to start talking to a therapist.
Change Your Emotional Position
If you’re coming off a bad race, coming back from time off, pregnancy or injury, if you’re overwhelmed by performance anxiety for your next race or putting a lot of pressure on yourself to meet your goals, you may have entered what I like to think of as the Swirly Zone™. “Swirly” refers to the swirl of toilet water as any emotional positivity you may have had while running is caught up in the flow and flushed away by your stress and negativity. One bad run can often beget another and another and another. One little foot problem can convince you your entire training cycle is unsalvageable. Little problems pile up and become a veritable rat king of raging sadness and angst. Woe is you! There is nothing to be done!!! NOTHING, I SAY! Let the river of tears flow!
That’s a load of crap. Breathe, woman. Try some of Ginger’s mindfulness stuff!
Take a look at your training logs (and if you don’t log your runs, try it!) and see the data for what it really is: just numbers. Try to observe the numbers without emotion and ask yourself what they tell you. Are you overtraining? Are you doing just fine? Are you running less than ever? Not only will taking a running inventory give you some much-needed perspective and a realistic view of where you are, it also provides a starting point for the next step.
Identify where you want to go. Have you been sitting on your current goal for months or years? Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate your goals and change them. Maybe some process goals would help you along the way. Maybe you just need to be more patient with yourself and give yourself some time; making some smaller incremental goals along the way can really help you to feel you’re making progress if you feel worried it will never happen. Or heck, maybe time goals just aren’t for you and that’s okay!
Remember, running is such a wonderful tool because you can use it however it works for you. You get to decide how it fits your life best! The key is to take a step back and evaluate how to best employ it to create balance in your life, and bear in mind that your life changes fairly often, so how you run might change along with it.
It may feel like you’re dangling right now, but I promise, you’ll find that pavement under your foot soon enough. You just need a little leverage!