When my marathon training comes up among fellow runners who generally stick with shorter distances the top comments usually are, “I don’t think I could ever run that far,” and, “How do you not get bored?” I think it’s very normal for a distance of 15+ miles to seem impossible when you feel out of breath after only a few miles, and I also understand that a long run sounds like it could be incredibly boring.
So, how do you not get bored on a long run? Keeping boredom away is a big part of being able to go the distance with your running which is why I’ve come up the with my top 10 recommendations for how to not get bored on your long runs:
- Find new routes.
- Run for the hills.
- Keep your playlist fresh.
- Listen to podcasts or audiobooks.
- Run easy.
- Meet up with family and friends.
- Run with a group.
- Break up your run into milestones.
- Don’t do out-and-backs.
- Add in quick surges.
The long run is such an important part of improving your goals as an endurance runner. If you can find ways to make it something you look forward to instead of finding boring, you’ll be much more likely to accomplish it (and maybe even with a smile!)
1. Find new routes.
I’m currently in my third year of training for marathons while living in my current neighborhood. And I’ve lived in the same suburb for over a decade so it’s no surprise that by this year the routes have become quite stale. I really don’t get bored when I run, but running the same route over and over can get monotonous.
I am someone who really prefers to lace up and just run out the front door when the time is right. The 30 minutes I save by having to drive to and from somewhere is precious time to me that I can use doing something else. But sometimes, I just get over the same scenery day after day.
When it comes to the long run, I am much more likely to head somewhere different. Maybe I still head out my front door, but head a different direction I’ve tried before. Or run through neighborhoods I’ve always simply run around. But sometimes I just suck it up, wake up earlier than I prefer and drive to a new spot. I’m always glad I did.
2. Run for the hills.
Even if you’re generally a roadrunner or someone who prefers paved trail, it’s amazing how getting off the beaten path can cure a running funk. I’ve never thought of myself as a trail runner, but for the first time, I’m really enjoying spending some of my runs on those single track trails that only the bluffs and mountains can bring.
I know it sounds cliche, but it really awakens the senses. You already know what to expect around every turn in your neighborhood, but out in the hills, nature allows you to consider everything from a different perspective. Realizing just how small I am in this big, beautiful world is a great way to connect with my thoughts and keep the boredom away.
My biggest motivator? Checking out the view from the top.
3. Listen to music (and keep your playlist fresh).
OK, so this one isn’t rocket science. Most people love listening to music as long as it’s within the genre they prefer. But here’s a tip – you might be surprised at how your music choices might differ while you run. I listened to a podcast where the guest was a self-proclaimed “straight arrow” but then listed some pretty profane rap songs as some of her favorites to listen to on a run. I thought that was great!! The awesome thing about running alone with earbuds in is that no one gets a say in what you listen to and you don’t need to care what anyone else thinks.
If the music has a great beat and motivates you, then that’s what you should listen to.
I’m definitely lacking in keeping my playlist fresh department. I’ll think about adding some new songs to my playlist as I’m getting ready to head out for my run only to realize that I’ve run out of time to do so. I would suggest carving out time to liven up your playlist now and again – it can certainly make a difference. I end up just skipping through songs I’m sick of…so I should probably get on that.
4. Listen to podcasts (or audiobooks).
I always start my long runs with a podcast. There are 2 main reasons that I do this.
The first reason that I start my long run out listening to podcasts as opposed to music is because I’m supposed to be running more slowly. In general, your long runs should be at a fairly easy pace for the majority of the miles anyway, but the first couple should usually be your slowest. When you are running high mileage during marathon training, your legs definitely need a couple of miles to warm up. With that said, podcasts (or audiobooks) are obviously a lot slower than music. Listening to upbeat music can make you go faster than your intended pace if you’re not careful.
The second reason I like to start out with podcasts is that they motivate me. I usually listen to running podcasts (but not always). I try to choose ones with an inspiring guest or with training tips that I know will help me be a better runner. Starting a run off listening to someone’s else’s running journey and their path to success is a great way to help me push through a long run and keep my mind occupied.
My favorite running-related podcasts are: The Rambling Runner, Running Rogue and Run, Selfie, Repeat. Non-running related podcasts I’ve enjoyed include: Revisionist History, Serial, and Sincerely, Hueman.
5. Run easy (a lot less boring than you’d think!)
Curing running boredom can be as simple as flipping on one of those podcasts and running easy. Did you know that about 80% of your running in marathon training should be at an easy pace anyway? Read my article “Train Slower to Run a Faster Marathon” to find out why. That goes for most of your long runs, too.
