Generally, having a running routine makes for more successful running. For me, having a routine keeps me from making excuses and bailing on runs. I learned early on that the key to my running success was to never ask myself any variation of “Do I feel like running today?” or “How long do I feel like running today?”
The answers to those questions will almost always be: “I don’t feel like running, I feel like watching more episodes of anything on Netflix.”
Having a routine removes the question. It’s not what I want to do. It’s just what I do.
I have a plan, I have a routine. If it’s Wednesday, I run. That’s just what happens.
Having a running routine is good.
When A Running Routine Becomes A Running Rut
But it’s a very fine line between routine and rut.
During my last marathon training cycle, I realized that many of my runs felt easy. Too easy.
While I am all for not pushing myself to exhaustion, ‘easy’ shouldn’t be a word that frequently arises during marathon training. I realized that I was bored and on auto-pilot.
I was in a running rut.
Being in a rut is bad.
I’ve used the same training plan as the starting point for my training for nearly all of my 26 marathons. While it’s a great plan, I’d become too familiar with it.
I’d learned where I can cut corners. I’d figured out when I can skip a run without impacting the results.
I knew just how many hill workouts I could skip and still finish a hilly marathon.
Signs Of A Running Rut
While the signs of a running rut may vary, symptoms may include:
You have stopped making gains (or losses, as it were). You are no longer losing weight, losing inches, getting faster or whatever else your fitness target is.
You are running the same distances, using the same plans, doing the same workouts week after week after week. Every run blends into the next.
While everyone dreads the occasional run, if you find yourself dreading runs more often than you look forward to them, you may be in a rut.
This is often tied to dreading runs. Skipping multiple runs, or having the overwhelming urge to skip runs is a sign of a rut.
An Overwhelming Sense of Meh
This was the biggie for me: an overwhelming sense of meh. I wasn’t dreading my runs exactly, but I was utterly uninspired by them.
Busting Your Running Rut
Recognizing you are in a running rut is a big first step. Here are a few ideas on how to bust out.
Consider Why You Are In A Rut
Are you happy in your comfort zone? Afraid to leave your comfort zone? Not sure what other types of runs to do besides your usual? Afraid that your running partners will resent you if you push past them?
Understanding why you are where you are is the first step to changing it.
Keep The What, Change The Where (Or How)
If you are happy with your running plan, keep the basic structure of the routine in place, but change up the details.
Find new routes. Add in a few hills. Throw in few fartleks or track workouts.
Heck, something as simple as running your usual route in the opposite direction can make the route feel entirely new and different.
Seek Out The New (But Related)
Instead of training for just another fill in the blank of whatever your usual is, find a race distance that you’ve never done before.
Do a 7-mile run, a 25K, or whatever else is new to you. The basic structure of your training will be the same (keeping the good routines in place), but the details will vary, providing some much-needed novelty.
Or really shake it up with an obstacle or mud run.
Review Your Goals
Review your running goals.
Take a moment and remember what you want from your running and why you want it.
If you are in a rut, chances are you either have achieved a goal and need to set a new one, or the ones you have are too far out of reach and you’ve stalled out in your progress.
Good goals should be challenging, but doable. Big monster goals are fine too, if you break them down into smaller intermediate goals that you can regularly accomplish to keep up the momentum.
Set Up Accountability
Find a coach, running club or running partner (either in real life or virtually) that will hold you accountable for what you do (or do not do).
Hiring a coach will also make you push past your usual. They can give you new ideas, perspectives, and feedback to push you out of your rut.
Set An Area Of Focus
For me, an early sign of a running rut was that every run blended into every other run.
To make my runs stand out, I began to set a weekly area of focus. One week I would focus on stretching, the next on hydration, the next on hills.
That small shift made me consider at least a part of my run in a new way. Changing it up regularly kept it from getting stale.
Take A Break
If your rut is really bad, consider taking a break from running.
But also know that if you are not diligent, breaking momentum can result in you never coming back to running.
I regularly take little breaks from running, usually after a marathon when I’m a bit worn out mentally and physically. Before I begin my break, I always set a specific date to start running again.
Having an end date in mind prevents one week from turning into two, which then turns into a month (or more).
Good luck busting your rut.