By Michael Krueger
When I finally crawled out of bed this morning to run, the only thought that seemed to loop through my head was, “I don’t want to run.” It wasn’t that I was ill, or that it was too cold, or that it was too wet, or anything like that. I just didn’t feel like going out and running.
This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I turn into a petulant toddler. I get very cranky, and it can adversely affect my whole day. I’ve been running for a long time, and I guess I figure I should be pass throwing a hissy fit just because I don’t want to run, but that’s not the way it is.
Of course, being me, I ran anyway. What do you do when you “just don’t wanna”?
Why Do I Do This?
I know full well that unless I’m ill or injured, the roads are icy, or thunder is rumbling, I will get out for my run. It’s part habit, part guilt, part discipline, but mostly it’s just a fact. This doesn’t stop me from being a pain in the butt–moping around, dragging my feet, and finding other things to do that will “just take a minute.” These stall tactics don’t prevent me from running; they just make it take longer and throw off my schedule–very productive behavior on my part.
Maybe it’s because I’m bored. This can happen to anyone—long-term exercisers and those brand new to the game. It all depends on your personality. I can usually stick to what my wife calls “a very dull routine.” I work out at the same times, same places, and same program and have no problem with it. Although I will admit that sometimes the thought of running the same route at the same pace can be soul crushing.
It might be because I’m tired. To me, that isn’t the same as being ill. Tired can be in my body, my head, or my spirit. I may be getting enough sleep and still feel tired, while other times I know I’m sleep deprived and do just fine. More often than not, my fatigue is of the mental/emotional kind. Social and family obligations can knock me down much quicker than two-a-day workouts can.
It can also be the change of seasons. This is an odd one, but I’ve noticed while reviewing years of logs that I will go through some sort of a training funk whenever the seasons change. It doesn’t matter if it’s summer to fall, fall to winter, winter to spring, or spring to summer. There’s something about transitions that mess me up. You’d think that winter to spring would be a time of excitement and exhilaration for an exclusively outdoor runner, but you would be wrong. Spring is by far the most difficult time for me, so my reaction this morning should’ve been expected.
Another more recent development in the “reasons for not wanting to run department” is an occasional feeling of futility. No matter how hard I work, I’m getting older and slower, and I don’t like it one bit. Yes, I know, a mentally healthy individual (of a certain age) should expect and accept this inevitability, but I’m not always so sure I fall into that category, and no matter what it’s still difficult.
On most days, I will go out and put in my planned, quality workout, although on occasion I will slip in the world of “junk miles.” Junk miles are those runs where I scrap my goal and do nothing other than put in that days required miles so there isn’t a blank spot in my log. Those junk mileage days are the worst. They are much more difficult than hill repeats, sprint intervals, or tempo runs, because they seem punitive, something I just have to do, and simply have no good purpose. They also throw off my training program, which just makes it all worse.
At the end of a junk run, I feel no high and no sense of accomplishment; I just feel tired. Well, not just tired, I’m disappointed in myself as well. I could’ve done better and I know it. Now I’ll just have to live with it until the next run where perhaps I can redeem myself. Maybe that’s what those junk runs are for, to get my head back in the game.
So this morning, despite all the foot dragging, rationalizations, and seemingly “good” reasons for not running, once I got out I actually ran quite well. My warm-up lap around the park was good, then I hit all my interval marks, pushed up the hills, and had a great finishing kick that left me with my quads on fire and gasping for breath; yeah, that’s my definition of a good run.
So What’s Your Reason?
Anytime you find yourself lacking enthusiasm for your workout, the first thing to do is make sure you aren’t really ill or injured. Never push through actual physical issues, because that will catch up to you and leave you on the sidelines watching instead of doing.
I’ll go back to my standard advice and tell you to review your log, looking for patterns. Don’t only look for negatives either. It’s often more helpful to examine the periods when you were on top of your game. Look for the good workouts and try to remember what was going on in your life. It’s easy to recall the days when problems abound and everything you did was a chore, but the good days don’t seem to stick in the memory as well. When you find an extraordinarily good workout (or streak of workouts) in your log, try to recall what you were doing and how you were thinking. Looking at your life when you performed like a champion and everything went right can give you some real insights into your training as well as what’s going on in your head.
When people are honest with themselves, they can usually track their bad days back to inadequate sleep, poor nutrition, and relationship issues. For firefighters, these three are usually right at the top of the list. A shift without sleep or a busy day fueled by sugar, fat, and caffeine is a great way to mess up your metabolism for a couple days or even longer. An emotionally draining shift or an issue with your significant other can put your head in a very bad place indeed; and your workout/motivation can be the “canary in the coal mine” that brings it all to the fore.
What to Do?
Honest self-evaluation is the key here. Knowing what’s behind your funk is the primary way to effectively address it. Pretending it doesn’t exist won’t do it, especially if it is a problem that isn’t going to go away on its own.
If it’s sleep you need, then get it. If you nutrition is in the dumpster, improve it. If you relationships are suffering, effectively talk to those involved and get professional help if needed.
If it’s just a temporary thing that’s got you down, that’s another thing. The cure for that is to quit feeling sorry for yourself, get out, and “crank your workout up to eleven.”
Understanding why you’re feeling like you do and getting the physical, spiritual, and emotional sustenance you need to keep going will turn those junk days into performance days to remember.
Michael Krueger is an NSCA-certified personal trainer. He got his start in fitness training while serving in the United States Coast Guard. He works with firefighters and others in and around Madison, Wisconsin. He is available to fire departments, civic organizations, and athletic teams for training, consulting, and speaking engagements. He has published numerous articles on fitness, health, and the mind-body connection and was a featured speaker at the IAFC’s FRI 2009 Health Day in Dallas, Texas. E-mail him at MKPTLLC@gmail.com.