Many runners put a fair amount of planning into weekend long runs. But with less time and energy during the week, planning our shorter mid-week runs can often be an afterthought.
You likely head out the door at the same time each day and run the same route, passing the same houses and trees and probably the same people, too.
As the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with maintaining a routine when it involves a positive endeavor such as running.
But what if shaking up that routine a little bit would keep you more focused during your runs, make them more enjoyable, and maybe make you a better runner?
If you think you’re in a running rut and are curious about making some changes,
In this article, we will talk about:
- Why Runners Fall Into a Running Rut
- The Downsides of Being In a Running Rut
- The Benefits of Changing Your Routine
- 4 Ideas For Changing Your Routine
Let’s jump in!
Why Runners Fall Into A Running Rut
According to Run Society contributor Vicky Lauren, Ph.D. – a holistic life coach with a doctorate in Exercise, Nutrition, and Health – we are prone to running the same route at the same time because, as with any routine, doing so is predictable and reassuring.
If you’ve developed the routine of running at 6 a.m. every day before work, for example, you don’t have to spend time thinking about or planning your run. You just get up, put on your running shoes, and run your route, basically on autopilot.
So, as a means to developing and establishing a regular running habit, routines can certainly be helpful.
As Lauren points out, however, there are downsides to sticking to a routine, as both the mind and body need variety.
The Downsides of a Running Routine
From a physical standpoint, running the same route over and over means you are working the same muscles repeatedly, which may lead to injuries, imbalance, and a reduced ability to handle different terrain.
From a mental standpoint, running the same familiar path may result in disengagement from the running experience as well as your surroundings.
This makes it less likely you’ll be focused and “in the moment” during your run. While some “tuning out” (or dissociation) may be nice from time to time, the lack of engagement may make your runs less satisfying.
Running the same route repeatedly can also lead to boredom, which may ultimately lead you to stop running altogether.
The Benefits of Changing Your Routine
There are so many benefits of mixing up your mid-week runs. Here’s our favorite:
#1: Physical Improvement
Changing your routine can help ensure you’re using different muscle groups and paying more attention to your body as you’re running, which will help you become a more well-rounded runner and possibly ward off injury.
#2: Better Engagement
Changing your routine can also keep you more engaged mentally, as you cannot tune out when you’re navigating a new route, and being more mindful will likely make your runs more exciting and satisfying.
4 Ideas For Mixing Up your Mid-week Runs
If you realize you’ve dug yourself into a bit of a running rut during your shorter weekday runs and would like to shake them up a bit, consider the following suggestions:
#1: Change Your Schedule
Changing when you run is a great way to shake yourself out of a running rut. So, if you typically run at sunrise before work, try running at noon during your lunch hour or in the evening after your workday is over.
Plus, morning, noon and night runs each pose their unique benefits:
- For many runners, a pre-work run starts the day on a positive note and makes the workday go more smoothly.
- A mid-day run can provide a welcome break in the day and ward off afternoon sleepiness.
- An evening run can help mark the end of the workday and burn through any lingering work-related frustrations.
So if you only run at one particular time of day, consider trying other times.
You may find you enjoy the benefits of running at different times. You may find running at sunset is even more satisfying than running at sunrise, that running in the dark is surprisingly peaceful, or that running right before going to bed actually helps you sleep better.
You may also notice that even if you’re running the same route, the look and energy of your neighborhood varies depending on the time of day.
The point is to experiment and discover new ways to enjoy the same route.
#2: Change Your Technology
If you typically run with a GPS watch and check it frequently throughout your run, try leaving it at home and covering your miles “naked.”
Once focusing on your watch is no longer an option, you may take more notice of your surroundings and feel more relaxed.
Also, if you typically run with headphones and listen to music, podcasts, or audiobooks, try running with nothing in your ears.
Even if you run the same route, if you run it without headphones, you are likely to experience your run differently.
You may notice birds singing, dogs barking, cars going by, people laughing, or a “good morning” from someone you pass.
You will also likely be more aware of your breathing and the sound of your feet hitting the ground, which may help you make any necessary adjustments to your running form and pace.
