It doesn’t have to be a new year to think about working on self-improvement, but seeing as 2020 wasn’t the best year, it makes sense to use this new year as an opportunity to start afresh and research self-improvement ideas and ways to learn and grow as a person – and more specifically, ways to improve your trail running and knowledge of the outdoors, ready for future adventures.
We’ve put together this list of self-improvement ideas for runner and outdoor enthusiasts, focusing on ways to develop relevant knowledge and skills that will be useful for future outdoor adventures and becoming more a more confident trail runner who spends more time outdoors in wild places. Having the knowledge and confidence to spend more time out there can really help to reduce anxiety and enhance your enjoyment and fun – whether it’s pure Type 1 fun-fun, or the more challenging Type 2 kind of fun that helps you learn.
Many of these self-improvement ideas are also low-cost and can be worked on when at home, so even if you’re under a pandemic-related lockdown, you can kick-start the month or new year by working on one or more of these areas!
1. Switch Up Your Running Training
If you’re already a runner then switching-up your training is a great way to revitalize your passion for running (which may have fallen off over the holidays or just during COVID, due to the lack of races to train for).
Some suggestions for how to switch-up your running training are:
- Try a run streak this month and see how it benefits your running and overall fitness! It doesn’t have to be running a certain distance every day, or even all month – setting a target like run a least 15 times this month, or doing a three-day mini run-streak can be a great way to kick-start the new year – or get back into running if you’ve taken a break over the holidays.
- Work on improving your running form and posture and reduce the risk of overuse injuries.
- Build speedwork into your weekly training – we know how easy it is to skip those intensive speedwork sessions in favor of an old-favorite running route, or a long, slow run. But the gains you get from doing speedwork are so enjoyable – and you can have a great session in a shorter time – great for cold, dark winter training days. Tracking your training with a great GPS watch and / or using Strava are great ways to help with motivation and seeing your gains over time.
- Work on your technique – if you need to build balance and core strength for technical downhill running, then practice running downhill, and don’t forget to do those cross-training core workout sessions (with no running involved!).
If you’re training for a trail marathon or ultra – or just looking for some authentic, real-world and practical advice for improving your trail running technique, then Alastair’s awesome post on the subject is a great read. If you’d like the advice in more detail and in video form, check out the playlist on our YouTube channel, and subscribe for future advice and trail running videos. Here’s the intro to the series:
If you’re not already a runner or just run very casually, then naturally we would encourage you to run more, especially if it’s on trails! Here’s our complete trail running guide if, you are new to running trails. For some trail running inspiration, there’s tons of content on our blog – and reading from the experiences of other runners – from new runners to world-class elite athletes in our runner interviews series is a great place to start.
2. Learn a Practical New Skill
If you spend time watching adventure and survival shows, or are a creative type of person, then you’ll already appreciate the benefits of learning practical skills that you can use while outdoors, or even just around the house or for nothing more than your own entertainment and relaxation.
Here are a few examples of new skills that are relevant to outdoor adventure-lovers, most of which don’t have to cost much to learn. You can pick up a lot from a good book on the subject, or watching YouTube videos from the right people who know what they’re talking about, if you can’t get to an in-person course.
- Knotmaking – How to correctly string a hammock, tie gear down correctly in a van or camper, to help with sailing and outdoor sports… endless possibilities.
- Massage – basic self-massage and massages you can give others is a handy skill to learn. For Christmas next year perhaps you’ll offer your family back massages rather than buying them stuff….
- Navigation (with and without a compass) – it goes without saying that this is a useful skill to know for any trail runner or outdoor adventurer who may be spending time in remote places. REI offers a variety of different navigation courses which are excellent value. Interested in knowing how best to find new local trails to run? View this post all about the topic.
- First Aid – basic first aid skills are another thing every outdoor adventurer should have some knowledge of.
- Sewing – There is something very liberating about being able to effectively make and fix your own gear. If you can sew and know some basic woodwork then that opens up a whole new world of what you can make and do. A decent heavy-duty sewing machine is a modest investment assuming you’ll get good use out of it over many years (mine cost around $180), and I’ve picked up enough from watching YouTube videos and reading the machine’s instruction manual to make a mattress cover and all the insulated window shades in our campervan – saving us about $1000 vs buying them. For more on the other skills we’ve learned and put into practice on our DIY Sprinter Campervan journey and more videos like the one here, subscribe to our YouTube channel!
