Let’s face it, Lockdown is pretty f*cking grim. I needn’t go into all the negatives of our current situation, as you are all undoubtedly well-versed in the sh*t-heap that comes with all the restriction…
HOWEVER, one of the single greatest things about lockdown is seeing so many people lacing up and hitting the roads for a daily jog for their daily exercise “allowance”. Nearly 7 weeks in, and hopefully the newbie runners out there have come to enjoy the activity as opposed to viewing it as a mundane chore…
I am one of those nutters who tends to run no matter what, in part due to the fact it is my primary coping mechanism for dealing with anxiety and other mental health issues. I always find a way to enjoy my run.
This has taken years of mastery, but I now find myself equipped with an arsenal of strategies that make for an incredibly varied and exciting training routine.
Running the same route, at the same pace, day-in-day-out will get pain-stakingly boring, and will probably cause you to loathe the prospect of sticking to a regular running routine. Follow these tips to revolutionise your running, and help put the spice back into your training!
#1- Keep It Groovy with Playlist Rotation
If you’re a regular reader of mine, you know how much I believe in the power of music when it comes to a spicy workout; indeed, studies have shown that music has the potential to reduce perceptions of fatigue and increase endurance by up to 20%.
However, I for one have definitely been guilty of cracking the same tunes on repeat, which (from experience) can exacerbate feelings of monotony that are commonly associated with distance running.
The solution? Playlist Rotation
Personally, I have 5 separate playlists, all with a different selection of tunes old and new. I like to make it groovy and make each playlist themed; one for banging Drum and Bass, one for steady classic rock which I use for recovery runs, and the customary Guilty Pleasures selection. Cue the Rick Astley…
Luckily, Spotify have you covered; if you aren’t as sad as me and don’t have the time to make your own playlists, Spotify have a vast array of different playlists geared towards different tempos and musical tastes. Simply click on the ‘Workout’ genre, and experiment with which ones work best for you!
#2- HIIT Some Sweet Intervals…
I love a long run. However, there are some days I simply don’t have time or the mental willpower to dedicate 1-2 hours to a run. Thankfully, there is the beauty of HIIT…
High-Intensity Interval Training is widely percieved as short, sharp bouts of intense bodyweight exercises like squats, press-ups, mountain climbers, and (**shudder**) burpees. However, this type of training can also aid your running routine after hitting the psychological wall!
When it comes to HIIT and running, there a two main ways you can structure a workout:
- HILLS – Live near an absolute beast of a hill? Then crack on with some filthy hill sprints; run as fast as you can from the foot to the summit, walk back down as your active recovery, and repeat for reps.
To ensure you are sustaining maximal effort during the intervals, limit the distance of the hill to 75-100m; any longer, and it will become more of an aerobic workout.
- SPEED- for the Speed Demons out there, who just want to hammer it as fast as they can, try a Speed HIIT Workout.
Set an interval timer (I use this free app personally) to High intervals of 15-40s, where you run at 90-98% of your max speed, followed by Low Intervals of 20-60s, where you run at no more than 45% max effort. The key here is to take rest intervals nice and easy; to reap the benefits from speed HIIT, it is important to maximise exertion/effort during working intervals, so recovery in-between plays a huge role in the outcome
There are more ways you can dabble with interval training; regardless of the method, it is a great way to mix things up (particularly if you have tended towards slogging away at the same intensity). Plus, the physiological benefits of HIIT are numerous to say the least, but that’s a story for another day…
#3- Trigger Workout : Strength/Cardio Combo
These are a great crack…
Trigger Workouts allow you to get the best of both worlds from resistance and CV training. To plan and do a trigger workout, identify different objects/things you see on your norm run, and write down an exercise + reps/time by each object. Then, when you are out on the route, every time you see a given object, you have to complete the relevant exercise.
For example, if you run in a local park, your workout could look like so:
- Every time you pass a park bench, do 20 x Press Ups
- Every time you pass another person, do 10 x Jump Squats
- Every time you see a dog, do 5 x Burpees
- Every time you pass a set of stairs, do 45 secs of Stair Sprints
Trigger workouts are great if you are looking for something a wee bit different. And the greatest thing about them? They are easily scaled to your individual fitness level/tailor to your personal goals!
I am always on the lookout for creative new TW’s, so if you concoct a beautiful workout, stick it in the comments and I’ll give it a go.
#4- Progression Workout
Progression workouts are a great way to develop a sound understanding of pacing if you are new to the business. These are simply runs >5km that are undertaken at a steadily increasing intensity, most commonly relating to speed/tempo.
Many new runners I have helped have fallen into the trap of jumping the gun too early, setting off at a rapid pace, only to find themselves in a panting wreck after the first kilometre! Progression workouts are a great way to avoid this, whilst also reducing monotony of a steady-state run through variation in intensity.
If you usually run ~8km for example, you would run the first 2km @ 50% max effort, the second 2km @ 65% max effort, the following 3km @ 80% max effort, and the final kilometre as fast as you can in a state of partial fatigue.
Again, this type of run is much more exciting than the norm, and is easily scalable to your fitness level and experience.
#5- Try A New Route
There is nothing more exciting in my book than trying a new running route (I know, I already told you I am a bit of a nutter….).
If you are part of the more adventerous among us, you might enjoy going out on a run with no plan of action, and simply letting the mood take you on a magical mystery tour of your local area. Don’t be afraid of venturing into the unknown; I absolutely love spontaneous runs, and if the worst comes to worst, you can always just go back the way you came!
However, if you like to be a man (or woman) with a plan, there are so many resources on the internet of given routes you can follow in your area. That is the beauty of apps like Strava and MapMyRun; you can have a gander at popular routes in your area.