You might be asking yourself why running easier can actually make your running less boring. I think a lot of it has to do with paying less attention to your watch and your mileage. If you run at an easy pace, you’re able to focus much more on something you’re listening to or just enjoying nature.
Sometimes I think that people torture themselves by always trying to maintain a pace even when they are tapping into their anaerobic threshold and then they confuse with boredom because they just want to be done. That’s because the miles definitely seem to drag by when you’ve hit a wall. Knowing you can actually just enjoy being outside for a little self-care without having to worry so much about pace can actually curb running boredom.
6. Meet up with family and friends.
This one is probably my favorite because I have an awesome husband who piles the kids in the car to come find me on my long runs. Sometimes I know when I will see them, and sometimes they just surprise me. When you have a 3-hour run ahead of you, it’s really motivating to keep pushing so you can make your family proud.
No family in town? You’d be surprised how many friends are rooting you on from afar. Ask one of them if they wouldn’t mind popping by somewhere along your route for a high five with a little extra ice water. I bet they’d love to (and they’ll probably be glad it’s you and not them out for that 20-miler!)
This can also include meeting up with family or friends after your long run is over. Maybe your final mile brings you to a favorite breakfast spot or local brewery. Just knowing that good eats, drinks and your favorite people are waiting for you is enough to keep you from getting bored.
7. Run with a group.
I actually have no problem running alone, so most of the time that’s what I do. I guess I keep boredom away on my long runs using a lot of the other ways on my list, but I think this one is huge for the more extroverted type of people.
If you’re someone who loves to chat, you will find that running in a group will make the miles pass by quickly. Getting deep in conversation with someone who you enjoy the company of helps take your mind off the running that you’re doing. It’s also a great way to keep those long runs easy when they’re supposed to be.
Even if you aren’t up for talking too much on your runs, just the camaraderie of being with a group of individuals who have similar goals to you can be an excellent motivator. Though I have no problem heading out for runs by myself, I do look forward to my weekly Orangetheory workouts as a way to surround myself with health-conscious individuals.
8. Break up your run up into milestones.
I use a lot of fractions in my head when I run. Meaning, if I have a 20-mile run, I will remind myself that my run is one-fourth of the way complete once I reach 5 miles. In some ways this can be a little overwhelming, knowing you still have so far to go, but I like to look at it from a glass half full perspective. If I’ve already completed a quarter of my run, I have that much less to complete than when I started.
Maybe you even reward yourself at each of those milestones – turn on your favorite song, send a quick text to one of your favorite people, stop for a bathroom break (if there’s one around!), or eat a few of gummy bears. Just because you have a long run to complete doesn’t mean you have to take yourself seriously every second.
9. Don’t do out-and-backs or repeat a loop.
Maybe this is just personal preference, but I try to avoid out-and-back runs. Honestly, I have a couple of standby routes that would probably be safer if I made them out and backs because I wouldn’t have to cross any roads. I mean, I don’t really like crossing roads that much either, but I actually find that breaks up the run anyway. It also forces me to stop to stretch a bit and take in a little extra nutrition.
I read someone else’s opinion recently about how running loops can actually make your run “go by faster.” I feel the opposite! I mean, maybe if it’s a beautiful lake somewhere, I might agree – but I can barely stand 5 miles on a track. Personally, I love to mix up the scenery. I’m not interested in seeing the same thing more than once. I also love knowing how far 20 miles can really take me!
10. Add in quick surge paces here and there.
The biggest goal of your long run is ensuring that you get all the mileage in. If you’re always cutting it short, that’s a big problem and won’t get you to your marathon goal. So most of the time, your long run will be at an easy pace. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t add in some faster-paced surges along the way after you’re properly warmed up.
A good time to add in this boredom crusher is on a cutback week. Meaning, it’s a long run, but at a distance that you’re comfortable with completing with a little extra challenge. I’m not suggesting that you go all out on these surges. But cutting back your easy pace by a minute or so can add a little extra fun in for you without risking injury. One way I like to do this is run my easy pace for 9/10 of every mile, and then do a quicker surge for the last 1/10. You’ll be amazed at how quickly the miles seem to fly by when you approach your long run this way.
Finding Your Running “Why” to Keep the Boredom Away
Before I go, I also want to express how important it is that you find your “why” in running. If you have this nailed down, it’s often enough to get you through the toughest and longest workouts. When people ask me how I don’t get bored on a long run of over 3 hours, it actually amazes me, too. Yes, I have lots of strategies to keep it interesting, but I think it stems from so much more.