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How I’ll break Out of a Rut- Lets Fight the Late Winter Doldrums Together

Posted by on Mar 11, 2011 | 3 Comments

[The following post was written by Jesse Scott.  Jesse is one of the writers I recently recruited to occasionally write for BRU.  Check out his blog “In Search of Solid Ground” to read more of Jesse’s writings.]

Something I dislike doing is explicitly telling others what to do. We’re all individuals with our own wants, needs, and feelings. The best way for me to help others is by giving an example, or in most cases, a counterexample. Many things that happen in our lives are common amongst our peers and part of the human experience. Reading about how others have overcome difficulties can provide specific instruction, or simply inspire. Another outcome is seen in the form of the reader saying “remind me to not be that guy and stop complaining so much,”

One of the most common occurrences in the life of a runner ( what am I saying – a human) is boredom. Its called many things, such as “burnout,” “overtraining,” “depression,” “overcoming addiction,” the list goes on and on. it’s a phenomenon that can bring down the best of us. I’m willing to share my story, a work in progress, about how I plan to overcome rough patch in my journey as an ultra runner, a period not caused by injury or trauma, but by a rather abrupt case of apathy.

I’ll start our by explaining myself a little. For those of you who are already claim me as a friend, two things: 1) your check is in the mail, promise. 2) you know that I’m not great at being told what to do. I’ve found out that in many facets of my life, extrinsic factors seldom sedate my procrastination. I seem to(rarely) shine when I’m performing for the sake of my own desires. Grades are of little importance to me, but knowledge is the most valuable thing in the world. Medals mean very little, but improving my performance is always on my mind.

So what does one do when the ever important intrinsic motivation suddenly vanishes? This is what I had to find out.

As winter is blatantly ignoring the “wrap it up” signal, I realize that my bare feet haven’t touched dirt in nearly 6 months, with the exception, of course, of my rather gross bedroom carpet. I’m constantly clad in thick, insulated lycra tights. Two shirts need to be worn, 1 cotton undershirt and one wind/water resistant layer(my preferred number of shirts is 0). I have to remember where the hell I put my gloves several times a day. My wonderful afro is squished down, only to be revitalized by yet another shower. These are things I don’t even mind that much. Its not so much the presence of these annoyances that bother me, but rather my favorite things about running being directly replaced by them. I love the feeling of my bare feet touching the cool dirt on a morning trail run. I love the freedom of movement from wearing non-restrictive clothing(at the expense of the chiding from fellow bloggers…Peterson). The simplicity of grabbing nothing more than a pair of shorts, a handful of GUs, and the optional pair of thin-soled trail shoes is the greatest thing in the world. And all these things have been replaced by sweaty, clammy, salt-stained black tights and chafed nipples.

I’m no longer high from past race performances- they were all months ago…all 1 of them. I have no races on the horizon. My travel plans for the summer have my race scheduling on a bit of a hiatus. If my ego can weather the drought, I may even take a bit of a leave from racing and just train.

…So clearly, I’m being a downer. What am I going to do about it? I have a few ideas that seem to be working for me so far to bring me back to a mental state in which I love what I’m doing.

Focus on other ways to improve well-being

The following things may sound simple. I should know them well. I’ve paid thousands of dollars and spend 4 years learning them as an exercise science major. We’ve all seen fat doctors, dumb teachers, and crooked police officers. Practicing what I preach is my new priority since running has temporarily escorted itself to the back seat. Taking the time to get back to the basics of healthy living will improve on what I’ve made despite treating my body like crap. If my lapse in motivation decreases my fitness, then I can counter it by improving fitness with a more holistic approach.

Since running itself is losing its luster in these dark days of late winter, I’m going to focus on being a more well-rounded athlete, not just a garbage eating jogging machine. I may not be ready go the Scott Jurek route and be a full fledged vegan(I’ll never say never, he used to be junkivore like myself), but using a decrease in mileage to experiment with diet makes sense. Since I’m not currently running 75-100 miles weekly, the figures I’m hoping to hit this spring, switching up the diet is a little less dangerous when I’m not constantly moving. Experimenting with vegetarianism is going well so far, and I’m ever so trepidaciously decreasing the amount of animal products that get tossed down my gullet. As I said, I don’t want to throw labels around, but having more “nature inspired” eating habits is yielding positive results. The reduction of animals in one’s diet is only a means to an end. If you like meat, try another way to clean things up, like decreasing sugar or processed food, shopping more from the outer shelves at the store(where more fresh meat and produce is found).

