We all have our “comfort zones”. We settle into a daily routine that brings stability and organization to our lives. We may eat the same foods on particular days of the week and watch the same shows on television.

We may even have running “comfort zones” like running the same course or distance many days in a row, or even running in the same races every year. Being in our “comfort zones” makes us feel safe and at ease. At the same time, getting out of our “comfort zones” may mean uncertainty, anxiety and even worry. 

    Having “comfort zones” in many aspects of life can be a big positive, like a regular sleep routine, regular visits with friends and even walking a pet each morning. But in running, staying in your “comfort zone” may mean a lack of progress or improvement and even boredom with running. Do you ever feel like your running is in a rut? Same old routes, same old pace, same old results? Well maybe it’s time for a new challenge in your running or in other words, it might just be time to get out of your running “comfort zone”.

    New running challenges can come in many different forms. New race distances, new training programs, trying different training locations, different training surfaces and setting specific personal best goals all offer new challenges in running. Such challenges may force you to get out of your comfort zone. Challenges of any type mean there will be some consequence or outcome, either positive or negative in nature, but above all challenges will give you the opportunity to grow, learn and test your limits. Running challenges are not some road block; they are an opportunity to test yourself.

    So maybe you want to run a marathon, run an ultra-distance event, a trail race or even run your first race at any distance. Such a challenge can present opportunities to stretch your horizons, both physically and mentally. New running challenges may mean that you have to try new things in your running, such as different training methods, changes in your diet or locations/terrain that you do your training. So within any big running challenge there are many little challenges that lead to progress toward meeting the big challenge. All the little challenges provide an opportunity to try new things and find out what might work for you and what doesn’t work. Everyone is different and one training method or program may not work the same for every runner. But trying new things will allow you to grow as a runner and better understand how you can be a faster runner, while at the same time getting more enjoyment from your running.

    In some cases you may challenge yourself with running goals that seem unrealistic to others. Maybe people don’t think you can complete a marathon, run a 100k trail race or even make it through a swim in a triathlon. You may question the challenge you have given yourself at times. But think back on other challenges you have met in your life outside of running. Have you had challenges that seemed insurmountable, but with work and patience you met the challenges? It’s the same with running; what may seem impossible now may become standard practice with dedication, encouragement and motivation. Meeting a running challenge may not be easy, but with a long term vision and hard work, what once seemed impossible in running can become reality.

    Sometimes fear of failing keeps people from trying new things and accepting new challenges. If you challenge yourself failures will occur, they are part of the process of reaching any high challenge goal. Maybe a new workout goes poorly, you don’t perform well in your first trail race or you have to drop out of your first marathon. Setbacks are a normal part of progress. Work on being resilient and learning from setbacks to be better in the future. Any failure is an opportunity to reassess your training and racing strategies going forward. Failure is not final or fatal! Small setbacks can provide opportunities to learn and grow to become better at meeting future challenges. Just don’t let fear of failure keep you from challenging yourself in your running. If you have never failed at a task then you have probably never taken a risk and challenged yourself at that task. Learn from any failure and keep moving forward.

    Running challenges may mean you have to do things a bit differently than you have done in the past. Most often that will mean changing your training methods. Going on a different training program can be scary because it’s uncharted territory. How will your body respond to a new program? How will you feel day to day? Will the new program cause you to go backward instead of making positive progress? But what are the consequences of staying on your same training program? Can you run better with a new approach? Get out of your training comfort zone! Envision the runner you want to be, not the runner you are today. Meeting a challenge is a lot about your attitude toward the challenge. 

    New challenges can bring new excitement and new commitment to your running. Meeting the challenge, no matter what it is, probably won’t be easy, but the sense of accomplishment of meeting the challenge can last a lifetime. Challenging yourself provides an opportunity to learn new things, overcome hardship and expand your mental horizons. So get out of that running comfort zone and challenge yourself. You might just be glad you did!

Read more of Dr. Ferguson articles on www.runohio.com 

Now We’re Stressed Out! - http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/164-now-we-re-stressed-out-by-richard-ferguson-ph-d  

Confidence: It’s Your Choicehttp://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/60-confidence-it-s-your-choice  

What Is Mental Toughness? -   http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/90-what-is-mental-toughness 

Don’t Panic!  -  http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/107-don-t-panic-by-richard-ferguson-ph-d