July Q & A: Run with Whitney

Welcome to the second installment of my new series, Run with Whitney! It’s been so fun getting questions from fellow mother runners. This month, there was a theme: MOTIVATION. Let’s get to it!

whitney and her kids
Let’s talk about motivation this month!

What do you do on the days you don’t want to run but need to for a training protocol or race?

First, I think about the obstacle and meet it head-on. Why am I not wanting to run? Is it the weather? Am I tired? Do I not feel well? Is it the workout itself? Then I think about how to get around that obstacle. Can I change my schedule so that I can have a rest day and run on a better weather day or after more rest? If the run or workout scares me because it feels aggressive or long, then I look at my training and remind myself that I can do it.

If it is truly just that I don’t feel like going, then I put on my shoes and go—and take it one mile at a time. Motivation follows action, not the other way around. So, once I get the momentum going, it will be easier to keep moving forward.

If not, then there is likely something else going on like I am truly fatigued, burnout or getting sick. And if that’s the case, then a rest day or two is in order.

On long runs, how do you stay focused and not fall into boredom traps?

I actually LOVE long runs because they are time when no one needs me, and I can just worry about myself (though I do get calls from time to time from the family). However, sometimes it can be boring. BUT, there are many things we do to combat this boredom.

First, I always chunk my long runs. That means I break it into bits in my mind—and sometimes on the course. Say I have a 16 miler. Then I do 8 miles and just focus on those 8 miles. Then when I am done with that, I think I just have another 8 which is like a normal run day. Or, I will run the first half of the long run in my neighborhood and the second half on a trail—which feels like a treat.

Breaking it into bits makes it more palatable.

Next, if I am really dreading the long run, I will run a course I haven’t done in a while. (Lots of people will mix it up and go someplace totally new but I am all about getting out and back as soon as I can—so I don’t personally do this.)

I also LOVE running to music, so I make a playlist with new songs that pump me up. Podcasts and audiobooks are great tools too.

Finally, running with a friend or a running group can make you even forget that you are running the time goes by so fast. And then you are basically knocking two things off your list—social time and exercise. In fact, a new study came out showing that working out with others boosts your brain power. If you don’t have a friend to run with, you can even call them on your long run. I’ve done this, too!

Whitney Heins running in green
I like to break my long run up into chunks, and listen to new playlists to beat boredom!

Do you have any recommendations for people who want to push past plateaus they have reached?

There are three main reasons why a runner will plateau: lifestyle, health, or training.

First, lifestyle. There could be something you are doing or not doing that is causing you to not progress. You could be not eating enough or not getting enough of a specific macro like carbs or protein. You could not be sleeping enough. You could be stressed and stretched thin. All of this can affect your training because your body isn’t recovering well or getting what it needs to perform.

Second, health. I have had a couple of athletes come to me with stagnant running performance and we needed to look under the hood aka get a blood test. This bloodwork revealed things like low ferritin or low testosterone which affects how your body can process oxygen when running and recover. Optimizing these biomarkers helped them feel more energized and ready to run…fast.

Finally, training. You may need to add a different stimulus to have your body adapt to something new to get fitter. Maybe you need more VO2 max work, or hill work, or threshold work. You may be running too much, and your body isn’t recovering so you feel like your legs are dead every run. This has happened to many runners that have come to me. We back off, then add some speed—and voila! They get faster.

Or you may need to run more. You may be running 3 days a week and done that for a long time and your body needs another day of running to continue those physiological adaptations like more capillaries and mitochondria to get fitter.

A running coach like me can help you unearth what’s going on to bust through the plateau!

I go into 8 ways to bust through a plateau here.

whitney in blue
Beat performance plateaus by adding variety to your training!

What are your go-to strategies for falling in love with movement after resting or taking a break?

I love thinking ahead to who I want to be—and thinking about how good I feel. If you’re restarting after a break for whatever reason—life, babies, injuries—thinking about what it would feel like to start moving every day or running 3 times a week will likely get you excited. ‘

It’s important to start where you’re at. Going from zero to hero isn’t going to be sustainable. Running three times a week—and giving yourself grace when you don’t hit that mark—is more doable.

Along with thinking about the destination and the results—I think about the process—how good I will feel when I run in the morning. I know I will feel strong, proud and empowered. I know I make healthier choices and I am in a better mood for my kids. It’s like a high that lasts all day long. And then I get excited to repeat it.

Writing down what you want and all the pros of how you can be a powerful motivator and a good resource for reflection when motivation is low. Also, don’t forget motivation follows action. Sometimes you just need to stop thinking and JUST DO IT.

One more thing—identifying what is the true reason you are unmotivated—like do you hate going to the gym, or waking up early, etc. can help—and then coming up with solutions to overcome those barriers. Can you create a home gym? Or go for a walk and get the Peloton app instead? Can you work out every other morning so you get to sleep in?

Often, it’s not the act itself, but the packaging it comes in.

I write more about goal setting for success here. I also write about how to get your running motivation back here.

Also, check out my #whyirun series on Instagram where fellow mother runners share why they run. It’s incredibly inspiring!

Do you have any recommendations to help someone jumpstart their motivation to exercise?

Yes! Pick a goal and come up with a plan. But FIRST, write your WHY. Why do you want to exercise? Write the intrinsic and extrinsic goals. Intrinsic could be like you want to be healthy for your kids, you want alone time so you can recharge, etc. Extrinsic could be that you want to look better or run a certain time.

Then come up with a plan. You basically want to pick the big goal and then set the small, intentional, stepping-stone goals to get there. Think of it as a recipe. There are several steps you must take before you get the end result.

If you want to run a half marathon, think about what has to happen first and break it up. For example, do you need to train for a 5k first? What’s in the way of that? Do you need someone to hold you accountable? Do you need a plan? Do you need a better location to run?  Do you need childcare so you can get out the door? Think through all that needs to happen and what may stand in your way. Write it down. Keep track.

If you have a WHY and a plan, you are well on your way. Again, hiring a running coach can help you do this and keep you on track!! (I write about how to find your WHY here.)

I hope this helps any mamas who getting started or getting back to running. Email me at [email protected] if you have ANY questions for next month. They don’t have to be running-related either!

See all the posts in my Run with Whitney Q & A series here.


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