Overcoming Running Obstacles

I love visiting my family in Pennsylvania, but it is not so good for my running. I leave behind my usual routine, running buddies, and routes and am faced with uneven sidewalks, pedestrian un-friendly urban planning, and lots of holiday treats. I don’t mind scaling back my training during the holidays, but I try to run at least a few miles a day while I’m out of town. Here’s how I get myself out the door:

Shame- After lolling around in spandex all day and talking about how much I needed to do my run, a well-meaning family member said:

“Megan, you either need to go for a run or get a shower. You’ve been wearing running clothes for 48 hrs straight.”

Nothin’ like being told you kinda smell to get you out the door.

Guilt- I try to keep the following ratio: miles run > bowls of ice cream eaten

Sometimes this works out, but when faced with a freezer like this:

it’s a little tough. Nevertheless, running makes me feel like I’m doing something to counteract my diabetes-inducing love for dessert.

Bribery- One of my favorite ways to get myself to do a workout or long run is to promise myself something fun at the end. If I go to the YMCA to do a tempo run, I can stop at the Starbucks next door. Or, I’ll reward a long run with chocolate chip pancakes and lots of maple syrup. I’m pretty sure most healthy eating websites would tell me not to do this, but you gotta do whatever works, you know?

Begging/Pleading- Faced with a week of cold, windy, solo runs, I consulted my Facebook contacts and messaged just about everyone and anyone I’ve ever run with. Former teammates, ex-boyfriends, acquaintances, etc. “Oh hai…we haven’t spoken in years, but do you wanna run with me? PLEASE.” If I make a running date, it means the miles will get done.

Time Constraints- Another one of my “tricks” is to put something yummy in the oven and then go for a run, finishing just as it’s done baking. On Monday, I whipped up a variation of Smitten Kitchen’s baked macaroni and cheese and then hit the roads while it baked. I knew I wouldn’t have time for more than 3 miles, so the run seemed manageable. The more indulgent and ridiculous the recipe, the better! Heh, kidding. Sort of.

In all seriousness, I really do enjoy running, but I’m only human and sometimes I need an extra kick in the butt to get me out the door.

How do you get yourself out for a run when circumstances are not ideal?

p.s. check out this interesting NY Times article on “dead butt” syndrome a.k.a. weak gluteus muscles in runners. Very interesting!

  • Katie

    Thank you SO much for posting this! I was getting worried I was completely losing all motivation to train.. lonely miles in sub zero temps is never fun! The thought of losing all my well earned improvement over the past few months, the wrath of my coach when I go back to university and putting myself in for races whilst home all will (hopefully) do the trick!

    Oh and as bad as it probably sounds, food/Starbucls incentives always give me an extra push..
    Run = Devouring of home made Cake… standard.

  • I’ll admit that having a running coach has given me motivation to go out in worse conditions this year than I ever thought imaginable. I counted two Sundays ago as my worst run ever because of 50 mph wind gusts and below zero temps. But, freedom for the rest of my day is usually my mind set. I go to Pilates at night a couple times a week, but if I roll my butt out of bed and get my run in first thing, it’s off my mind for the rest of the day.

    Knowing that helps a lot, especially when it’s busy in the holidays– then I’m not choosing between time with friends/family and a run 🙂

  • Noticing that the jeans that usually make me look skinny aren’t so easy to put on…

  • I make myself do it! I get changed, load up my mp3 player and tell myself I will only go for 20 minutes. By that time, even if it is so cold outside I will be a bit warmer and will think, well, I am out here now, I will need a shower when I get home so I may as well make the most of it and run further. I, like you, also bribe myself with some nice food- “If I run now, I can have a cookie with my cup of tea later”. Mostly it works!

  • i literally JUST finished reading that article before popping over here! and i love how you try to keep that miles to ice cream ratio skewed toward the miles. i just try to keep it even 😉

    i guess that i get my butt out the door just knowing that, when dealing with my family, it’s always nice to get a good endorphin buzz. and then another kind of buzz later to keep those good vibes going 😉

  • Hehe…you said butt…
    I’ll be honest and say two main things motivate me to run when I’m at home: the fact that I’m eating more, and the fact that it’s easier to be around my family once I’ve gotten some aggression out via running. We all exercise early in the morning in my house, so it’s a bit of a family affair.