- Survival skills – I really enjoyed reading these survival books – While it may be the case that you can’t necessarily learn the mental toughness and attitude required to get you to the same level as some of these individuals, you can learn some practical skills and the value of creativity as well as tips for staying positive when in a survival situation by reading about their experiences. To take it to the next level, there is no substitute for a wilderness survival course – something REI stores will start to resume, once COVID-19 poses less of a risk.
- You can also subscribe to Masterclass like we have to learn even more skills, from the world’s best people!
Be prepared for the unexpected with a multitool
Having a multi-tool like a Leatherman with you at home and when you’re out is a great way to ensure you have the right tool for the job – whether it’s a survival situation or just to fix a screw or jammed piece of gear – it’s very satisfying knowing that you’re prepared for many eventualities by having useful gear at your disposal.
The Leatherman FREE series are awesome pocket-tools, and a knife like the FREE K2 is simple to use, fits easily inside a pocket due to its compact size and light weight, and could be a very handy companion on all sorts of outdoor adventures – including helping with the knotmaking, first aid and sewing mentioned above, as well as possible survival situations. To learn more about the US-designed Leatherman pocket-tools and the FREE series click here to read Alastair’s review of his FREE P4. More of our experiences using Leatherman multitools can be read here: Leatherman reviews and articles.
3. Try a plant-based whole-food diet
As regular readers of our blog know, we are advocates for eating a plant-based, whole-food diet, and the health and environmental benefits of this way of eating, and eat mostly plants and whole foods ourselves.
You don’t have to fully change your diet overnight to benefit – perhaps you may want to start with trying eating plant-based for the month, or starting small and switching out your post-workout milk/animal-protein-based protein powders for plant-based protein powder as a first step.
Another great way to get more plant-powered nutrition into your daily diet and help boost immunity is to drink a daily green juice, which is really easy with a pre-mixed powder such as Organifi Green Juice or PlantRise SuperGreens72.
If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of a plant-based diet, have a read of these posts that include some great documentaries, books and recipes:
- Benefits of a plant-based diet for runners
- The best plant-based diet documentaries to keep you entertained during self-isolation
- Green superfood powders designed to help boost immunity
- Plant-based protein powders
- All plant-based diet posts on our blog
4. Drink Nice-Tasting, Purified Water
If your new year’s resolution is to drink more (water) and stay hydrated then a great way to ensure that you look forward to getting enough water in you is to drink from a bottle that purifies the tap water you fill it with.
We have been using LARQ bottles for the last couple of years. The LARQ bottle, and LARQ Bottle Movement, will purify water and neutralize any stinky bottle-odors, completely autonomously. LARQ Bottles are for those who want something a little different from the other water bottles on the market. The LARQ self-cleaning bottle can fill up from almost anywhere, even on the trails, and will purify your water at the tap of a button.
If you want to take this bottle with you on a hiking trip, I recommend getting the new LARQ Bottle Movement as it’s a lighter option – while it doesn’t have insulated walls like the Original LARQ Bottle, it is a bit lighter and more durable due to the colorful, removable silicone sleeve.
5. Learn a new language
While none of us have been able to do much, if any traveling in 2020, we are eagerly awaiting the time when we can travel once more – and get to run in some new and beautiful places!
Learning a new language is truly a great life skill, and apps like Babbel and Duolingo make it easy to do – especially if you’re looking for a productive way to use commuting time, or for something to put on your headphones while you do admin or housework.
It would be great to turn up to run in the Spanish Pyrenees or the French Alps knowing a bit of the language, don’t you think?
6. Plan a Mini Adventure
Get together with someone close to you (other half, best friend or grown-up kid, perhaps) and put a date in the diary for a mini adventure. Then make it happen!
Putting the date in the diary and committing to another person (or people) on that date is key to ensure you don’t end up canceling or pushing it back indefinitely if other things threaten to get in the way of your adventure time. If you prefer to go it alone, make sure you still commit yourself to the date 😉
We’ve found trying new sports and exploring new places to be such memorable ways to spend time together exploring the outdoors. Some ideas for mini adventures are:
- Plan a destination trail running race for later in the year, and plan your training together
- Plan a loop or point-to-point trail running or hiking trip
- Learn to rock-climb (this one’s great if the weather means you need to make it an indoors adventure)
- Go on an overnight fastpacking trip (read more about fastpacking gear here) and spend some time stargazing while you’re out sleeping under the stars
- Explore a lake or the coast on SUP or kayaks – here’s a guide to help get you started with stand up paddle boarding and choosing the best paddle board for your needs.
