Dr. Crowther’s prescription for relieving workout malaise

November 12, 2006

I’m not a running coach, but I occasionally play one in real life when Liz and a couple of her friends want my advice. And I do enjoy a good pontification opportunity every so often, which one of these friends recently provided when she emailed me to say that she was feeling less fit and less motivated than she’d prefer. I responded with the list of suggestions below. I think it’s a decent list — perhaps one that might be mistaken for a magazine article written by an actual coach.

* * * * *

1. Venue Nirvana. What locations are most enjoyable for workouts? The wooded trails in the arboretum? The climate-controlled indoor track? Go there and run there, even if it takes a bit of extra effort to get there.

2. Cross-training. This only works if you enjoy at least one aerobic sport other than running. But if so, treat yourself to a little variety. Hop onto a bike or into the pool or whatever and do a sustained effort (40-60 minutes?) with a few two-minute “pickups” thrown in.

3. Incentive Program. Useful for getting yourself to complete a tough workout that you’re dreading but think you really should do. Promise yourself a prize for completing the workout — an extra-large cookie at the bakery? 30 minutes on the couch with a new novel? — even if your times aren’t great.

4. The Tough But Ungraded Tempo Workout. Something like 3 x 8 minutes hard or 2 x 12 minutes hard, but without keeping track of the distance covered. You’ll be getting in a lot of quality but won’t be worrying about your pace. Give yourself a passing grade as long as you run hard for the full time.

5. Progress Is Good. This one is based on the assumption that you aren’t in great shape right now but are at least moving in the right direction. Look through your running log and find a workout that you did three or more weeks ago and think you can now do a bit faster. Do it, taking pride in any modest improvement you achieve even if the times aren’t great. Do it again three weeks later, aiming again to be just a bit faster than in the previous effort.

6. Cutdown Intervals. These can be relatively easy but confidence-boosting because you’re running fast by the end. Aim to cut down to a final interval that’s somewhat faster than you would normally do if you were doing a bunch of repeats of that interval. For example, if you’d do 6 x 800m in 2:50, instead try to run 3:04, 3:00, 2:56, 2:52, 2:48, 2:44. A variation of this is a “kicking workout” in which you run a 400 or 800 at 5K-10K race pace and then kick hard for 400 meters. The times for the overall intervals (800s or 1200s) won’t be all that fast, but you’ll get the nice sensation of running fast at the end of each one.

* * * * *

Do others have additional tips for combating a short-term training funk?


  1. * Find a fun group of people to run with.* Sign up for a race that scares you into training. :^)-or-* Just take some time off from running and start up again later.Balto

  2. I agree with Balto – run with a friend. Or send in an entry to a race in the not too distant future. But I always worry about the "take time off" advice because I am afraid I won't get started again! Or I will be too fat to fit into my running shorts.

  3. Damn, I gotta get back to visiting your blog more often. This is fun stuff. I'm intrigued by point 1, Venue Nirvana, or perhaps a corollary to it. We are always preaching: Vary your running routes to increase motivation, etc. My question of course: Where's the proof of this? A little more than a year ago, after interviewing Ed Whitlock about his daily 20-mile training runs on the same 600-yd loop, I decided to try a mini version of the same myself. I mapped out the longest course (6 miles) that roughly circled my house without ever being more than a couple of miles away, and I began running this course almost every day. Fifteen months later, I'm going strong, and running a hell of a lot better than I was prior to the Whitlock experiment. One reason being that I wasn't doing many 6 milers previously, more 4 and 5s. Anyway, what's better: Varying your courses, or running the same one all the time?

  4. When I find myself in a running funk, so-to-speak, I just let myself run when and what I want to run. I don't force the training. The best thing (if you're wanting to get into better shape but aren't completely motivated to do so) is to just go out and run the runs you really enjoy and just get some decent mileage in. Don't worry about the pace or even doing workouts. Just go run and enjoy it – remember that? That's the reason you started doing this to begin with! Once you've gotten a couple of weeks of enjoyable running in, you'll be in better shape, refreshed, and probably ready to go do something more "workout-like." It's likely you'll be pleasantly surprised…

  5. second Trisha…

  6. I am actually employing Trisha's idea now…of just getting out and running and not worrying about the time or my pace after a long slump in my racing and training. However, I am very intrigued by Amby's comments and Ed Whitlock's training. Sometimes I find new routes draining in that I cannot just get lost deep inside my head and "daze out" while I am running, but instead, must focus on directions or traffic or a new area. Running the same loop over and over allows one to just zone out and get into a total rhythm. I am thinking I would enjoy new routes when doing group long runs but may be very much like Ed in that I would like the repetition. I like the track for that very reason. There are a bunch of cemeteries near where I live so maybe…

  7. I think the answer to Amby's excellent question (varied courses vs. the same one) may depend not only on the person but on that person's mood during a particular month, week, or even time of day. After all, why are many of us happy to eat the same thing for breakfast every morning while wanting a different dinner every night?

  8. Greg, the person's mood still depends on the person, no? We all have fluctuations in our will and desire. And to take Trisha's idea further, I would clarify "I just let myself run when and what I want to run. I don't force the training" to include a re-elaboration of the same concept, namely that "if you don't feel like running, don't run."What is the point for an adult, repeat adult, (for children, youths even, it's a different issue) of doing something that you don't want to do? Should we not be cultivating ways to zero in on what we really want to do? Knowing full well it isn't going to happen overnight, as trial and error (lets cumulatively call it experience) will serve as a precious guide… Two cent version: Enjoy the ride, but if you start feeling like throwing up, maybe it's time to take a break…"

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