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Is endurance training boring……or is it just difficult?

By Darren O'Toole | In Fitness, Marathon training, Outdoor | on October 30, 2019

I write this blog on the verge of completing my sixth marathon. That’s not just six runs of 42km. It is six batches of four months of long-distance running, day after day, week after week.

So, when the inevitable excuse of why people don’t perform endurance training gets thrown at me…… ‘it’s just so boring!’, I am left to query: Do I have an ability to block out boredom that others can’t? or is there more to it than that?

The first and most important distinction to make: people who don’t like running, don’t like it because it is hard! It’s not the boredom. Boredom is just a convenient excuse to avoid undertaking hard endurance work. Then, because it’s hard, your body feels tired quickly. Lungs feel like they have reached maximal expansion; hips, knees, ankles, quads, hamstrings are all aching and reminding you that you knew before you set off that this was a pointless pursuit. Your mind is then saying ‘stop, this is pointless’. Getting told that by your own brain for long enough is boring. You then stop! Add this dialogue to the setting of a stationary treadmill in a gym environment and you have every sympathy from me in your ability to avoid this level of distraction.

But the point remains, it’s the hard work which is the problem. Plus, one more thing…. the environment!

Endurance training indoors is madness

Would I undertake any running training, that was beyond 30 minutes, on a treadmill? No chance! You will have no stimulation aside from a clock counting upwards and potentially scantily clad women gyrating in whichever music video has blessed the screens above your head.
But outside allows for constant stimulation.

Changes in gradient, changes in weather, obstructions, different surfaces, people, lives, smells, sounds, nature, clean air, dirty air, pace changes, new and exciting routes. Lots of London I’ve seen for the first time when I was running. Sure, long runs can still feel tough, but the level of self-talk, telling you to quit is an awful lot less convincing when you know you are six miles from home as opposed to being able to press the big red stop button on a treadmill.

Plus, training doesn’t have to be just running for ages. A good training plan should have a long run around once per week. Possibly less. Maybe three times per month. They should also be tiring but completed at a speed which your lungs and legs can withstand – irrespective of your fitness levels.

Structured training plans

Then, a training plan should have easy runs. Runs that are completed at a comfortable speed. They build the mileage but are restorative in nature. And finally, the quality, hard sessions. These can be hill sprints, fartlek intervals or distance repeats. The benefit of these for the ‘boredom police’ is that they have short work ratios followed by rest and then repeats. This will mimic the training protocols of lifting weights or a Barry’s bootcamp or a Soul Cycle – all of which, apparently, avoid this ‘boredom’ excuse.

The one final challenge of endurance training is that the self-talk can tell you a lot about yourself. When your brain and body say, ‘this is really hard, why don’t you quit?’, what do you do? Nowadays, in our safe, sanitised world, this level of true self-discovery can be blocked from ever needing to be visited. True endurance training opens those curtains.

Three tips for avoiding boredom

So if you think endurance training is boredom, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Stop training indoors
  2. Devise a varied training programme
  3. Find out why you want to achieve your feat. And then remember that when it gets hard!

But nobody can tell me that running from Muswell Hill through Hampstead Heath, down to The Regent’s Park through into Hyde Park is more boring than isolating a bicep muscle to repeat the same movement for multiple reps in an indoor gym for multiple sets. I’m not having it!

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