Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Value of Variety

Now most runners I know are, at their core, creatures of habit. You may not think that this applies to you until maybe you start remembering how you like to have particular foods before/during/after a run, or always wear the same outfit on race day, or tend toward a certain training route you could run in your sleep blindfolded.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that one of the reasons I have stuck with running as my primary (and often only) form of exercise was because I liked the routine. I enjoyed the steady progress made over time, the motivation that came from a relatively set training schedule, and the obligatory goal attached to it. I also have always enjoyed partaking in a chocolate milk reward at the end of each long run.

However, something happened over time. Monotony. The activity I had once loved over most others was starting to feel like an obligation rather than a privilege. How did this happen? I personally believe I allowed my focus to become too predictable and too narrow- other activities were forsaken because running took priority and the outcome of training was allowed to dictate the importance of the process before it.

The fix? V a r i e T y, STAT!

In fact, my goal for this year and beyond is to become more well-rounded... when it comes to activities, not body shape! Although I admit, there's already been a bit of that as well.

Cross-training is probably the most obvious answer and its value is well known. For instance, activities such as hiking, swimming or biking can be used to challenge different muscle groups and provide a lower-impact cardio benefit. Also, exercises that strengthen and stabilize your core like yoga and pilates have been shown to be beneficial in improving performance and preventing injury. Above all, cross-training provides a surefire remedy to the exercise doldrums and can allow you to expand your exercise social circle. Which brings us to...

Running buddies (of course)! One of the reasons we love to run with others is that they bring variety to multiple aspects of a run- the pace we may take on, the route we choose to run, the conversation topics that happen to come up. Talking about running with others also helps to be able to see the value of exercise from different perspectives, which in turn, helps us to not take it for granted. It is during these conversations that I am often inspired to evaluate what it is that keeps me running, which leads me to...

Goals! One of the best things I have done over the last several months was to focus my attention away from time goals and toward goals that were more fulfilling to me long-term. For example, helping others to train for races and seeking out fun and unique race experiences. One of my goals this year is to help organize or, at minimum, participate in a charity run. Not to mention my ultimate running goal (gulp): entering and completing a 50-mile ultra marathon- where the challenge is to conquer the course, not the clock.

Variety can come in simpler, smaller fixes as well, that can be just as important for motivation- a new playlist to listen to, a new running route, or a new pair of shoes.

If anyone else has ideas on how they have added variety to their running or workouts, please feel free to share. I'm always looking to keep it interesting and mix it up!

... except when it comes to the chocolate milk. That's perfect just the way it is.


  1. Lisa, I love your post!! Thank you so much for sharing. I am inspired by your goals and your focus, especially since I am so guilty of getting stuck in my own "usual routine."

    If time and availabilty were not an issue, I would want to do a lot more trail running to add variety. I love discovering new trail routes, challenging myself with more hills, looking at new scenery and just getting dirty sometimes (I'm weird).

    However, since I am mainly running in the country around my house these days, the only way I have been adding variety to my workouts is by blasting my music and playing the air drums while I run. I know, a lesser woman would be embarrassed, but since the only on-lookers I have are cows, I try to put on a good show. ;)

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Lisa, great post! Variety is a HUGE key for me. I have to keep it interesting or I lose focus. The first thing I do is find a race (or some kind of goal) that is fascinating to me, whether it be a unique location or an event with some kind of weird twist to it - the more unique the location or the race theme, the better! That adds excitement!

    My new favorite thing is On Demand (Comcast actually did one thing right!). I have been finding great yoga and cross-training w/ weight workouts in the Fitness section of On Demand (and great for days like today when its raining or too dark). Comcast changes up the workouts on a regular basis so there is always a variety and I can try the workouts for free (then, if I find one that I really enjoy, I buy the DVDs at Exercise TV or Amazon) . I look for sessions that are 45-60 mins long - and I am personally fond of Jillian Michaels’ workouts – she kicks my ass every time! :)

  3. I try to do different modes of training at different intensities throughout the week (aerobic, resistance, plyometric/jump training, etc...). This helps with the issue of monotony and allows the body a chance to recover. Even if I work the same muscle groups 2 days in a row, I am working them differently.

  4. Kristin, I was thinking of checking out the Library too and renting different DVDs as another way to try a variety of DVDs for free. :)