Running motivation - 5 tips to keep your training on track this winter

Running motivation tips for marathon & ultra runners

We’re already half way through January and training should be well under way for those spring races (how are those running resolutions btw?). But with the lack of light and cold weather, being back at work and all the other day-to-day must-do’s it can be easy to let your training slip. Here’s 5 simple ways to stay motivated this winter:

1. Run new places – see new things

It’s maybe unusual to be thinking like this when we’re in the middle of a British winter. But I don’t think it’s the exclusive territory of lighter nights and warmer weather. There are some beautiful places to see maybe just lurking around the corner or by taking a bit of risk and heading somewhere you’ve never been before or perhaps haven’t seen in winter.

As we get stuck into training early in the year we’re all guilty of treading many of the same routes, again and again and again. Whilst from a training perspective repetition is a key part of any structured plan it doesn’t mean you can’t find new routes. You don’t want to get to the point you’re starting to dread going back out for the next run. So why not take a little time to do a bit of research, find some new paths and plan something exciting for the weekend.

It’s easy to take the safe option, you know exactly where you’re going, how far it is, when you’ll hit the tough climbs and how long it’ll take. But where’s the joy in that? We don’t run trails just to get fitter and faster, we do it because we want to see new places and maybe take some inspiration from new surroundings. The more inspired you feel, the more you’ll run and the greater the fitness benefits. Training doesn’t always have to feel like training.

 The sun rising over Eriskay, Scotland - December 2017 #OnTheEdge

The sun rising over Eriskay, Scotland - December 2017 #OnTheEdge

2. Run with friends

Marathon and ultra training inevitably means a long time on your feet and more often than not, running on your own. For me, that can be a good thing but at times knowing that I’ll be spending a whole day running with a friend or sharing some trails with like-minded souls helps me spring out of bed early on a Saturday morning.

As well as maybe picking up some tips or advice, for some reason I forget about the distances involved, I stop checking my watch and just enjoy the chat and sharing the experiences of whatever is around the next corner.

For marathon and ultra in particular it can also benefit your training if you're running with people at your level (or stronger than you). You might be more likely to run a little harder and be less inclined to cut the run short or take too many walking breaks on long ascents. 

3. Don't run with friends

Contradiction right? But sometimes you just need to get your own training done. That's completing the sessions you (or your coach) has set - the right distance, time, intensity or effort, and it can be easier to make excuses with someone else around who will inevitably be on another plan and have very different training needs and racing goals. You have to take control of your own training. Remember in a race, you'll be on your own too, so take some time to be comfortable talking to yourself!

4. Structure and track your training

By now you’re probably already clear on the races you’ll run in the first half of the year. So your training should build to those events, peaking before the race itself then ensuring you’ve had the right balance of rest and recovery before heading for the start line.

Running at the same old pace on every training session isn’t the most effective way to improve your running fitness. And after weeks of it, it can also leave you a little stale and bored.  Any decent plan will include sessions at a range of intensities, from short, sharp interval sessions, to tempo runs and longer, easier paced and recovery runs.

Every session you do should have a purpose. As well as providing enough training stimulus as part of your overall plan, it also means you’re clear about what you’re trying to achieve on each run (and remember it isn’t always about running quicker!). Setting smaller goals and monitoring progress helps to keep interest levels high and you motivated enough to complete each session.

Tracking progress is also a great motivator so when your plans are in place, take a note of each session afterwards or use the free tools that might be available to you, like Strava, Suunto Moves Count, Garmin Connect or good old-fashioned pen and paper!

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5. Accept that it's not easy and quit with the excuses

I shared something I read recently with the athletes I coach. Now motivation generally isn't an issue with anyone I work with but as you get more involved in the ultra running scene, you can become somewhat desensitised to the distances involved and effort required. The story was about a guy who trained hard to climb Everest. This was his dream. He was super-fit and ready for it. But what he hadn't prepared for was being 'on the mountain.' The thin air makes it difficult even for the fittest to breathe normally. At base camp he complained continually about it - "I am conditioned, I should be able to breathe."

The experienced climbers around him reminded him that this was normal being on the mountain and it only got worse the higher they climbed. "If you wake up in the morning feeling shit when you're on the mountain, it's a good day," he was assured, but he continued to complain. 

He convinced himself that the breathlessness was a sign of a mysterious mountain illness until he was finally told:  

Listen! We’re on Everest. It’s a high mountain. There is no air. If you want more air climb a smaller f*cking mountain.

A reminder to us all that what we do is hard. And if you really want to push on, progress and reach higher peaks, then you can't escape the discomfort or wallow in the set-backs. If you don't truly want to ascend then no-one can do it for you - so ask yourself how much you want it.

So, in summary, get yourself organised, put a couple of easy things in place to make your training more enjoyable and ensure your marathon and ultra running motivation stays high well beyond January.

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Who is Paul Giblin? Find out more