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We runners can be serious creatures of habit. We find the perfect pair of sneakers and buy them over and over again. We discover a great trail and run on it four times a week. Or we have an awesome workout after eating a particular sandwich and have to eat it every day afterwards. It’s not necessarily a bad thing—figuring out what works for you is key to being the best runner you can be. But change is good, and there are certain situations when it can be beneficial to shake things up. The next time you’re faced with one of these situations, try saying yes; you may be surprised by how much you end up liking it. Here are some things all runners should try at least once:
Going the (different) distance
You run 5Ks, always have, always will. Or you’re all about the half. Or you eat, sleep, and breathe marathon training 24/7. Whatever your preference, you run what you run and don’t plan on changing, thank you very much. But something magical happens when you train for a new race. If you typically run longer distances, signing up for a 5K will encourage you to incorporate more speed work, which will be beneficial to your marathon PR when you return to it. If short and sweet is your thing, shooting for a half marathon will inspire you to increase your endurance and mental toughness, both which will help you increase your goal pace for your usual distance. The point is, don’t resist a new distance because you think it will ruin your normal training—it will actually benefit you in the long (or short) run.
Related: Get Fitter 5K Plan
Changing the scenery
Are you a treadmill junkie? Do you only run on the streets in your neighborhood? Are you devoted to driving to your favorite trail every day after work? It may be time to switch things up. Sticking to the same surface can be just as limiting as doing the same workout every day, because it’s preventing you from benefitting from different challenges. If you only run on the treadmill, you’re missing on variations like wind resistance or temperatures, which can better prepare you for whatever weather you might encounter on race day. Conversely, if you stick to the great outdoors you’re restricted to the road in front of you; trying the treadmill allows you to play with extremes in incline and even simulate a specific racecourse.
Joining a slower runner
When you train to get yourself running at your goal pace, the last thing you want to do is scale back. So if a slower pal asks you to join her you probably start spouting excuses; you work so hard to shave time off your PR, so why would you want to go backwards? First, don’t think of it as going backwards. There are many reasons that taking it slow once in a while will make you a better- and yes, faster- runner. You know that rest days are key to a balanced routine, but so are active recovery days; going for an easier run gives your body a chance to bounce back from your difficult workouts by keeping the blood pumping to ease muscle fatigue. If you’re in the middle of an intense training cycle, a light jog with a friend can also provide a much-needed mental break as well. Any stress from disappointing runs or pressure you’re feeling to PR will disappear after a couple miles of gossip and remind you how much you enjoy running. Then you can get back to your training refreshed and ready to go hard again.
Tagging along with a faster runner
It may seem scary when your faster buddy from your running group asks you to join her workout. Can I keep up? Will I ruin her run? Would it be awkward to ask her to slow down? Relax! First off, she’s your friend, and she’ll totally understand if the pace is pushing it. More importantly, she’s a runner, too; she understands what it’s like to need a break, as well as when to push a little harder. At worst, you’ll learn what your limits are but who knows, you might just have a breakthrough and discover you’ve been holding yourself back from a faster pace.
Trying different kinds of cross-training
A good runner knows the importance of cross-training. But even a great runner can get stuck in a rut, doing the same yoga routine or circuit in the weight room. After a while that can become less effective, or worse, so stale you abandon it. So grab a copy of your gym’s class schedule and commit to trying out a new workout or two every week. You may discover you’re a secret spin queen or a boot camp convert, and you’ll be motivated to keep trying new ways to cross-train.