My relationship with running has its ups and downs.
The high points: running is an efficient way to stay in shape, sneakers are easily shoved in a suitcase, I occasionally experience runner's high, I get to run races where people wave at me and hand me food.
The low points: monotony. When running starts to feel stale, a floodgate opens to a million other complaints. I'm tired, this song is terrible, my feet hurt, I have this thing at work I forgot about and I'm now stressed about it and will focus on it for the rest of the run.
So, the trick is to keep running interesting. Here's what that can look like on any given day:
Switch up the music
There are certain songs I've heard so many times I feel slightly nauseous when they come on. I take this as a subtle sign from my brain to my body that the song's been overplayed.
But finding new music sometimes feels like a chore. Instead of curating my own list, I often look to others. I crowd-source recommendations for good running music from Facebook, friends share me on their Spotify playlists, or I play upbeat music channels on Spotify or Pandora.
Don't get me wrong, it's still great to go back to the standards. But overplayed songs result at best in boring runs and at worst in frustrating runs. I try to indulge in my favorite old songs when I need a boost during long runs, and save the newer stuff for shorter weekday runs.
Run different terrain
I am hard-wired to seek ease and comfort. So running, unless it involves a predator, isn't easy to sustain. While I'm running my body will frequently send alert signals to my brain that I'm exerting myself, and wouldn't it be better for us all if I found my way to a couch? After all, too many calories might be burned and then we (my brain and me) surely won't have the resources we need to survive the long winter.
This is dumb. I'm a person made from an excess of resources (calories) and surrounded on all sides by extreme abundance. My life is already made easy by cars and the house I live in. If anything, running serves as a way to toughen me up.
But when I don't switch up my routes, my body settles into a routine and doesn't need to work as hard. I stop feeling the same soreness, but euphoria becomes harder to come by.
This is when I know it's time to hit the trails, hit pavement, or even hit a treadmill. When I change my scenery and routine, my brain and body adapt. This is growth. At its heart, that's what running should be about — flexibility and adaptation that comes from running on varied terrain.
Focus on senses
Running with headphones is controversial in Alaska — for good reason. We aren't short on mega-fauna, and runners have occasional encounters with bears, including some that end poorly.
It's good to have all senses on alert when on the move outdoors, and listening to music doesn't allow for that. That said, I'm a fan of moderation and context, and in everything there is risk. Where it makes sense (mostly on paved, urban trails) I'm willing to take a risk by listening to music.
But that gets tiresome. One hand I am distracted by the music, but on the other hand I can become consumed by it. I often ditch my headphones at the last minute and practically run out the door away from them. I know I love the crutch of music. But it often becomes an impediment.
When I run without headphones, I try to notice whatever is coming up. Smells drift past me — usually, hopefully, pleasant ones like the thick smell of summer in all of the plant life right now, or snow on the way later in the year. I think about my form and imagine myself held upright by an invisible string. If I get aches and pains, I notice those too and try to breathe through them. I guess you could call this my rag-tag runner's form of mindfulness. It works for me.
Read inspirational stuff
When I'm truly desperate, I Google "running quotes" or "running inspiration." Learning about other runners' struggles and triumphs helps put my piddling run into a bigger narrative, often allowing me to see myself differently within another story. Instead of feeling tired and lethargic after a big day, I push myself to feel grateful that I'm able to get out on my legs and move.
I won't always be able to run like this, so I try to keep it interesting while I can.
Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.