Diet aside, there are other things that could help improve my running that don’t involve the simple yet fun act of putting one foot in front of the other. The opposite could actually be helpful. Instead of making it a goal to run 75 miles in one week, I’m attempting to make sure I get to bed and waking up on a regular schedule. This seems so simple, but what better way to get more from our developing bodies than to provide them with adequate, regular rest(regarding training physiological adaptation – I’m pretending that I’ve exited puberty by now)? For some of us, this is easy. Since my schedule is all over the place(classes, part-time job, study time etc.), I find that my down time is spread out throughout the day. Bodies don’t grow stronger while moving. That’s what rest is for.

Maintaining fitness – Whether I like it or not

Nothing is worse than starting from scratch. I remember my first days of attempting to become a runner. I’d guess that it took almost 2 years before I really loved running and not just the idea of running. I don’t want to start from the ground up, so it’s just going to have to be a act of faith – faith that I’ll be enamored with our simple, amazing sport again swiftly. Though I often have mixed feelings about doing things I don’t want to do, I’ve accepted that it’s in my best interest to keep the parts moving and jog some less-than-enjoyable miles. Easier said than done, right? Here’s a few ideas.

Accountability – We all know that having another person counting on us is, especially for commitment-phobic types like me, uncomfortable and cumbersome. It eliminates the freedom to change our minds on a whim and watch Family Guy instead of running. Perfect! We humans are social creatures, and I’m going to use that to my advantage. I have a great group of friends who are up for a run almost every day. Making plans to meet up will make you feel like a jerk if you decide to slack off.

Consider the alternative – We all know what it feels like. The lethargic feeling from a period of hiatus from exercise. Logic should tell us that that’s how sedentary people feel ALL THE TIME! The first mile is the hardest when in a slump like this.

Know that we’re capable – I’ve often sat on the couch saying to myself, “I can’t run today, I’m too tired.” In times like this, I’d be best served to reflect on past accomplishments. I’ve run for 14 hours continuously. When the end of that drew near, I was tired but kept going. Knowing the difference between tired and lazy is crucial. I say this only because my own lazy streak is a bout a mile wide. Even if you’re just starting an exercise program, don’t sell yourself short- you’ve made gains and don’t want to lose them.

Know when to fold ‘em

Depression is a serious problem. If you feel an overwhelming sense of despair that goes beyond a “funk” or a “rut,” don’t feel like you’re weak. Professional help is not for the weak, but those who choose to empower themselves. Knowing when to get help is an admirable skill. Suffering needlessly is not. Many don’t know, but I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder as an adolescent. Doctors have some great knowledge and advice, but after taking medications, I found that the best cure for me was exercise. See how it all comes around? The cure is right at our feet.

I’d like to thank Jason for the opportunity to write as a member of the BRU team.

I’ll open it up here for discussion. What tricks do you have for breaking this late winter rut?

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  1. Paul Mastin
    March 11, 2011

    I lived in Grand Rapids for 4 years, so I got to experience some real winters. I found the cure for the winter blahs–I moved back to Texas! I’m running a 50K trail race in Waco tomorrow. Forecast: partly cloudy, low of 57, high of 76. Now I have to start working on a cure for the summer blahs, when temps are in the triple digits!

  2. Brandon Mulnix
    March 11, 2011

    Having the pleasure of knowing you in person vs some stranger behind the keys this article gives me a better understanding of how deep of a person you are. Thanks for sharing. Next time we run I will make sure our discussions go deeper than “Who would win between Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris?”

    In regards to your advise on beating the winter boredom. Because of your advise I went out and broke my jaw and had my mouth wired shut. This helps me in so many ways when it comes to running.
    1. Rest- Had to take about 2 weeks off of rest
    2. Diet- No more solid foods, only Ensure and Boost. Lost 16 pounds
    3. Breathing- Learning to breath through my nose has been priceless, except for when its filled with snot.
    4. Bucking authority- Dr. told me not to exercise and I did it anyways. Makes me feel like a rebel, kinda like running barefoot for the first time.
    5. A cool Scar- Everyone needs a cool scar to talk about at parties. Each time I can come up with a cooler story than the last.
    6. Lots of laughs- Its a lot funnier to go out with friends when you can’t talk as much. You get laughed at more, and you can’t waste humor on the stupid jokes.

    So Jesse Thank you for sharing your winter boredom tips with us. I will look forward to sharing the Paxil the next time we run together.

  3. The Maple Grove Barefoot Guy
    March 11, 2011

    Great post Jesse…especially since you mentioned me in there! I’ve definitely been thinking about all of this stuff this winter, but not in such detail. Thanks for laying it out for us so well.