Switching Gears — Turn a Stale Run into a Better Run

My last few runs I was feeling flat. Just sluggish; you know the feeling, like you can’t exactly pinpoint why you’re running a particular pace and it’s feeling a lot harder than it should.

I was bemoaning this (what, me complain?!?! I try to not make it a habit but after a few junky runs my mood starts to swing harder than a menopausal woman going through hot flashes) to one of my best friends. Thankfully said friend is also a genius, and is savvy on all things bodily related, “You’re just stuck in one gear and have to jolt yourself out of it.”

mad dog

That was how I was feeling on some of those runs...

What did Doctor Al prescribe? Adding in some pick-ups through the course of my regular run. I know what you’re thinking, “Wait, but I’m already feeling tired and in a funk just going steady on my run, so now I’m supposed to try and go faster, and that somehow is going to make me feel better? Umm…thanks but no thanks.”

But before you discount this, let me break it down for you. Running is a very repetitive action, I mean unless you’re dodging a bullet or stray dog, you’re pretty much just moving forward and doing the same thing mile after mile. Your body, after years of this, will basically build up a muscle memory and you could pretty much run on autopilot.

The thing is, is that sometimes, neurologically, you can get stuck in an autopilot rut. If you’re not changing up paces or speeds, such as the case with just a regular, steady run, you can get stuck in one gear.

That gear can leave you feeling stale. To break out of that you have to shock the muscles with a different gait, pace, a shock to the system that wakes them up. Even just a short burst at a different speed can do it; try doing a stride of about 100 meters or 30 seconds and then settle back. I’ll bet that when you do return to the first pace it will feel a little better, your legs a bit fresher.

I’ve been testing it out, I did it today and on Sunday for my long run; in the middle of my run I did 12 x 30 second pick-ups with a little over a minute between them. Here’s how I felt: first four miles felt wonky and just flat, the first few pick-ups I felt like I was hardly moving very fast, but by the last ones I was having fun and, what, was that a turnover I felt?! The last miles of my run after the strides I was able to go faster than the first ones and I felt better doing them.

sugar cookie running

Think of chasing a giant cookie, that'll make you want to dash for a bit! 🙂

It sometimes just takes a shock to the system to switch you out of one gear and into the next. If you’re in a building or base phase, or have a couple days between hard workouts, try interjecting some pick-ups on your steady runs. You don’t have to do any certain number, just a few can do the trick. The fun thing is that they are totally unstructured and you can play around with it, just go harder for the sake of it, pick an ambiguous distance, and then just enjoy the run.

1) Have you tried switching gears to liven up dead legs?

2) What other suggestions do you have for runs where you’re just feeling flat?

3) Winter is here, I almost got blown away out there today, how do you handle winter weather?
Thankfully I’m in CA and even our winter weather is weenie weather to most of the US!

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9 thoughts on “Switching Gears — Turn a Stale Run into a Better Run

  1. I’ve been adding pick ups into my runs as well. I find that I get through the miles without feeling quite as bored. Also it’s helping to inspire me to increase my mileage again, something I am struggling with a little 🙂
    Well, I can’t complain about the winter weather – we are set for a long hot summer here in Australia 🙂

    • ahhh, u aussies get the summer for our winter. 🙂

      so funny now that it seems everyone is on the pick-up wagon…i guess we are the cool people…hehe. 🙂 i agree, totally busts the boredom, and look at u logging the miles again like a champ. don’t worry, sometimes getting back in the groove takes a bit, but u fall right back in there after just a quick bit! keep it up, and send me some of those muffins! 🙂

  2. so i saw the title of this post last night but then saved it for this morning to read. however, it really had me thinking on my way to the gym this morning. i have been running the same boring pace for MONTHS. often because i am scared to switch it up…like go faster, run more hills, etc etc etc. I always talk myself out of it. plus my boring pace has felt TOUGH on the TM lately. This morning was no different…the first 2 miles of boring pace felt so hard. so i almost talked myself out of switching it up. but then i did. and that part actually felt better and more exhilarating than my warm-up or cool down. i was so grateful and really have been pushing myself to try new things: routes, speeds, hills, etc during my runs lately. it has me looking forward to running again which i am happy about. thanks for this post!

    • i am so proud of all the ‘stretches’ u’ve put urself thru lately, u’ve been tackling challenges and that is the best way to live life and improve in things…u inspire me, girl! 🙂 and ya, isn’t it crazy how the pick-up portion feels better than the rest of the run, plus it certainly helps the time pass by…especially on a treadmill! 🙂 keep up the great work and looking forward to see the next feat u accomplish! 🙂

  3. This is kind of conincidental because, on my last long run (about a week and a half ago but seems like years ago), I actually tried this. I read somewhere that you use different muscles when you sprint than on the long steady run. The article suggested speeding up when your legs felt dead to give those muscles a break. Although it went against every instinct, I tried it and it actually helped a lot! My legs definitely rebelled at first, but, when I returned to the slower pace, it felt much better.

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