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Have you ever woken up on the morning of a run and been like, nah? Of course you have. We’ve all been there, weighing our commitment to the grind versus the warm embrace of our down comforter.
More often than not, we shake the sleep from our eyes and harrumph our way toward the door. Tapping into whatever motivational energy we can summon in those moments of uncertainty is an essential component of becoming a runner.
Yet, motivation can be fickle. Even with the best of intentions, our inner drive will often wax and wane depending on numerous factors that may have little to do with running itself. You know the list: lack of sleep, stress, nutritional imbalance, inclement weather, etc.
Motivational malaise can strike anytime and anywhere for any reason. It tends to be prevalent during this period of late winter/false spring when the mornings are still cold, dark, blustery, and often, very wet. That’s when you ask yourself if the dissenting voices in your head are telling you something you need to hear, or if they’re just noise.
I feel like I’ve been saying this a lot lately, but there’s a line between stubborn determination and reckless stupidity that runners must navigate at all times. There are solid arguments for pushing through the morning fog. There are even more for listening to your internal messaging systems and giving yourself a break.
Let’s start with the symptoms:
Are you sick, tired, or sore?
If you’re sick, you should probably stay in bed because sleep is your best medicine. (Imagine me saying that in my best Dad Voice.)
We all know resting makes sense when we’re under the weather, yet we all insist on running anyway because maybe it will make us feel better. There might be some validity in that approach, but it’s not a universal rule.
The maxim – rooted primarily in anecdotal evidence – that you can run EASY (emphasis mine) so long as your symptoms are above the neck is generally solid advice. For example, if you’re suffering from a classic head cold, as opposed to full-blown bronchitis, you’re probably alright to run.
I’ve found that to be mostly true, but not always. While an easy run can be beneficial toward the end of an illness when you’re almost recovered, it’s often counterproductive when you’re starting to fight off an illness.
Either way, there’s nothing wrong with erring on the side of caution and prioritizing getting healthy before getting after it. Sleep in and don’t give it another thought. You’re doing a lot more for your fitness by resting than grinding out a few more miles in an unhealthy state.
Feeling tired or worn down gets us into a nebulous zone that can be difficult to manage. There are times during training for a long distance event like a marathon or an ultra, when running in a somewhat fatigued state is part of the program. (Provided, again, that you take it easy and don’t push too hard.)
More often than not, you’re probably better served taking an unplanned rest day before fatigue turns into exhaustion. One thing about rest days, even unplanned rest days, they don’t make you feel worse. Give yourself a day to recharge physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Soreness is another murky gray area lacking clear lines and definition. If you are an experienced runner who can tell the difference between soreness and pain, then you already know what it’s like to wake up feeling brittle. (This is how I feel almost every morning, by the way. Lena calls it my old man shuffle.)
Discomfort is fine, even encouraged to some degree. Feeling so sore that your running mechanics are compromised is not. Take the hint and take a rest day.
Are you making excuses/whining?
Look, sometimes you need to give yourself a good kick in the butt. There’s a lot to be said for sucking it up when you don’t feel like running (so long as you’re not sick, exhausted, or exceptionally sore.) Some might say it builds character, and I wouldn’t disagree.
Running when you’re not feeling your best teaches you how to handle difficult situations before they arise during an event. Even races that go “perfectly” from beginning to end involve some element of adversity that needs to be overcome. In fact, memorable races are often the direct result of having experienced these types of motivational challenges during training.
Think of the days when you feel less than 100 percent as an opportunity to build your mental toughness toolkit. When you give yourself a chance to work through whatever issues you’re having, you’ll learn run management skills that will translate into positive action on race day.
The same holds true for inclement weather. What’s a little rain to a runner? That’s why you bought all that fancy gear. Might as well test it out, as well as your resolve. Besides, there’s no better feeling after a cold, wet run than slipping into comfy clothes with a cup of freshly brewed coffee. Just because you went out and suffered on purpose doesn’t mean you can’t give yourself a nice reward.
Running in bad weather is a great way to build mental toughness from the ground up because it forces you to deal with a distraction that’s out of your control. The more bad weather runs you experience, the less daunting they’ll become in the future. Especially on race day when you have no other options but to face Mother Nature on her terms.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with moving a run indoors or shuffling your schedule when the weather is super gross. (That’s a meteorological term.) A nor’easter is happening as I type this, which is forcing me to postpone a run until the following day. No biggie.
Rely on your routine
When motivation wanes, the last thing you need are more reasons not to run. Your best defense against lethargy is an airtight pre-run routine you can execute in a half-drowsy stupor.
Have your breakfast ready to go. Don’t get too fancy. There’s a reason why a banana and grainy carb is a universal choice for pre-run fueling. Have the coffee ready to brew or the kettle ready to boil so all you have to do is press a few buttons.
Lay out your clothes ahead of time. Have everything ready from gear to hydration to music if that’s your jam, so you don’t need to think about anything but getting dressed and out the door. And then, know your route and what you’re trying to accomplish by planning it out before you go to bed.
Before you know it, those mental cobwebs will begin to clear after a mile or so, and you’ll be glad you made the effort. Assuming your day doesn’t call for an all-out anaerobic charge,* allow yourself to ease into the run, and accept what the day gives you in return.
(*If you are facing a monster workout and you’re feeling the blahs, consider putting it off until your motivational zeal returns. There’s a difference between suffering for your art and simply being a masochist.)
Chances are, your run will turn out better than you imagined in the pre-dawn gloom. It probably won’t be worse, unless there’s a serious issue. Even if it’s not great, there are still lessons to be learned and miles to absorb them. The bottom line is you’re in charge of your run. Not the little voices telling you to stay in bed.
Yesterday was definitely one of those days for me. With the start of the NCAA Tournament, when the eight early games finished, I had planned on going downstairs for a treadmill run. It was a pain dragging myself out to do that. It was a nice day out so I wanted to do an outside run, but I had work responsibilities so a treadmill run was the more logical choice. But man, I really didn't want to go. Thankfully my wife wanted to go down to use the elliptical, so we went together and I got in a few miles. Nothing big, but got the heart going and that was enough for the day.
If there’s one thing I appreciate, it’s the combination of terrible weather and being sick for a rest day. Forced days like this one are few and far between but feel right when they happen. Often I’ll run sick. I shouldn’t but it’s like you said, “maybe it’ll make me feel better” is what my head tells me. When the weather is bad, I usually don’t care, unless it involves sheets of ice or a lot of lightning. Those are no fly zones. But when I’m sick AND weather is garbage…I stay in bed and relish the rest. As someone with anxiety who rarely sits and does nothing, the combination sometimes is welcome. (Even though nobody ever WANTS to be sick)