19 Ways to Stoke Your Running Motivation

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From dirtbag weekends to vision boards to adventure runs, here is a collection of tried-and-true methods for rekindling your running fire


Some days, I wake up humming with excitement at the prospect of lacing up my running shoes and hitting the trails.

Other days, I feel far more enticed by the prospect of, say, eating pancakes in my pajamas. Or, I get sucked into computer-screen land and realize only too late that I’ve spent my whole day indoors—because sometimes it’s just hard to gather the motivation to get out for a run.

But once I’m out running, of course, I never think, “Darn, what a mistake this was!” On the contrary, I’m always grateful for my decision. If you’re anything like me, though, sometimes you just need a little help getting out the door.

Here are 19 ways to help you get psyched for your next run.


1. Plan a “dirtbag weekend.”

Sometimes lack of motivation stems from feeling stale in your routine—running-related or otherwise. You don’t have to quit your job and move into a van, though, to enjoy the perks of being a dirtbag runner. Instead, plan a weekend-warrior road trip to travel somewhere new and explore trails you’ve never visited before. This can be a solo endeavor, an adventure with friends or a miniature vacation with the whole family to camp out and explore new outdoor spaces.

2. Discover a new route.
Alternately, you can explore closer to home, too. If you always run the same loop, run it backwards. Try commuting to work on foot, if that’s a possibility. If you live in an urban area, skip the usual running thoroughfares and take different side streets on your next training run. Many apps can help you find new routes, too.

3. Devour some trail-running media.
There have never before been so many forms of trail-running-related media to gorge on whenever you need a little boost to get out the door. From magazines like this one to videos to books to blogs to podcasts (which you can even listen to while running), there’s no shortage of content to get you pumped up. If you’re training for a race, look for media or race reports about that particular event. Just don’t get so sucked into the YouTube vortex that you never make it out the door!

4. Leave your gadgets at home.
The more steps we have to take to get ready for a run, the more overwhelming the prospect can be. Take a break from all extraneous running gear—your phone, camera, GPS watch, heart-rate monitor, FitBit, headphones, gaiters, compression socks and whatever else—and just run. Revel in the purity of our simple sport.

>Related: In these days of information overload, is it better to tune in or tune out?

5. Volunteer to build or maintain trails.
Sharing a sense of responsibility for the trails you run can have a great impact. Find a local trail-work party by reaching out to local trails organizations, race directors, running, hiking or mountain-biking groups, or your local Forest Service office. If your hometown lacks trails, here’s a primer on how to build a trail town from scratch.

6. Sign up for a race.
For those of us who thrive on having a specific goal to strive toward, nothing channels running stoke as much as a race on the horizon. From a motivation standpoint, the best race is two to three months away—ample time to train in a meaningful way for it, but not so far off on the horizon that you can procrastinate. Find your next trail race here.

7. Create non-race goals or benchmarks.
It’s not all about races, though! Get creative in your goal setting. Instead of just gauging progress by pace, set goals based on average heart rate, vertical ascent or total time on your feet. Or, time yourself once a month on a favorite loop. Use an app like Strava to compete against others outside of formal races. Choose a mountain, or a linkup of several mountains, to aspire to summiting.

8. Get crafty and design a running-themed vision board.

This motivational trick is popular in the working-professional world—but why not apply its principles to your running as well? A vision board is essentially a collage of inspirational images and quotes that externalize your goals and desires to help manifest them into reality. Get some old magazines, a large piece of blank poster board, scissors and a glue stick, and get collaging! You can even structure this as a social activity with your family (others can make non-running-themed boards, too) or a group of friends.

9. Plan an adventure run.
Didn’t get into the race you hoped to? Trying to save money on race fees but still want to strive for an epic goal? Plan an adventure run instead. Go solo or invite others along for the fun. Your adventure could be anything from coordinating an unsanctioned race to an FKT effort to a fastpacking trip to a self-supported run. Try gathering a group of runners to cover a popular 50- or 100-mile race course (assuming the course does not cross any private lands permitted exclusively for race day) over a period of several days.