  • Joe

    Haha, I love your Mom’s freezer. It totally looks like my Mom’s.
    Me: Do we really need 5 half gallons of ice cream?
    Mom: They were on sale this week!

  • Ally

    Damn girl, thats a lot of icecream. Im jealous

  • Can I come live with your family? That freezer is my idea of HEAVEN.

    I really like the baking and running during idea… I just worry that my apartment will burn down. Or, more likely, the smoke alarm will go off even though everything is fine (this happens about 50% of the time I turn my oven on). The solution when I’m home is to be oh-so-safe and wrap a towel around the smoke detector to prevent it from detecting smoke, but if I weren’t home, I probably wouldn’t go with this option. Then again, if I don’t, the neighbors would probably call the fire department.

    In terms of getting myself motivated, 99% of my outdoor runs are marathons, so I get motivated by bragging rights and a medal at the end. As for my indoor runs, 99% of those are on the elliptical, where I can watch downloaded TV shows on my phone (and generally don’t allow myself to watch them unless I’m working out during them). Survivor season finale = motivation.

  • Its hard especially in the winter to kick myself out the door to get some miles behind me. Even in NC (way different from snowy upstate NY where I came from) I am such a baby when it comes to the cold!

    I usually promise myself a hot cup of coffee when I go out in cold weather 🙂

  • i like that your family is so serious about ice cream. it’s kind of awesome.

    i used to struggle getting myself to run when i spent holidays in the catskills with my parents. it’s just so darn cold. i agree with sarah that it’s a great coping mechanism (i.e. family time = omgiwannadie sometimes) so that’s motivation enough. and it’s nice to get moving, because when i’m not walking around outside as i do in the city i get a wee bit stir crazy.

    um, that mac and cheese looks bitchin’. what day are you skipping work so we can have a p-slope date?!

  • How do you get yourself out for a run when circumstances are not ideal?
    -Just keep reminding yourself on an upcoming race and the need to stay fit

    Btw- your freezer pic is unreal. the most ice cream 1/2 gallons i had were two; you doubled that!

  • Haha I totally bribe myself too! Nothing wrong with that 🙂
    I also tend to slip out of my routine when I go home – I’m going home tomorrow and this year I am promising myself to get in my workouts first thing in the morning (just like I do every day in Boston!) so that I don’t need to think about it or miss out on things like family time later in the day.

  • omg. how many ice cream flavors does your family have!? that is legitimately awesome.

    this post made me laugh (silently, to myself, at my work desk). i agree that going home can be demotivating, especially in this weather. after a couple days in the suburbs though (or hours, depending), i get *really* stir crazy and need to just move. and i always tell myself how much warmer i’ll be once i do get moving.

    hurry up and come backkkkkk! 🙂

  • That ice cream is major. This is why i run as soon as I get up in the a.m. – no time to think about not doing it or lollygagging! Bribery of coming home to a delicious breakfast helps on the harder days 🙂

  • What keeps me at it is the documented fact that if I don’t run/sweat, I’ll just be a fidgety crankypants all darn day. Not to mention that Christmas cookies taste so much better right after a run…

  • Elizabeth

    Let me know if you run near Pittsburgh! I love your column and would be honored to share a run 🙂

  • I love the put something in the oven trick, it definitely helps motivate me to get out for a few more miles in the afternoon.

    I think that for your level of training a little bribery and indulgence is warranted. From what I gather during your hard training times, you are really healthy and motivated, so it is good to give yourself a bit of a mental break from the rigidity. I know for me that after a particularly big race or hard training block, I get one thing stuck in my head to indulge in immediately post race (usually something I can’t eat during training like gluten or dairy). I can’t tell you how many ultras I have finished thinking only about cupcakes. You are right, even as someone who loves to run, it takes other methods of motivation to get out the door and get it done. Whatever that motivation is, you are getting out there and that’s what counts.

  • I’m in the suburbs of Phoenix this week and just attempted my first run here. I intended to go for an hour but cut it short to less than half. It’s balmy. And BORING. One can only admire so many lakes and cacti.

  • Ah, brilliant!

    The running date totally works for me – if i can’t weasel my way out of it, all the better!

  • that ice cream stash is my utopia.

    for. real.