7. Read (or listen to) an inspirational book (or two)
If you read our blog then you’ll already know that I love to read books by runners, athletes and adventurers and have written a number of lists sharing my favorites: all inspiring in their own right, whether you’re interested in exploring new places, or learning about how others have pushed the limits of human endurance:
- These Ultrarunning Books Will Inspire You To Run Further
- The Best Running Books for Adventure Lovers
- Best Women’s Adventure Books: Inspirational Female Adventurers
If you’re not a big fan of reading books then you could also try listening to them – something that is great for road trips or simply when you want to close your eyes and listen. Audible (part of Amazon) is a great way to encourage you to listen to audiobooks as you get a new credit to use on a new book each month, and can pause the subscription if you read (listen) slower than a book a month, so no credits are wasted. Plus, the books are always with you if you have your phone with you! If you’re interested in trying out listening to audiobooks then you can try it out to see if you like it with a free trial.
8. Look after your body
If 2020 has taught us anything it’s that you need to take care and look after yourself! As runners and active people, we’re often having to remind ourselves to take the time to care for our bodies. Simple ways to do this include:
- Stretch more – we’re taking a leaf out of our dog and cats’ books and stretching regularly. Hours spent running, sitting at a desk or driving can take their toll. Here’s one of our favorite yoga routines that gives us a good opportunity to stretch and BREATHE! We also love to roll on one of our Chirp wheels daily to stretch out our backs (and sometimes get some satisfying clicks in the process). If you haven’t heard about Chirp wheels yet, check them out here.
- Get more sleep – I think everyone by now knows that one of the best ways to look after yourself is to let your body and mind have enough time to rest and recover each day – by getting enough, good-quality sleep. Simple fixes to help make that happen as often as possible are to:
- Reduce screen-time (TV and phones) at least half an hour before bed and get an app that reduces the blue light from your phone’s screen
- Keep the temperature in your bedroom cool to reduce overheating and tossing-and-turning during the night, which interrupts sleep patterns
- Ensure you have a good quality mattress and pillows that are suited to you and your sleep style.
- Go to bed earlier so you have more chance of getting up earlier the next day (especially if you want to become more of a morning runner!). We’ve found turning the TV off earlier helps encourage us to make this happen so we’re not still watching shows at 11pm or later!
- Look after your feet – feet get so much wear and use and not enough credit and love! A good foot massage, treating hard skin any foot issues, and trimming toenails are all simple and free ways to care for your feet. Throw on some good moisturizer and a good quality pair of merino socks and your feet will be much happier! If you’re going all-out then you could also treat them to a new pair of comfortable trail running shoes 🙂
9. Minimize on ‘stuff’
If you don’t know where everything is, because you have so much stuff and/or it’s not very tidy or well-organized, it can be surprisingly stressful on your mind. It’s more to keep track of, and you’re living with that niggling feeling that you don’t quite know what you have and where it all is when you need to put your hand on it.
I like to use good minimizing and tidying sessions as an opportunity to organize our adventure gear into categories (camping, hiking, running, skiing, watersports, etc), get rid of gear I don’t really use (or like) and wash and repair gear that needs some love (you know, using those new sewing skills I mentioned earlier 😉 ). If you have a closet or garage where you keep your adventure gear, then even if you can’t actually get out and adventure (because – well – COVID) then you can at least have it all organized, labeled, clean and in good condition for when you can grab it and head out the door for some of that Type 2 fun!
Minimizing on digital ‘stuff’ is also really helpful for clearing the mind. Clearing down old emails, unsubscribing from paper and digital mailing lists and deleting apps from your phone that you don’t use – that all helps you focus on what’s important.
10. Coach someone else to start running
If you have a friend or family member who would like to get into running then what better way to focus your energy than to help them on that journey?
We’ve found it to be so much more motivating and committing to run with someone else than trying to do it all alone – because you’re not just doing it for you and you don’t want to let someone else down by dropping out at the last minute.
If you or they are concerned that one of you is a much faster runner than the other, and both want to do certain runs at your own pace, then here are a few tips for running with someone who is faster (or slower) than you that may be helpful.
If you’re looking for other productive things to do with your time then we also have a load of other suggestions in this post that you may find interesting: 10 things to do while social distancing.
I hope you enjoyed this post and found it helpful. Let us know if you have any other suggestions in the comments below!