I recently received a question asking for advice on how to keep up motivation during a workout. This person found that they would always only do the minimum, and sometimes would consciously even give up early but couldn’t figure out how to make themselves stop. I’m sure this is a problem for many, many of you out there, so here is my advice.
I want you to take a moment to remember what motivated you to start running in the first place. When you reach that point in your run where you are about to quit, remind yourself why you are running.
Picture your ultimate goal. Do you want it? The only way to get it is to make a plan and stick to it, every time. The fact that you are already running means that you can do it. The images you see all over tumblr of people who started out 300 pounds and now are down to 150 didn’t do it by quitting 2 minutes early because “that’s good enough.” They did it by running 2 minutes longer. People who run marathons don’t quit at mile 25 because “eh, I still ran 25 miles…that’s good enough.” The next time you want to run for 30 minutes and find yourself making excuses at 28, think of this…in your head 2 minutes doesn’t seem like it’s going to make much difference but those 2 minutes add up to 6, 8, 10 minutes weekly…which adds up to an ENTIRE run (or more) lost in the course of a month. At 28 minutes, you’re already exhausted, you already feel like you are dying, why not just keep going? Wouldn’t you rather have an entire day off running than quit 2 minutes early every time?
Now take a long, hard, look at WHY you are quitting so often. What excuses are you making, and how can you do something to make those excuses not valid anymore? Use your rational, pre-run, motivated self to get rid of all of the excuses that your tired, during-run self will try to come up with. Turn off your phone. Charge your ipod. If it’s hot inside turn on the fan before you even start. If it’s cold outside purchase cold-weather running gear so that you can’t use that as an excuse to stop early. Etc. etc.
There’s the all-too-familiar excuse of, “I’m bored.” If you find that you are quitting early because you are bored then you should try to switch up your workout to make it more interesting. First, vary the time, distance, incline, and intensity of each of your workouts. If you run, say, 20 minutes 3 times a week for 10 years straight, not only will you be bored to death but you’ll still gain weight because your body won’t be challenged and so your metabolism won’t really increase. But if you run 20 minutes one time, then 30 minutes uphill, then 40 minutes easy, then 25 with some intervals, etc etc…not only will your metabolism be getting kicked into gear, but you won’t be as bored at every workout because you will constantly be tackling new and different challenges. And trust me, after doing 20 minutes of intense hills, running for 30 minutes straight on flat ground the next time will feel like a dream.
If you are a treadmill runner you could also try running outside every so often. Even if you hate it, you won’t quit from boredom, and the change will boost your metabolism. Map out a route that is a little more than you usually run and pick a landmark as your finish line. I find that I am less likely to quit early if I have a physical goal instead of running by the clock. You could also try adding new music to your ipod so that you are actually excited to hear it while you are running instead of being bored with the same old songs again. Put your favorite song at the end, past the time that you usually stop running. If you watch TV while running on the treadmill, run during your FAVORITE show. I’m talking, don’t miss a single episode, ever. Run slow enough that you can still pay attention to the show, but make a rule that if you stop running before the show is over you can never watch the part you miss later.
If your excuse is, ”I’ll just do more tomorrow instead,” please acknowledge right now that you are telling yourself a bold-faced lie. Tomorrow will be no different from today. If you quit today you will quit tomorrow. It will never end. And if you keep it up, your motivation is going to get less and less and before you know it your metabolism is going to follow suit. And one day you won’t even run anymore.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…running is 90% mental strength, 10% physical. If you are finding that your mind is the one that is failing you by telling you it’s okay to quit early, maybe you should take a step back and focus on training your mind instead of your body right now. Stop focusing on speed or distance or time. Instead make a specific running schedule at the beginning of the week AND STICK TO IT. For example, “Monday-630pm-30 minute run on treadmill, Weds-8pm-20 minute intervals of 1 min sprint, 2 min jog, Fri-6pm-20 minutes of hill program on treadmill, Sun-11am-3 mile run outside, from my mailbox to the Smith’s mailbox and back to my mailbox.” Your only goal for that week is to run when you say you will run, for the amount of time that you allotted, no less.
It does not matter how slow you go so long as you do not stop.
-Tumblr default quote, Wisdom of Confucius
Another tactic is to start thinking this: “If I do it today, I don’t have to do it tomorrow.” This was my #1 motivating thought at the beginning, and actually still is today. My reward for running was not running! Before you run, set a goal for yourself. Say you usually run 3 miles (or however many minutes you usually do). Tell yourself that if you run 4 miles today, you can take tomorrow off. But if you quit before 4 then you have to start all over tomorrow and run 4 again. This way the reward (a guilt-free day off) is so much better than the consequence for quitting, that even your exhausted self will recognize the benefit of just running those extra minutes. Of course once my day off came I would always remind myself again, “If I just run today I can take tomorrow off instead,” which motivated me to actually continue to run most days.
I am at the point now where I rarely know how long I will be out running for…all I know is that I will be running for at least X minutes or miles, but 75% of the time I go longer. You can get there, but only if you WANT to, and only if you focus on training your mind to think that quitting is unacceptable. I know you want this…that’s why you run! So take some time to train your mind out of those excuses, and before you know it you will run to your goal every single time.