What to Do When You Don’t Want to Run

Unmotivated? Me too.


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On Wednesday, I put on my running gear, went to the bathroom, tucked my phone into my pocket. I was dressed and ready to go.

And then, I sat on my bed, looked at my dog, and said “Annie, I would rather not.”

I’m not feeling very motivated right now. My goal race is more than two months away, the weather where I live in New Jersey has been less than ideal, and all I see ahead are batches of miles to be run on the same roads I have been running on for most of my adult life.

These dips happen, and there are things you can do if you’re in a running rut, whether your goal is to bust right out of it, or just pass the miles until the weather improves or the big race gets close enough to feel in reach.

You may laugh, but I get a lot of emails and tweets from people who are struggling to run because of some stabbing pain, and want me to tell them what to do so running can be enjoyable again (go to a doctor GO TO A DOCTOR the answer is always go to a doctor). We’re used to this sport being mildly uncomfortable. If pain is stopping you from getting out the door, it’s the pain that’s the problem, not the running you’re not doing.

Because life can be a drag. Family stress, work stress, too much travel, not enough sleep — all of these things can suck the luster out of your running. After I bonked on a long run a few weeks ago, I did this kind of self-check. It didn’t seem to be any of those. But I realized that even though my weekly mileage had increased, I hadn’t increased how much I was eating. (For more on the relationship between exercise and metabolism, here’s a report from Gretchen Reynolds on new research and my guide, How to Feed a Runner.)

If you run the same route over and over again, run a different route — or run that route in the opposite direction. Run in the morning? Try running at night (properly lit up, please). I give props to anyone able to run on a treadmill for more than 20 minutes because treadmills make me want to drill holes into my eyeballs. If you’re bored there, hit buttons: Increase the incline, or add in a few doses of running at higher speeds. Or watch something different. When I ran on a treadmill more often, I’d often park myself in front of whatever TV was showing the Phillies game, or “The Price is Right,” depending on what time of day I was there. It helped.

Having a destination in mind makes it not just about a run, but checking something off your to-do list. I’ve run to my P.O. box, dropped off/picked up books at a Little Free Library, left something for my mom on her porch. I even once picked up a piece of jewelry I’d had engraved. I think the woman in the full fur coat was surprised to see me in my running clothes next to her at the jewelry counter, but I got my miles in that day.

My friend Hollie Sick, who runs the site FueledbyLOLZ, said she had also been feeling unmotivated, so we decided to run together once a week. Even though she’s much (much) faster than me in races, our easy training pace is about the same. We talk about just about everything, and before we know it, our hour run is done. I even introduced her to the joy of running to a Little Free Library. Running with someone else can take your mind off a task that, right now for both of us, seems pretty blah. If you don’t have a running friend who has your pace and schedule, check out your local running store to see if they have a group run. I usually join group runs when I travel to a place I don’t know well. I did this at RunnersWorld Tulsa on a night when their group run was also a scavenger hunt. I had a blast and got a memorable tour of a great city.

I have said in this space many times before that you don’t need a ton of gear to run. However, I also realized last week that I had been switching between the same two pairs of running tights that, if you combined their ages, would be a high school sophomore. So I bought two new pairs. I’m not saying you can shop your way out of being unmotivated, but a new piece of gear falls under the same category as “do something different.” It doesn’t have to be something expensive either. It can be a new hat or headband, or nail polish that matches your running shoes. This is also a good time to look for deals as running stores start to clear out winter gear in anticipation of spring and summer running, or are pushing the last of last summer’s stock out the door. I bought two pairs of running shorts for $15 each this way.

I’ll be taking them to Florida a week from today, on what I hope will be a magical, sunshine-filled trip to Walt Disney World. I will of course be running while there. Planning these vacation runs has been an opportunity to revisit Disney World’s “jogging” page, which features a photo of runners that is so old that clothing like theirs is nowsold as retro gear at Urban Outfitters.

What you do when you’re feeling unmotivated? Let me know — I’m on Twitter @byjenamiller.

Run Well!

— Jen

Jen A. Miller is the author of “Running: A Love Story.”