How to Learn to Love Solo Running
Health experts’ advice on social distancing is key to containing the novel coronavirus pandemic. That advice, however, means that most of us will be solo runners for weeks or months to come.
For some runners, that’s a challenge. Running with others can help you stick to your plans and get you through the minutes and kilometres of any level of training. Without that support, you might feel a little daunted at the prospect of running solo. You might even worry that you’ll get out of your normal running routine.
But there are lots of things you can focus on to make solo running feel easier and more enjoyable than you might otherwise think. It starts with learning to keep your regular training schedule and habits.
Don’t Kick the Habit
If you had been training for a big race like a marathon, now’s a good time to scale back your weekly volume and intensity and reset your focus. But this doesn’t mean stopping completely. Keeping some of your usual running habits will help maintain the gains you made during your previous training cycle.
Sticking to training habits can be hard, however, especially if you no longer have structured group sessions to join. Habits are usually set in motion by a trigger (like a reminder to join a group run), and when these triggers disappear, our actions can change, too.
One solution is to recognise other triggers that will maintain your running habits. You might go for a run at your normal training time (a trigger), even if your run is shorter than it had been. Similarly, putting your running gear on first thing in the morning (a trigger) and setting out your training shoes beside the door (a trigger) will help you keep to a regular training schedule.
Creating plans to cope with challenges will also keep you on track. It can be useful to think of this plan as having an if part and a then part. The if is the event, and the then is what you will do in response. When you feel less motivated to run solo, for example, a plan that says, “If I don’t feel like running, then I will put my shoes on and step outside before I decide” might help you get started on a run. Once we get started, we’re more likely to continue! The following strategies will also help make that solo run feel easier and more enjoyable.
If you’re able to run safely in a park, beach, or nature trail, it can improve your solo running experience. Running anywhere is a great way to improve our mental health. But recent research has also shown that exercising in natural environments further helps to reduce stress and worry, and lift our mood. Focusing on nature’s scenery and sounds also makes running feel more pleasant and enjoyable, shifting your attention away from the discomfort you might otherwise feel.
If running in nature isn’t an option, listening to music can be a great way of passing solitary training time. Music helps make running feel more pleasant, enjoyable, and less effortful. When developing your playlist, pick songs that you find motivating. Tunes that match your steps-per-minute cadence help your running rhythm. If you’re used to chatting with a running partner, podcasts can also be an excellent way to tune out, listen to some great conversation, and increase your learning at the same time. (Remember to keep safe if you have earbuds in, especially if you’re running on busy roads.)
Tune In: Pace Like a Pro
Although tuning out can take your mind off effort-related sensations, tuning in to how you feel and developing your mental skills can make solo running feel easier and benefit your performance. Noticing tension in your muscles or face, for example, and using that as a cue to relax your hands, arms, or even to smile, can improve your running economy.
Similarly, focusing periodically on your breathing or on how you feel can build your pacing skills. One of the biggest mistakes runners make in races is going too hard at the start of the race, and then eventually suffering the unpleasant consequences as the race progresses. Tuning in to how you feel can help you avoid this scenario. Noticing that your breathing is too heavy can be a cue to slow down, for example. So, rather than distracting from these sensations, using them as a source of information can avoid unpleasant race endings and benefit your performance.
Fine-tuning pacing skills will leave you better prepared when your race eventually comes around. It can also be fun to make a game of this in training. Try running a kilometre at what feels like a certain pace, (say 6 minutes / km) and check your watch only when the kilometre is complete. How close to that pace did you get? Repeating this strategy not only passes the training kms, but will also help you learn what different paces feel like and avoid going too hard at the start of your next race.
You might even find that running without a watch can help you reconnect with the fun and pleasure of running. After an intense training period in the build up to your postponed race, simply going for a run without any plan for time or distance can be a liberating experience.
Tune In: Talk Like a Pro
Another mental skill you might not focus on when running with others is your own self-talk—those things we say to ourselves in our own heads. Often, when running gets hard, like at the 32-km point of a marathon, our thoughts become negative, like, “Why am I doing this?” or “I can’t go on!” You might repeat similar things when suddenly running solo all the time.
But learning to cope with the discomfort that leads to these thoughts is important. Studies have shown that repeating more positive or motivational statements like, “You can do this” or “Stay on, don’t give up” help make running feel easier, builds your confidence, and gets you through difficult moments.
Changing your self-talk, and developing more positive and motivational statements takes practice, however. Your solo runs over the coming weeks or months can be a great time to try this. Take the following steps:
- Identify the kind of thoughts you normally have when running gets tough.
- Develop a list of motivational statements to counter those negative thoughts.
- Practice your new self-talk statements and find the ones that work best for you.
- Plan when these might be most useful for you in future.
Set It, Say It, See It
Staying committed to solo running over the next few months might be challenging. Setting some new goals that inspire you, like completing a rescheduled race, targeting a time you would like to achieve, or identifying a mental skill you want to develop between now and then, will help you regain focus.
There are also many things you can do to help stick with your goals. Telling others, like your usual running group, your family, or friends about your new race goals can help you stay committed to them. This tactic can help your motivation on days you might not feel like running. Your commitment might inspire others to reset their goals, too.
Using mental imagery to see yourself take the start line, or raise your arms as you cross the finish line, can build your commitment and help you stay motivated during the coming months. You can also use imagery to visualize yourself overcoming difficult race moments, like thoughts about quitting, using your new self-talk skills. Not only will this help your preparation, but also build your belief that you can handle any challenges that arise during your next race.
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Collectively, strategies like tuning out, improving your pacing, learning how to relax, or developing your self-talk can all help make solo running feel easier and more enjoyable to do. Not only that, refining these skills will help you feel better prepared and more confident when you eventually take to the start line for your next race. What’s not to love about that?
This article oringally appeared on runnersworld.com