We have a million reasons to love running—and lately, another million for why running feels so. damn. hard. right. now.
As stress surrounding the pandemic continues to skyrocket, it’s easy (and honestly, understandable) for motivation to plummet. Mix in other factors such as heat, humidity, mask wearing, and cancelled races, and you have a sound argument for talking yourself out of lacing up.
Except, you’re a runner and this sport tends to pull you through tough times, even when the run itself feels tough. To help turn your mindset around and refocus on finding strength and power on the road, we spoke with coaches to get their best strategies for getting back on track and enjoying the rhythm of the (easy!) run again.
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The issue: You’re stressed
The instant fix: Phone a friend.
For many, running relieves stress, but that’s often an after-effect. If you’re feeling a little too anxious to even start, Annick Lamar, USATF-certified run coach with New York Road Runners, suggests calling a supportive friend. Put your headphones in and chat as you go, just as you would with a regular run buddy, pre social-distancing. And don’t worry about your mileage or pace. “Just focus on getting out the door every day—keeping that structure helps to manage stress,” Lamar says.
Also, finding a calm, quiet route that connects you to nature could lead to a less stressed mindset, Lamar says. She urges urban runners to get out of the city center, and find a park that’s more relaxed. “Spending time in a place that’s special can help you get in a run without feeling like you have to cram it in, while also dealing with stress.”
If that doesn’t seem to work or you’re just feeling too tense to get moving, take a rest day. Don’t feel guilty if that’s the best choice for you. Holly Roser, certified personal trainer and owner of Holly Roser Fitness in San Francisco, says it’s a good idea to check your heart rate (many wearables will tell you what it is in an instant) if you’re feeling extra tense. If your resting heart rate reads over 100, head out for a walk instead. The fresh air might help you wind down and make you feel more ready to run after that stroll.
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The issue: It’s SO hot.
The instant fix: Carry water and dress for success.
Hydration is vital for those very hot and humid days, so bring water with you to sip on as you go, no matter how far, says Lamar. A hand-held bottle or hydration pack make it easy to run with liquids. And if you’re going for distance, consider bringing something with electrolytes, too.
The 4 Best Ways to Carry Water on the Run
Amphipod Hydraform Ergo Minimalist
Great for water fountain-free running routes
UltrAspire Essential Bottle Pack Hydration Belt
For when you need someliquids andextra gear
Super lightweight and easy to stash when empty
Sweat-wicking clothes will also keep you more comfortable—and that includes socks, a piece of gear runners tend to forget about, Lamar says. Skip any cotton pairs and go for technical fabrics. (Check out this list of the best and most comfortable socks for runners.)
Of course, running early in the day or later in the evening, when temperatures cool off, is also a good idea, Lamar adds. Reducing intensity, distance, and speed for those days where it’s really hot might make your run more enjoyable, too. “Know that you’ll still get in a good run, but your body is working hard to regulate temperature, so you may not be able to perform as well as you would in cooler temps,” she adds. “You’ll still gain the benefits, even if it doesn’t match your previous performance.”
The issue: You’re bored with the same old running route.
The instant fix: Run it in reverse.
The quickest and easiest way to switch up your typical run routine is to just run in the opposite direction, says Tom Holland, exercise physiologist and author of The Marathon Method. A simple switch like that might offer new views and new inclines that add a little more excitement to your regular route and some new challenges, too.
You can also try breaking it up. For example, in the morning, go for an out-and-back, stopping to turn around at the halfway mark of your usual route. In the evening, do the other half. “Then, you also get a dual hit of feel-good hormones,” Holland says.
The issue: The mask is annoying.
The instant fix: Get a moisture-wicking one and pull back on pace.
If you’re in an urban area or just running a crowded course, the Center for Disease Control guidelines recommend wearing a mask when you can’t maintain distance from others, but you’ll want one that wicks away moisture, Lamar says.
She suggests a breathable neck gaiter—try one like this The North Face or Merrell version—as it allows for some airflow. But wear whatever you find to be comfortable and easy to breathe. (Check out this list of best face masks for runners for more options.)
Also, know that running with a mask might take some time to get used to, so if you have to slow down or take more breaks to get a breath of air sans mask, do it. “A lot of folks adapt to running with a mask when they realize it won’t be a perfect re-creation of their regular run,” Lamar says.
The issue: The news has you down.
The instant fix: Consider your run your escape.
If you’re looking forward to listening to a podcast, audio book, or pump-you-up playlist more than actually putting one foot in front of the other, that’s okay! Sometimes that can keep you motivated and connected to running, Lamar says. Let those miles be your time to get away from the negative news, tune into more uplifting entertainment, and move your body.
This also means you probably want to let go of metrics like pace and distance and just enjoy the miles, Holland says. He suggests ditching your watch to really make that happen. “It can be hard to do, but it’s so freeing,” he says.
An important PSA: If you’re super down and running just isn’t going to help, just take a break, Lamar says. Do what you need for your mental health, know that you can still contribute to your performance when you’re not running, and that running will be there whenever you’re ready to pick it back up.
The issue: You have no motivation to get out the door.
The instant fix: Sign up for a virtual race or buy some new gear.
Yes, races are cancelled—but only the in-person events. You can still follow a training schedule and get to the virtual finish line. Go for a distance that’s challenging, yet doable and follow a plan just as you would for a regular race, Lamar says. Joining a virtual running group that connects you with other runners and sort of re-creates the in-person experience will help you stick to that training schedule, too, she adds.
Roser also suggests joining social media groups that revolve around running or signing up for challenges on apps like Strava to gain some accountability buddies. If you’ve been thinking about hiring a run coach, right now is a great time to do it, as they can help you reach speed goals with tailored plans and hold you to your training sessions, Roser says. Another way to look at it if you keep up with training sans races: You’ll be more ready than ever when they do start opening back up, Holland says.
Finally, sometimes all you need to get running again is a new pair of shoes, shorts, a fitness tracker, or a cool hydration vest. That’s how Holland turns up his excitement to hit the pavement when he’s feeling his motivation wane. It can be something as small as a new pair of sweat-wicking socks or as big as an entirely new outfit or shoes—whatever gets you excited to get out on the road, make the purchase.
The issue: Running just doesn’t feel as important.
The instant fix: Connect to the sport in a new way.
“I work with lifelong runners and for the first time, they’re completely detached from running and don’t know how to handle it, and it’s so tied to the state of the world,” Lamar says.
If that sounds familiar to you, try switching up your activity, but do something that still connects you to running. That might mean a yoga class for runners, dance cardio that gets your heart pumping in a similar way, or a strength-training program focused on making you stronger for going the distance or gaining speed. (New York Road Runners’ RUNCENTER at Home program offers tons of free classes, such as yoga, barre, and strength.) It’ll feel refreshing and break up the monotony. “It gives you a new way to get involved in the sport,” Lamar says.
Deputy Editor, Health & Fitness
Mallory Creveling, an ACE-certified personal trainer and RRCA-certified run coach, joined the Runner's World and Bicycling team in August 2021. She has more than a decade of experience covering fitness, health, and nutrition. As a freelance writer, her work appeared in Women's Health, Self, Men's Journal, Reader's Digest, and more. She has also held staff editorial positions at Family Circle and Shape magazines, as well as DailyBurn.com. A former New Yorker/Brooklynite, she's now based in Easton, PA.