Conversely, as the idea is to shake up your current routine, if you don’t typically run with a watch or headphones, give them a try.
Knowing your pace, or other data, may help you assess your fitness, set goals, and give your shorter weekday runs a new focus. You may also discover that listening to music helps keep you going.
#3: Change Your Company
a) Add A Running Buddy
If you typically run alone, try running with someone occasionally.
Maybe you have a running friend who is willing to meet you for a mid-week run. Or maybe you’ve noticed a neighbor running. Don’t be afraid to ask if they’d like to run with you.
If you have a dog who likes to run or know someone with a dog who likes to run, try your run with a four-legged friend. You will see your normal running route in a new light when you share your run with a dog.
b) Join A Running Club
Another option is to join a local running club.
These clubs frequently schedule not only a long weekend run, but one or two shorter weekday runs, and provide an excellent opportunity to shake up your routine with new routes and new faces.
Try searching for your local running group. Stores that sell running shoes or apparel also often organize weekly runs, which are typically described on their website, and are worth checking out as well.
#4: Change Your Route
Instead of covering the same ground every day, try exploring new territory.
By doing so, you’ll not only keep yourself more engaged during your runs, but you may make serendipitous discoveries about your neighborhood.
a) Go A Different Direction
Perhaps the simplest way to shake up your routine a bit is to simply head in a different direction.
If you usually run a clockwise route, try running it counter-clockwise. Even if you cover the same path, you may be amazed at how different things look and feel when experiencing them from the opposite direction.
If you typically leave your house and turn left for an out-and-back route, try heading right instead.
b) Try The Roads Less Traveled
When running, we tend to instinctively stick to the more well-traveled roads and pathways, but by doing so, we miss discovering the treasures of the quieter paths and side streets.
So, the next time you’re out running your usual route, head down one of the less-traveled streets you typically pass by. You never know what you might find once you deviate from your main route.
By taking quieter side streets, I have made many delightful discoveries, including several little “leave one, take one” libraries, old stairs going up a hill, and a house with a container of dog treats attached to its fence for passing canine friends.
Because you are running on roads that are new to you, you will be more aware of your surroundings and more likely to notice things that may make you smile.
c) Forge New Paths
You can take this idea a step further. Instead of just seeking out the less-traveled, quieter side streets, try getting off the pavement entirely.
No matter where I have lived, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to discover runnable routes nearby, either behind houses, schools, or commercial areas, along hill ridges, next to streams, or through copses.
Running along these “secret” pathways feels a little rebellious and can be quite exhilarating, and with just a little bit of nerve and a sense of adventure, there are plenty of “off-road” options waiting to be discovered.
c) Keep Going
If your typical weekday runs involve, say, running out two miles and then turning around and running back home, consider not turning around at the halfway point and just continuing for another two miles.
You’ll get to cover two miles of new territory and avoid the tedium of running back over the same two miles you just ran.
Getting home once your run ends four miles away will involve a little planning, but is normally easily sorted by arranging for someone to pick you up, using public transportation, or calling Uber or Lyft.
d) Get Dropped Off
Another option is to flip this idea around, and instead of running from your house, get dropped off somewhere and run home.
Perhaps someone in your house is willing to drop you off four miles away (or however many miles you’d like to run). Or, again, you can try public transportation or a rideshare option.
I’ve had good luck simply taking a local bus and getting off at a stop several miles away, and then running home.
This method has the added benefit of making it impossible to cut your run short.
e) Drive Somewhere New
If you prefer to be self-sufficient with transportation, just drive yourself somewhere new. (Bonus points for biking instead!)
You don’t have to go far for a change of scenery. Try an adjacent neighborhood or even just a new section of your neighborhood. Park somewhere and run your miles.
If you’re worried about getting lost, just do a simple out and back in your new environs, or, once you’ve run half your planned miles, use a map app to help navigate your way back to your car (or bike).
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is, if your weekday runs have become routine and, frankly, a bit boring, consider making some changes using the ideas in this article as a jumping-off point.
A few simple tweaks may be just what you need – and you’ll likely see some physical and mental improvements as you do so.
Struggling to keep motivated?
For ideas to keep you motivated, check out more ways to stay engaged with your running!