10. Join a running group—or, if you don’t have one near you, start one.
Often, the miles just fly by when you’re sharing them with someone else. Plus, if you lead a busy life—and let’s be honest, who doesn’t?—running with a group can be a great way to kill two birds with one stone: squeeze in your run and your social time. Find (or create) a running group near you through our Trail Club Finder or your local running shop, or by searching for groups on Google, Facebook or Meetup.com.

11. Don’t run.
If you’re feeling burnt out on running, don’t force it. Instead, give yourself a break by trying a different activity. Take your kids for a hike or a bike ride. Gather some friends and go snowshoeing. Swim laps. Do yoga. Go bouldering or mountain biking or inline skating. Sign up for a fitness class. Try rowing. Crank up some tunes in your living room and dance like no one’s watching. Above all, have fun and remember this: taking some time off from running is a great way to keep your body strong and injury-free.

12. Enlist a running buddy or a coach.
It’s often much harder to bail on someone else than it is on yourself. Find a running buddy or a coach to help you stay accountable. Set a predetermined schedule or weekly running “date” with your buddy so that you’ll have less of an excuse for missing workouts.

13. Take it easy.
Being too hard on yourself can be a fast road to burnout—physical or mental. Set aside your training goals and pace charts for a moment and just let yourself enjoy an easy run. Take walking or hiking breaks. If you have a hard time backing off pace, run with someone significantly slower than yourself to help you keep your own efforts in check.

14. Attend a camp.
There’s nothing like spending a few days in the mountains with like-minded runners to reignite the trail-running flame. With summer approaching, there are plenty of trail-running camps and retreats to choose from. Some even promise one-on-one time with the sport’s top athletes.

15. Volunteer at an aid station.
Even if you’re not in race shape just yet, it’s hard not to get excited about running when you’re surrounded by the infectious energy of hundreds of other runners. If you can, offer to captain an aid station at a race. Get creative and have fun with it! Come up with a theme for your aid station—Hawaiian luau, ’80s disco party, pirate ship, a favorite movie. Bring quirky foods with the potential to delight runners—bacon, wheels of cheese, doughnuts, fresh vegetables, homemade cookies, tequila. Make signs. Wear costumes. Cheer loudly.

16. Take care of your body.
It’s a lot easier to get excited about running when you already feel physically good and energized. Eat well, drink plenty of water and get enough sleep. While setting the alarm for 4 a.m. to squeeze in your run “before life gets in the way” may help you stay on track in your training, be wary of burning the candle so thoroughly at both ends that you feel lethargic on your runs. Nothing kills motivation faster than fatigue.

>Related: 7 Bad Reasons to Skip Your Run Today

17. Explore new music and make a running playlist.
Have you been running to the same playlist for several years? Branch out! Seek recommendations from your running friends or groups. Discover new artists or workout playlists using tools like Spotify, Pandora or iTunes Genius mixes. Explore new genres: pop, hip-hop, classical, DJ mashups, reggae, bluegrass, dubstep, Caribbean … the possibilities are endless. You might be surprised how tunes you might not otherwise listen to can jazz you up for a run.

18. If you always listen to music when you run, try running without.
On the flip side, if you’re a habitual music (or podcast) listener when you run, leave the earphones behind on your next adventure. Tune in, instead, to the rustle of the wind in the trees, the gurgle of a stream, the rhythmic sound of your own breathing and footfalls. Learn to identify birds by their chirps. Enjoy being an intrinsic part of the natural world, rather than distracting yourself from it.

19. Stoke someone else’s running motivation.
Perhaps above all, try firing up someone else’s motivation instead of your own. Start a beginners’ trail-running group to help introduce others to the sport. Introduce your kids to the trails. Volunteer for a running/outdoor-based organization like Team Red White and Blue, Girls on the Run, Back on My Feet, SisuGirls or HopeRuns. Spread the running love.

Yitka Winn is a freelance writer living in Telluride. Find her @yitkawinn on Twitter and Instagram.

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