Motivation for Running All Year Long (and Training for that Marathon)

In Ottawa, we’re fortunate to have 190km of paved running paths winding across the region, in addition to the trails in Gatineau Park. But just because there is great running right at our doorstep, it doesn’t mean that it’s always easy to get out the door. Between work, family commitments and freezing winter weather, there are lots of things that can get in the way of training for that big race this spring.

Here are some ways to motivate yourself to train and to get the most physical and mental health from your training!

1. Set realistic goals.

If you know you can commit to running 3 times a week then do what you can to be the best 3-day a week runner you can be and don’t think about what could happen if you trained 5 days a week like your friend. Manage your expectations, be realistic and if you can add more days to your training schedule, they become a bonus and for your next goal race. You can always change up your schedule. If life changes and allows you to train a little more and revise your goals.

2. Set short and long term goals.

Pick some races that will help you gauge your fitness leading up to your “A” goal race. For example, if you are training for the Tartan Ottawa International Marathon in May, you might want to register for a 10K race in March and a 21.1k in April to see where your fitness is. These races will also give you a better idea what pace group you should be training with and give you an opportunity to rehearse your pre-race and race day routines. This will give you added confidence when you line up in May for your goal race.

For the marathoners, Around the Bay’s 30K in March is perfect for more experienced racers, your finish time will give you a pretty good gauge of what you can expect on race day in May once you peak and taper your training.

3. Fit it in.

If you have kids, you are likely the coach/driver/cheering section while the kids are on the soccer pitch or hockey rink. Encouraging your kids to be active is important, but it doesn’t mean you can’t use that time to fit in some of your own training. Bring a yoga mat or your running shoes and do a workout using the time you would otherwise be sitting and drinking coffee in the stands. You don’t have to miss the whole game or practice. Even a short intense workout will add to your fitness. And you can encourage other parents to join in.

4. Get out the door.

Sometimes, like when we reach –38 with wind chill, you simply don’t want to run outside. But you can’t let the thermometer totally scare you off. Get ready, go out and give yourself 10 minutes to decide if you want to continue or not. Usually the hardest part is getting out the door. Otherwise, try something fun as an alternative, such as spin class, yoga, cross-fit, even the treadmill—just do something instead of nothing. Remember that if you are running on the treadmill, a 2% incline will be the same effort as running outdoors.

5. Make it three, four or more.

Training with buddies is almost always better than training alone. In the winter, it’s safer to run with friends, especially if something happens like an injury or a slip. As a bonus, after your run you can go for a pint or a hot chocolate together and have a good chat about training, racing, or just life. A team environment, with support from folks who are facing the same challenges as you, can help you run through the Canadian winter!

6. Bring in the data.

Tools like GPS and heart rate (HR) are now almost universal among runners, but often are not fully used to their potential. Heart rate monitoring can be an effective way to ensure that you are running with the proper effort for your hills, speed, and long runs. HR can also help you gauge your recovery between intervals and can help you determine if you are over training (possibly anemic), sleeping properly, and maybe running too hard.

GPS is great to help you run at the prescribed pace, but instead of just relying on the GPS, challenge yourself to learn how to perceive your exertion. Quiz yourself throughout the runs, so you can learn what effort your running paces and HR will feel like. This helps you understand your body better and can help you avoid over-training and injuries.

7. Stretch it out.

The most important aspect of running that you can control is staying relaxed when you start to fatigue. Watch any video on YouTube of Usain Bolt racing at 30 miles per hour: there is absolutely NO tension in his body even under maximum effort! Yoga teaches you how to relax, but it also helps with body awareness, balance and focus. Hot yoga is great for some folks who need a bit more “bendability” from the heat, but make sure to drink lots of water!

8. Sign up for a race.

When the days get cold, remember that there are sunnier ones to come and a myriad of races to motivate your training this winter. If you really want to set your sights on spring, Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend in May has a distance for everyone, from the 2K to the full marathon. So set a goal, grab a friend or two and find ways to keep active and running all year long.

[Phil Marsh, Ottawa Running Room]