Maybe you spent thousands of miles chasing a Boston Marathon-qualifying time and finally crossed that finish line elated, but tired, and mentally fatigued. Maybe you’ve been chasing a PR at your local 5K or 10K. Whatever you’ve been up to, the daily grind of hitting mileage goals and specific paces taxes the mind; it’s not uncommon for runners to feel totally burned out after reaching a significant milestone in their careers. Fear not! That doesn’t mean your running days are over—you just need a fresh approach.
”Long-distance runners can be obsessive, so it’s important to mix it up. You need to to vary your running plan,” says Clint Verran, and he should know. He qualified for the Olympic marathon trials four times—that’s more than 12 years straight of being in peak marathon form. “You have to switch it all up—from your training style to your training partners to your approach to workouts.”
Below, Verran shares his top tips for sticking with it when running gets stale.
1. Ditch All the Electronic Gadgets Once a Week
The next time you reach for your fancy GPS watch ponder this question: do you really need this thing for this run? The answer is no. Technology and all the data that comes with it can be great with running, but it isn’t required all the time. The more data we try to gather, the more we will want to analyze, and the more we analyze every aspect of our run, the more we worry. So take at least one day a week to “unplug” from your devices.
Verran suggests picking a course near your home for your electronic-free run—a place where you know the distance “Then you just go out and run that loop with out worrying about your time,” he says, adding that “people were running happily before the invention of GPS watches and MP3 players.”
2. Don’t Obsess Over Workout Splits
There’s a time and a place for a watch. For example, measuring how fast you run a particular workout is key to understanding your current level of fitness. But not every workout has to be measured so precisely.
“When it comes down to it, your body really doesn’t care about splits,” says Verran. “If you have a problem with obsessing about splits, then you probably shouldn’t be on a track. You could also do workouts that don’t need splits at all.”
Verran suggests doing repeats on something like a grassy hill of an unmeasured distance. “It won’t have any meaning to you like a track does,” he says. Verran personally does these repeats on a hill that takes him approximately two minutes to climb. “I’ve been running on it for years and have no idea how long it is, and that’s OK,” he says. “I don’t have that mental anguish of missing a split on the hill, because it’s not marked. I purposely don’t want to ever know how far it is and that’s great.”
3. Go Old-School with Your Fuel
Let’s face it: sports foods can be great. They’re convenient, come in a wide variety of forms and flavors, and can taste pretty good, too. But after months of downing prepackaged gels and bars and blocks, it’s only natural to get sick of the stuff. But if you’re going to keep training, you’ll have to keep fueling. The solution: go back to basics.
Instead of buying packaged gels, try getting those vital mid-run carbohydrates from things like raisins, gummy bears, or marshmallows. These snacks tend to be cheaper and there’s a good chance you already have them in your pantry. Besides saving you money, they can also give you peace of mind and let you focus on what matters most: that sweet feeling of freedom you get when it’s just you and an open road.
“Everything you need for your run you can find in your kitchen,” Verran says. “I like a little bit of caffeine before my workout, but that doesn’t mean I need to buy caffeinated GUs. I just make myself a little bit of coffee. I’ll have a little bit of toast with peanut butter and jelly on it. When I was in college, I just ate Pop-Tarts before a race or workout, because they sit nice in your stomach and are pure carbohydrates.”