Getting Out the Door

By Uta Pippig, with a special thank you to Scott Douglas and David Wright
© Betty Shepherd
© Betty Shepherd

Some days, you just cannot wait to work out. You are filled with physical and mental energy, and you almost sprint out the door in anticipation. Many times, though, getting started is tougher. You feel really tired or unmotivated, and running is the last thing you want to do. On those challenging days, it is good to remember everyone, even the best athletes in the world, feel that way on occasion. Long-time runners know that, on such days, if they can find the motivation just to get out the door and take that first magic step, the run will take care of itself. And they know they will be glad they made the effort. Here are some ideas which help me most in taking that first magic step out the door when I do not feel like working out, and maybe they can help you too.

Set a Goal

The most successful way to stay motivated is to set realistic goals. The key is picking goals that are reachable—one small step at a time. It can be disappointing to set too high a target for yourself and immediately fall short of it. But you can avoid that let-down by going slowly, step by step. Pick a goal that is fun and meaningful to you—one that is challenging but achievable.

For example, if you have been running twice a week, and decide you are going to run more frequently, start by adding one extra workout a week. Later, when you feel rested and comfortable with that routine, add a fourth day of running, and finally add a fifth day. You might be pleasantly surprised to find how smoothly you progress, how much you can enjoy it, and how easily that elusive early goal can be achieved simply by gradually increasing your runs.

…running with friends. © Michael Reger

Some people feel it is useful to keep a diary or log with information of their workouts. They find it inspirational to look back at how far they have come—step by step. A good goal is one that can be measured, such as running frequency or running a certain time for a distance, rather than simply saying vaguely that you want to run more or run faster. So being specific can help you set and achieve goals.

In addition, a good goal has a realistic chronological element to it, such as completing a 10K two months from today, or running your first 5K in three weeks’ time. Those are the kind of goals that can help provide the impetus to keep your working toward them.

When you do not feel like working out, it can be motivating to think about your goal. Visualizing yourself reaching it can give you the energy and joy you need to take that first step.

Make an Appointment

© Uta Pippig

In the same way that you schedule other parts of the day, scheduling a time to work out can help you to get going. It can be easier to take that magic step if, for example, you tell yourself you will be out of the house and running at 6:30 tomorrow morning rather than telling yourself you will run when you feel up to it. If the time comes to run and you truly can’t find the energy to start, then, if your schedule allows it, pick another time later in the day, and stick to it.

One sure way to keep your running appointment is to arrange to run with a friend. If you know your friend is counting on you, then there is no way out of it.

Remember the Past, Imagine the Future

© Take The Magic Step®

In your running career, no doubt you have had days when you didn’t feel like going out—but you did and you felt so much better afterwards.

A mature and wise runner I know told me, “I’ve lost count of the mornings when I almost turned off the alarm and went back to sleep. But I didn’t—and when I’m a few minutes into the run and I think, ‘I nearly didn’t do this today but I’m so glad I did!’” Those are the days to remember when you are having trouble getting out the door.

When it is raining or cold outside, remind yourself how happy you were the last time you ignored the weather and made the effort. Knowing and recalling how good you will feel later on can give you the excitement and energy you need.

Choose Another Workout

Sometimes when you are running the same familiar route or trail every day, you might lose the excitement and the magic of the nature that is surrounding you. This is why changing your routine a little can revitalize your training.

On the treadmill… © Tim DeFrisco

If you are used to running in flat, monotonous country, find a bridge or a nice hilly terrain and add some light up-and-downhill repeats. Or, if you are struggling on the hills around your home, try an interval workout on the local high school track. Or you might be battling winter snow and ice or the heat of the summer. Then you could run on the treadmill (“Taming the Treadmill”) at your local health club—while you are watching the weather reports or a fun show on the TV. A little imagination can work wonders. Even when conditions are good, you can gain extra motivation by treating yourself to a run someplace else, like a nice park or beautiful jogging trail you can drive to.

Sometimes, it is not the thought of working out in general that might keep you from getting out the door, but the specific run you have planned for the day. For example, you might have told yourself that today you will run for 45 minutes on a hilly course, and when it comes to making a start, that run just seems overwhelming. If that is the case, then remind yourself that it is not always necessary to stick to a schedule. One of the ingredients in my success as a runner was giving myself the latitude to change my training if I felt my body needed to. Plus, if you decide to reduce that 45-minute run to 30 minutes, once you are running, you might feel good to do 45 minutes after all. Remember, you have the option of being flexible on a tough day.

Do Something Different

© Betty Shepherd

There are other sports and activities that can help make you a better runner. Did you ever try cross-training? Taking a long bike ride, for example, not only increases your endurance but can be an ideal replacement for a long endurance run.

Swimming occasionally can be substituted for an easy and short recovery run. It is especially beneficial when you are recovering from an injury or an exhausting run. It also will help you to become accustomed to deeper breathing.

Timed deep-water running in the pool with fast and slow repeats can maintain stamina, similar to the benefit that you get from a speed-and-interval workout on the track.

Stay in Bed Without Guilt

© Betty Shepherd
© Betty Shepherd

There are some days when the best way to deal with a lack of motivation is to do nothing—to allow yourself to take the day off and not beat yourself up over the decision! Of course, you do not want these days to become the norm, but there might be a reason why you are not motivated. It is best not to wait too long to try to figure out the reason you are not motivated.

To get started, first determine what your normal pulse and temperature are upon waking when you are healthy and energized. Use these measurements as baselines to check against when you are not feeling motivated. If your pulse or temperature is noticeably higher than normal, then you might be ill or overly tired from training too hard. In this case, a day off or a light workout is probably your best choice. In case you do not feel good at all, skip your workout and check in with your physician to get some feedback on what might be going on.

If your pulse or temperature is normal but you still are not motivated, that can be related to other areas of your life. Have you been working too much lately? Do you feel uncomfortable taking time away from your family to work out? Are there problems in your life which could be impacting how you feel?

If you are feeling extraordinarily lazy and decide to allow yourself to take the day off without guilt, I hope you enjoy using the time you would have spent working out to relax and do the things that can give you back some motivation and energy.

Maybe you even might have time to examine some aspects of your life. Look for things in your work, family or personal life that might be draining you, and take action by planning ways to improve those matters. Then carry out those plans. It can be very beneficial for your future, and you will have a better chance to rededicate yourself to your fitness routine again.

I wish you good luck for your fitness and your training!

Reading Suggestions:

  1. Would You Like To Run Better? Relax!
  2. For all of you who would like to try out the beautiful sport of running, here is Uta’s 5K training schedule for our beginners.
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