In a year that can be described as tumultuous at the very least, many runners are falling back on repeatable routines as a way to find solace from the mental and emotional demands of a topsy-turvy world.
Routine comes with a downside. Too much of the same thing can bring complacency, plateau your development, and make running feel more like a chore than a source of genuine joy.
If you’re running in a rut, a few small tweaks can refresh your outlook. HOKA recommends a few ways to re-evaluate your habits and shake things up.
Explore New Routes & Terrain
You probably already have a favorite running route, and you probably already went through an experimental phase to find it. But that doesn’t mean you should stop exploring forever.
Sometimes a simple tweak can make a big difference. Try the following:
- Set out in a different direction
- Run your usual route “backward”
- Go back to an old favorite path in a neighborhood you used to live in
- Ask around for hot tips
- Try a new destination as a starting point
- Give trail running a try if you’re primarily a road runner (or vice versa)
For more information about challenging yourself over rugged terrain, check out our previous article Intro to Trail Running.
When you seek out new paths, the best-case scenario is you’ll find a new alternative route that could fit better for a given mood or day or weather condition. And the worst-case? Returning to your old standby will give you a new appreciation for familiar scenery.
Challenge Yourself With New Goals
When your runs lapse into a routine, your development can plateau.
That’s fine – not everybody has to improve all the time – but it can take some of the spark out of running for those with a more competitive mindset. But if your usual running routine is starting to feel a little blah, or if your breath and legs don’t even bat an eye at your current run distance and pace, you can always shake things up with a few new challenges.
Consider the following options:
- Stop by the local high school on your way back home and run the steps of the bleachers
- Incorporate a few cross-training exercises on that park district chin-up bar you always run past
- Take on that monster hill you usually avoid
- Add intermittent sprints during your least favorite stretches – for example, from the fence to the mailbox
- Push to run the “scenic route” within the same time you usually take on a shorter run
The best part of adding a few new challenges to a routine that’s grown a little stale – you can always go back to the old way as a method of gauging your progress. If it feels like a breeze, that’s because those new goals are paying off.
Switch Up Your Schedule
Routine isn’t all bad. You can use it as a baseline for experimentation to learn how to better fit your runs into your lifestyle.
To the extent possible, try your usual run at different times of day: early morning, mid-day, evening.
You might be surprised at how seemingly small changes to the light level and direction, or tiny fluctuations in daily climate, can affect the overall quality of your run.
Take note of how schedule changes affect your overall mood and energy level throughout the day and use this information to vary your running routine. You could find, for example, that an early pre-shower is the perfect way to kick off a dreary, rainy day, or that an evening run is a perfect way to put a stressful workday in the rearview mirror.
Horror of horrors, you might even discover that you’re a “morning person.”
Try a New Soundtrack
If you have a go-to running playlist, that’s another avenue you can use to shake things up. After all, your brain and ears are along for the ride every time you set out.
Try the following:
- Build new playlists with different music genres you enjoy and see how the switch affects your run
- Try out a “wellness run” playlist full of music that’s more soothing than your “pump up” music
- Turn your run into a multitasking version of “me time” with an audiobook, informative podcast, or language lessons
- Leave the earbuds at home, soak up the scenery and let your mind wander in silence
Gear Up Or Down
If you’ve settled into a regular running routine that gives you a reliable read on how you feel on a given run, that’s the perfect setting for a road test to figure out what running gear works best for you.
Swap out accessories to find out how you feel about:
- Handheld water bottles
- Fanny packs
- Hats and sweatbands
- Weatherproof shells
- Various short, pant, shirt, and top options
- Different kinds of socks
- Running shoes
A solid routine can be an enormously helpful tool in your development as a runner.
Even if you feel like you’ve been running in a bit of a rut, know that this “control group” is a great way to judge the impacts of variables as you experiment. The results could reveal a lot about your personal preferences as a runner that can form the new baseline for further exploration.
Good luck and happy running. It’s Time to Fly™