Just be sure to be responsible with social distancing when running along busy routes/trailws (sorry, it had to be said…)
#6- Sharing Is Caring
Running as part of a group, or with someone else, usually gives you an excuse to push yourself that little bit extra. Anyone who has ever done a parkrun will understand how you normally run your quickest times on a sunny saturday morning due to that innate competitive b*stard within each and every one of us…
With social distancing restrictions, calling your buddies up for a run after work ain’t really gonna cut the mustard. However, don’t let physical distancing impact your running social life; why not create a Whatsapp group or a facebook chat with all your the training crew and keep the ball rolling?
Whether it’s setting a weekly mileage goal for the group, alloting specific times of the week where you run at the same time, or setting themed challenges (see #7) for everyone to have a crack at, continuing to include the social element of your training can keep things funky and help you stay accountable to a regular routine.
At times like these, when motivation is often at its lowest, having a pal to give you a nudge in the right direction may be the ultimate remedy….
#7- Smash A Challenge
I sincerely love, and can seldom refuse, the prospect of a challenge…
Bring out that competitive spirit within you by undertaking a running-specific challenge. It could be a personal challenge, based on your individual goals and aspirations; or you could turn to the the wonders of social media for more generic ideas.
The most common running challenge in the UK is the NHS’s Couch to 5k, a mobile app that sees its users attempt to go from zero to 5 kilometre runs within the space of 9 weeks. However, if you are reading this blog, you are probably already smashing 5k’s out on the regular, so it may be time to take it to the next level..
- Weekly Mileage Goal – start off with something manageable, like 15km per week (3 x 5km); and slowly increase the distance you cover over the course of the week! As a rule of thumb, a 10-15% increase in weekly mileage is the most effective way of progressing.
- Landmark Challenge – I got this idea when the organisers of one of my cancelled half-marathons this year, The London Landmarks 1/2, created the ‘Local Landmarks Challenge’ as a fun alternative to the race that never was. Pick 3-10 local landmarks in your area, and devise a route so as to pass each one respectively, taking a photo at each ‘landmark‘ as proof. I’m not talking world-famous landmarks; it could be anything from a funky-looking tree in your park, a rude-sounding road-sign (Ball’s Lane is my personal fave near me…), or simply the infamous bush you inadvertently passed out on whilst taking a wonky walk back from the Pub. Make it personal, and you are more likely to smash through ’till the end.
- Place-To-Place Challenge – workout the distance between two towns/cities/villages, set that distance as your target for the month, and every time you hit the roads, you slowly chip away towards the end-goal. This sort of challenge produces pretty cool statements that you can say to your friends once socialising is viable; because who doesn’t want to say “During the month of May, I ran to Cornwall and back”. It might just be me, but I think stuff like that is pretty f**king awesome!
#8- Go Bush!
It is very easy to get bogged down when you get into routines. Same old route, day in day out; an endless travelator of asphalt that just seems to pass with every single run. For those lucky enough to be within running-distance of woodland, parks, or the countryside, experimenting with trail running might be the antidote to a stale attitude.
Trail running (i.e. that which takes you along footpaths and trails that wind round the local countryside) is more challenging than road running, so don’t expect to be hitting any PB’s in terms of speed. This is because the uneven ground and varied terrain poses more of a challenge to the core stablisers and muscles which help maintain balance during movement.
I highly recommend trail running as a way of mixing it up a wee bit; I find that, when I am feeling rough in the mental department, a trail run is the ultimate remedy. Being surrounded by the beautiful natural world (and the occasional whiff of sheep sh*t …) is a great tool for promoting mindfulness and relaxation; something which is of incredible importance in the current strate of play…
#9 – Throw Away The FitBit!
Okay….maybe don’t throw it away; that would be a touch extreme!
I am a HUGE fan of measuring your progress using technology, be it FitBits or mobile apps like Strava; indeed, these have revolutionised the wider world of running, so that even the most amateur among us have access to a vast array of helpful data about performance.
HOWEVER, from personal experience, it is very easy to become ruled by the numbers. Constantly focusing on getting quicker, running longer distances, or improving your splits on that f*ck-off hill near your house, can make you lose sight of the core reason you started: pure, unparalleled enjoyment.
If you find yourself feeling downbeat about not hitting a PB every time you go running, or failing to get that sweet satisfaction at the end of a run because your last km ruined your average split pace, then maybe it’s time to take 5 on the tech.
I am HUGELY guilty of this, and have found the best way of dealing with numerical obsession (fancy wordsmithery right there…) is to re-kindle the core love of the activity by running wherever the mood takes me/however long/fast I am feeling on any given day. Just try it for a week, or even just one run; and you will begin to reap the benefits of listening to your body and become aware of your capabilities and weaknesses.
The Final Word
Don’t make running become a chore. That won’t help anyone, and will likely stunt your progress regarding any health/fitness-related goals you have. Keep It Spicy by creating an excited routine, based around various different forms of training, so as to maximise your long-term adherence and keep it fresh.
On that note, be sure not to push the boat out too far (again, I am a hypocrite…and I have learnt this the hard way on a few occasions); if your body is screaming at you that a run is going to screw with your physical health, then simply don’t go. I know better than anyone the importance of running on the reg for mental health; but sometimes, it will result in doing you more harm than good. As one of my coaches used to say:
” It is better to take a day off to recover sufficiently, rather than b*gger yourself up and end out taking weeks/months out. Don’t be a stubborn pr*ck, and listen to what your legs are telling you; take a break!”
Follow the aforementioned tips to help you on the road to creating an exciting, varied routine that will ultimately nudge you ever-closer to Lockdown’s end!
Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay active my peeps 🙂