There’s something special about being so excited to go running that you count the minutes until you can leave work, lace up, and hit the pavement. But no matter how much you’re in love with running, it takes a little effort to keep the relationship fresh. “If you want to make progress and still keep it fun, variety is going to be crucial,” says Jason Fitzgerald, an elite marathoner, running coach, and founder of StrengthRunning.com.
Before a favorite neighborhood route starts to feel ho-hum, mix in one of these 18 runs to keep things fun and challenging. Each one can be modified for runners of any fitness and experience levels. Many of the workouts require a set distance, but you don’t need access to a track. Websites and apps like MapMyRun and USA Track & Fieldmake it easy to map distance so you can do these workouts anywhere.
1. Get Stuck on Repeat
Running a set of repeats interspersed with intervals for recovery is a simple way to mix things up. Choose a distance or time period (200 meters or 45 seconds, for example) and run hard. Rest for a set period of time and do it all again (and again). (Spoiler alert: The recovery interval is just as important as the repeat!) The Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale is an intuitive way to loosely measure your effort, no heart rate monitor or other gadgetry required.
For most workouts, repeats should feel like a "7" to "9" on an RPE scale, (ie. a rough approximation of "intensity") and recovery intervals can either be full rest, walking, or light jogging. Start the next repeat when you’ve caught your breath enough to talk comfortably. The longer or harder the repeat, the more recovery you’ll need.
2. Climb a Ladder
Ladders add a different challenge to the traditional interval workout with repeats that grow increasingly more challenging (in distance or intensity) as the workout progresses. For example, you might run 200m, rest, run 400m, rest, run 600m, rest, and so on. This kind of workout is good practice for managing exertion throughout a workout—going hard while leaving something in the tank to finish strong. Check out a couple of sample ladder workouts for both beginning and advanced runners.
3. Step Up
Find stairs or a stadium that’s open to the public and run them again and again. As with hills, the walk down is your recovery. Increase the challenge by taking a few at a time. Shadowboxing optional.
4. Take on Tabatas
While most speed workouts call for hard effort, Tabata training demands an all-out sprint. The idea is to go as hard as you possibly can for 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat that couplet eight times as hard as you can, on stairs, flats, or however else you've planned your workout. Newer runners should start with fewer repeats and gradually build up to the complete four-minute workout.
5. Go Climbing
Tackling a long hill with a slow climb or running hard up a short, steep incline challenges your aerobic fitness, leg strength, and mental toughness all at once . Plan a running route that includes a few hills, or find a hill that requires a steep climb and run repeats. If you choose the latter, the walk to back to the base is recovery.
6. Stride Right
Running strides is the bipedal equivalent of pumping a car’s gas pedal. As you run a repeat of about 100m, speed up until you reach approximately 95 percent of your maximum speed—which should happen about a third of the way into the repeat—then decelerate to the finish. Do as many repeats as you have energy for, with recovery or rest in between. “People love strides,” says Jason Fitzgerald. “They’re a good way to stretch your legs out and feel the wind in your hair.” Fitzgerald suggests doing strides before the end of an easy run, so that you’re warmed up but not fatigued.
7. Go Off-Roading
Rejuvenate the body and mind by getting off the road and into nature. Running a path or trail provides a scenic backdrop and tests your coordination on new terrain. Just make sure you have the right kind of sneakers, and if it’s your first time off the road, pick a path that isn’t likely to (literally) trip you up.
8. Try "Fartleks"
Swedish for “speed play,” fartleks allow runners to reap the benefits of speed work in an unstructured workout. Bonus: They’re as fun to run as they are to say. To try fartleks, just run at a comfortable pace to warm up and then throw in a sprint—run hard until you reach the end of the block, or until the next stop sign, or until you see a red car. Make a game of it; that’s why they call it “play!”
9. Get Social
Run with a group or club to learn new routes and meet running buddies. Larger cities will have multiple running clubs that gather for group runs before and after the 9-to-5 workday. And most have a social component too—post-workout recovery fuel might include beer, bagels, or both. If there aren’t running clubs or teams near you, contact specialty running shops in your area; they often host group runs. Reversal runs, rabbit runs, and group fartleks make for challenging, fun group workouts.
For all 18 ways to change up your running routine, go to Greatist.com.