How to Stay Motivated to Run Without a Race on the Calendar

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I have a little tradition that I start at the beginning of each new year. I look at the whole year ahead and plot out month by month my year in terms of running. I circle the Sundays I'll be waking up early to run a race. I count the weeks I'll need to spend training. I eagerly sign up for all my races. And I ditch my worn and well-loved training sneakers in favor of a new pair like the UA HOVR™ Machina Running Shoes ($150), to tackle all that I have ahead of me.

At the beginning of 2020, my little tradition was in full swing. My races plotted, my training mapped, and my motivation high as ever. But as the months went on, races became the last thing on my mind. The first to go was my favorite race of the year, then a marathon overseas, and most recently a local half marathon — and there will be more races that simply won't happen.

At first, it was hard to stay motivated to keep moving without my favorite races to look forward to. Without that date circled on the calendar, why stick to my schedule? But, despite my year of running looking far from what I had imagined, I realized it didn't have to come to a complete standstill. Staying hopeful and positive through my sport is crucial for me every day, but even more so now. It's my way of coping with anxiety, keeping my body strong and healthy, and turning bad days into good ones. And with these four tricks in my back pocket, I'm able to keep motivated to run — race or no race.

Embrace Recovery Time

According to Steve Stonehouse, NASM-certified personal trainer, corrective exercise specialist, performance enhancement specialist, USA Track & Field, and Director of Education at boutique running studio franchise STRIDE, there's no need to overmodify your training. Instead, focus on the underutilized components of a good running program, such as recovery, he says.

So, that's just what I'm doing. According to Stonehouse, recovery means more than just resting the body: it's focusing on proper nutrition and hydration, incorporating flexibility moves, and completing recovery runs. For me, recovery runs have come in the form of easy, half-effort runs that keep my endurance up and muscles moving, but allow me to pull back from full-out training mode.

Try New Workouts

One of my best tips for runners who are also finding themselves no longer working for that race Sunday is to allow themselves the freedom to experiment. With so many at-home exercise options, now is the ideal time to take some classes for the sheer enjoyment of it. I'm currently at the beginning of a 30-day HIIT program, and it's pushing me so far out of my exercise comfort zone in the best way. I'm working muscles I may not normally hit while running. And although these workouts were never a part of "the plan," they're keeping me strong, pushing me just as hard, and allowing me to become flexible with my approach to fitness.

Find New Ways to Connect to the Running Community

One major way to stay motivated to keep training is via the vast running world, both locally and globally. "This helps not only for the community aspect but also for accountability," explains Stonehouse. "Sometimes just knowing someone is waiting for you — or will be checking on you — helps add a little extra motivation."

Whether you're already part of a running group that's providing virtual training, are looking for a group to join (STRIDE has a Facebook group dedicated to posting daily content to get you moving), or you're like me and turning to your network of friends near and far to stay connected and passionate, the power of community — even a virtual one — is powerful. I'm utilizing the running community and planning for virtual races to help inspire my workouts, give me ideas for training programs, and just serve as a reminder that while I'm running alone, I'm not really alone.

Set New Goals

A friend of mine, whose first half marathon was canceled, told me she ran the full 13.1 miles on the date of her race and still felt so proud of herself for accomplishing her goal. That's when I realized, there's not one singular goal when it comes to running. I may not get to cross the finish line of my favorite races for a while, but I can set new goals and take pride in my effort. Perhaps I'll aim to run faster; maybe I'll even run farther than my original plan intended; maybe I'll test a new running route. So what if race day isn't the end goal anymore? There are plenty more goals to be had and more miles to log.