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Something new for runners to try this spring

Mary Jennings: Here are some tips for keeping your motivation high or rediscovering the joy of running

Each spring we tend to fall back into our same running routine. We book our favourite races, print out the training plans and get to work. We dream of those glorious personal bests and tick off each training session along the way. Spring brings new life into runners as we gradually ditch the winter layers and run with more freedom again.

Planning for the season is exciting and motivation is at a high for lots of runners right now.

If you are in this camp and have a clear goal for the spring, keep on going and I wish you many happy miles on your running adventures.

Can’t find enthusiasm?

But if you don’t feel that sunny springtime running buzz, maybe it is time to shake things up and try something new. Remember that you get to make the rules in how you approach running. You don’t need to follow the same path as your running buddies or do what you feel is expected of you. If we want to truly keep the love for running long into the future, it can be helpful to shake things up now and again.

Why not look beyond the traditional 5k and 10k distances, open up your horizons, and truly follow your own running path this spring. You can always return to your old ways when the time is right.

But what can I do instead?

Start by thinking of what you enjoy about running but also what elements of your usual running week that you endure or maybe even avoid. Which training sessions, running paths and training partners add joy and energy to your week? What have you always dreamt of doing but never got around to?

Also consider what elements of training drain your body and what injury or niggles holds you back. Just because we have always trained one way doesn’t mean we have to keep it going. This could be the time to question your weekly routine and see how you can learn and grow. If you are stuck for some ideas, why not try one of the following.

Get Faster over 1 Mile

A mile is a reasonably short and achievable distance for runners of all levels to play around with. While ‘the 4 minute mile’ is a phrase most of us have heard over the years, many recreational runners have no idea how long it would take them to run a mile today. So if you want to challenge yourself on speed this spring but know your 5k personal best is a daunting number, focus instead on the mile. Start by measuring the mile distance and after a good warm-up, give it your best shot.

With a healthy focus on speedwork and strength you will be rewarded with improvements on this time each week. Your confidence, resilience and motivation will all increase as you take yourself out of your comfort zone. The wonderful byproduct of a faster mile is that your longer distance times will benefit from your dedication too.

Run with different people

When I am stuck in a running rut it is often because I’ve not found something exciting to challenge me. One of the best ways to get inspiration is to spend time with other runners and see what drives them. We can gain a new perspective by watching how others approach running. Could you challenge yourself this spring to spend time with other runners you don’t normally engage with?

This could be the spring you join a running club, invite a neighbour to train with you, invest in a coach or join a community of runners. It is challenging to step out of our comfort zone, but almost everything I’ve learned about running has come from other runners and coaches who have been there before and have wisdom and inspiration far beyond what I can teach myself.

Run without your watch

The complete opposite approach to the points above is to take a step back from your running buddies, technology and targets and instead rekindle the joy in running free. This can be a wonderful approach for lapsed runners or those returning from injury who are afraid of another setback by putting pressure on performance too soon.

Without any speed target or other runners to compete with, the challenge comes in the silence. Spending time running solo with no watch to guide us or friends to distract us helps us notice how we move, where we hold tension and how we breathe. You might just spot the daffodils and spring buds opening up around you too. Bonus points if you can leave the headphones, podcasts and music at home. But if this is a step too far, start by aiming for a five-minute section of your run in silence and just see what magic happens.

Swap a run for something else

If you never make time for strength and mobility in your running routine but know it would help you, commit to making one of your training sessions entirely focused on movement other than running. Join a local fitness class or follow along a virtual video at the time you normally would run. Make it part of your routine just like you would for a run. It just might stand to you a lot more in the future than a few extra miles.

Alternatively set the challenge this spring to give back to your local running community. Why not volunteer at your local parkrun or junior parkrun or encourage a family member to start running and be their guide and coach along the way. Taking the focus off your own run, even just in one training session a week, and helping others succeed, can often rekindle your own joy in running.

Make the call

Don’t spend the spring beating yourself up about what running you should be doing or comparing your progress with others. Make the decision now on your individual spring challenge and commit to it. You might even decide to take a break from running and focus on other hobbies. Sometimes that’s the right call. Just commit to using the time when you would have been running to something else exciting. You get to choose and the options are a lot broader than those ideas I’ve suggested above.

Open your mind to following new paths and you never know where you might end up by the time summer arrives.

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  • Mary Jennings is founder of ForgetTheGym.ie. Her spring programmes for runners (and anyone who wants to spend more time outdoors) kick off March 3rd.

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