I often tell my clients that the #1 way to motivate yourself to run is to sign up for a race. If you have something to work towards it not only gives you motivation to get out the door, but it gives your training direction. It can help define when and how you should be running.
For the last 4 years or so, I've always been training for a marathon or some other big event (minus the year I took off to have my son). Currently, I am not training for anything. I have nothing on the horizon! I am taking a self-imposed race hiatus. I did the Chicago Marathon last fall and then I broke and dislocated my toe in November. So that put running on hold. I signed up and ultimately ran the Cherry Blossom 10 miler earlier this month, which was fantastic. But I didn't really train for it. I ran, of course, but mostly just with my clients. I didn't really follow any sort of plan, which is very unlike me. I ran the race with a great friend, and while it wasn't my best, it was so much fun. We talked and laughed for 10 miles and while we both kind of felt the lack of training (she is a nursing student and had an especially tough semester and couldn't run as much as she'd liked), we were happy with our performance. In fact, it was a great race.
When I decided not to sign up for anything else, I thought not having a race on the horizon was going to hamper my running. I would feel aimless and lack motivation. But this is not the case. I find myself really looking forward to my runs and not worried about how long I run for and whether or not I do it in the appropriate time, etc. I am actually having fun!
Now, don't get me wrong, training for a race is fun and rewarding. And I do feel a little wistful when my friends tell me all about their upcoming races or watch my clients reach their goals. And yes, I'm sure I'll do a random 5K or 10K just to keep things interesting. But I am really enjoying the freedom to do what I want (as far as my running goes). Training constantly can get to the point where it's just not fun. It seems like work, especially when you have to get up extra early to get a run in. Now that I don't have to hold tight to a training plan, I feel a lot of freedom. I kind of crave the run!
I think it's important for runners to understand that they don't always have to train for something. They can take a break from racing for no reason at all. Use this time to try new things with your running, such as the introduction of a new type of workout, running route, cross training technique (to see how it affects your running), etc. I think we may, as runners, get caught up in always having to train for something and that you're not an actual runner if you're not going to run a race any time soon. Not so!
For those of you training for a race, if or when you feel like it's becoming work, or you feel like you're just not having fun, take a step back. Put your training plan in a drawer for a day or two and just run. Just lace up and go. Don't think about race pace, how long till race day, etc. Just go. And have fun. You'll feel refreshed and I bet a little invigorated, kind of like you cheated on your training plan. That's OK. It will be there to welcome you back with open arms for your next run.