“No race in sight. Group runs on hold. Less structure and routine in my daily life… How am I going to motivate myself to keep running?” Read on to learn how to enjoy (at least more so) running alone, plus how to keep your motivation up with a sparse race calendar.
For some, solo runs, and little racing aren’t a departure from the norm. But for many, group runs and race prep are very much a part of the routine. My Team in Training Saturday morning group runs are the highlight of my week, and I am almost always training for a race. But, time to change gears for a (hopeful) short while.
Enjoy Running Alone While Maintaining Your Motivation
Let’s focus on our motivation first, as we need to get our shoes on, and ourselves out the door to even enjoy running alone! Keep these ideas in mind to help keep your motivation up (especially with solo runs and no races on the agenda):
- Focus on the benefits. Yes, races are often the carrot that drives training consistency. That is completely understandable. But, embracing and remembering all the benefits gained from running consistently can fuel your motivation, too: improved health, less stress, better night’s sleep, weight control, physical well-being, mental clarity, and so on. All worthy of your effort, even with a race nowhere in sight.
- Maybe dialing back the frequency or distance or intensity (or all) of your runs is what you need right now. Keep running, but use the extra time/energy to focus on good habits that get pinched with a busier schedule: foam rolling, core work, strength training, stretching. All those collectively are important, and can help you resume your intensity of running when you’re ready.
- Get trigger happy. Runner’s World has a great article about “triggers.” Our habits are often set off by a trigger, and when that trigger is gone, it can impact our routine/habits. For example: a Saturday social run is a trigger, running before/after work is a trigger. Assuming some of your triggers have changed in the last week or two, develop some new ones to keep your habits (thus, running) on track. For example: put on your running gear first thing in the morning, keep your shoes by the door or a highly visible area, or continue to run at the same time you did previously.
- Set some new goals that inspire you. Working towards a pace or time you want to achieve, completing a reschedule race, or mastering a mental skill during your runs. Whatever you decide, your odds are better if you share your goals with someone to build accountability.
<< Related Topic: The Powerful Mental Health Benefits of Running >>
How to Enjoy Running Alone
Appreciate the Freedom
When running alone, you literally run the show. You don’t have to compromise your workout in any way, and are able to dictate the pace, distance, route, and time of day that you run. It is also a great time for self-reflection, letting your mind wander. I often am able to see a problem more clearly on a run for some reason, feeling more clear headed when I finish.
Turn to Nature
Run or exercise in a natural environment when you can. It potentially will be less crowded (social distancing), but research also shows that type of environment more positively affects our mood and stress levels. Plus the scenery is a good distraction for internal discomfort! Personally, I enjoy running alone on trails as it’s peaceful, and I need to concentrate on where I plant my next step!
Turn to Music
Download music that matches your cadence. Music has been proven to make runs more enjoyable, and decreases our perceived level of effort. Studies recommend choosing songs with a BPM (beat per minute) of 170 or greater. Of course, pick songs that you find motivating as well. Podcasts and audiobooks are a distraction that provides an opportunity to learn a thing or two on your run.
Tune into Pace, and then Out
On occasion, focus on pacing. During a race, runners are prone to start out too quick, and thus suffer during the latter half of the race. Or, when running with a friend/group, we may defer to the pace of the group when we shouldn’t. Use the solo time to work on your pace intermittently; for example, run one mile at a target pace without looking at your watch. Hone into how you’re breathing, your level of effort, but don’t look at your watch. Once you hit the mile mark, check to see how accurate you are with your pacing. Continue to practice this at different paces (tempo, easy, etc.).
Then, do the complete opposite. Leave your watch off on occasion when you run. You may find it is a welcome, even liberating to just run for the sake of running, enjoyment, and your health. There will be plenty of races in your future where you will again focus on splits, pacing, etc intensely while training. It’s okay to take a break from that.
Tune into Your Body
While you run, occasionally focus on how you feel. Are you breathing too hard? That may be a cue to slow down/adjust your pace. Are you relaxed in your arms, face, shoulders and neck? If you sense any tension, shake it out and make a concerted effort to “let it go.” Being able to clue into how your body feels, and making the necessary adjustments is a critical skill you can apply when races resume.
Up Your Mental Game
Running alone can UP your mental game. When we run with others, we’re often distracted and have less self-talk dialogue. When alone, and the going gets tough, self-talk can “trend negative.” Be aware of the messages you’re sending yourself, and remember to “find a way versus an excuse.” Motivating thoughts like “I am strong,” or “I can do this, keep it up” actually make your run feel easier, and will help you through those difficult moments.
Try this exercise: 1) make note of the negative thoughts you have when your run gets difficult (exactly what do you tell yourself?). 2) Come up with a few thoughts/statements to use in those tough moments; a few, not just one or two! 3) Practice with them during your runs, and see which are most effective for you. 4) Apply them moving forward, whether running solo, with someone, or during a race!
Do you enjoy running alone? What strategies do you use to make a solo run a pleasant experience?