Lets Talk Running Motivation (How I stay motivated...and not so motivated)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

It's no secret.  I have a love hate relationship with running.  And I'm not talking about year-to-year or month-to-month (although there are some interesting trends there...another post) but more day-to-day, hour-to-hour, and more accurately minute-to-minute.  Sometimes, I'll be out on run and really feeling the vibe and enjoying every minute of the run and soaking it all in.  Other times, I'll be out on run, or even worse in a race, and ask myself "why in the hell do you do this? This is stupid" which happened two weekends ago at the Blacksburg Classic.  I would be willing to bet that most runners feel similarly.  We all endure it; the bloody toes, missing toenails, countless hours spent in the elements, sore muscles, doctors visits, and injuries.  And for what I constantly ask myself?  To be a part of a label?  Check a marathon off the bucket list?  We selfishly steal a half hour here and an hour there for time away from the monotony of life.  We claim it's "our time" to think and blow off stress, or we use it to "clear our heads" but sometimes I don't any of this is true.

The follow excerpt is from a paper I recently wrote for a content area reading class I'm taking this spring.

Running, in the purest definition of the word, is freedom.  Freedom from relationships, bills, and obligations; running is freedom from the tedium of life.  Running is where stress goes to die and when the imagination has recess.  Running is solitude, reflection, friendship, and camaraderie.  Running is man in his most primitive form.  Many consider it to be the most basic progression of human development - some call it evolutionary. It’s the purest joy a toddler feels as they develop the coordination to transition from walking to running and also the fear on a parents face as they realize another degree of freedom has been removed.  I would argue that a young child running while playing is the most pure and wholesome happiness a human feels in their life.  For me, running is cheap therapy and time well invested in my physical and mental health.  It has been my sanctuary, foundation, passion, and at times my obsession. 
Three Sundays ago, I was dreading my long run for the week, nothing unusual.  I kept reasoning that I would do it at this time or that time or maybe a little later - once breakfast digests I thought to myself.  After breakfast, I sat down to read a chapter for class when I decided to check the status of a Brooks order I had placed about a week earlier.  When the status said delivered, I hopped off the couch and went and checked the mailbox.  I was giddy like a kid on Christmas day!  I have to admit, I was very proud of myself for shopping on a budget; everything I ordered was on clearance because the items were "last seasons" colors, but to me they looked pretty awesome!  Instantly, the looming feeling of guilt was gone and replaced by a desire to go run and "earn" my new clothes.  I changed and told Michelle I would be back in a few hours.

When you head out for a couple hour run, I had 14 miles planned for this particular Sunday, you have a lot of time to think or reflect or whatever you want to call it.  I was thinking about this post.  About how I have a personal struggle with motivation that teeters on an unhealthy addiction.  How I often have a feeling of guilt until I cross off that days mileage.  It made me think.  What drives me to run?  Coincidently, I'm in an Educational Psychology class this spring, wish I had taken that class as an undergrad, and we're learning all about motivation and what makes learners tick...I digress.

So while I was out on this long 14 mile run, I created a list of things that make me want to run, things that get me out the door when I'm battling an overwhelming feeling of guilt for not hitting the day(s)/months mileage.

  • Write a Blog - This blog has provided a great outlet and medium to stay connected with friends and family as I've moved and traveled.  Aside from helping me stay connected, the blog has helped me stay accountable (although not for posting) for races and training and has encouraged me to follow through with ideas and goals. 

  • Sign Up for a Race - As a goal oriented person, I have an overwhelming need to have the next race(s) planned or I seem to go a bit 'registration' crazy.  Crossing the finish line of a big race is always bittersweet.  The temporary joy and high of completing a task that has been looked forward to for so long is quickly replaced by what I like to call the "post race depression."  This year I have scheduled or set tentative races for most of the year to hopefully avoid the above mentioned but only time will tell.  I can feel it beginning to creep up as Rock 'n' Roll USA approaches this weekend without another long race in the foreseeable future, although I do have the Run for Remembrance and Race to the Top planned for April!
  • Plan a Destination Race - Although Rock 'n' Roll USA (DC) isn't "really" a "destination" race for me because I get to go home and stay with family, it's not in my home town and I'm not sleeping in my own bed so it's kind of a destination race.  For most, this would mean having more invested in a race or run and thus being more likely to train based on a high investment.  I have so many destination races in mind it's scary, but if I ever want to hit that 50 state club I have to start somewhere!
  • Run a Fun Run or Event Style Race - Last May, Michelle and I ran a Warrior Dash in Charlotte, NC and had an absolute blast.  I can't say I didn't give it my all but if the race hadn't gone well or something had happened and we missed the race I wouldn't have lost any sleep over it because it wasn't a high priority run.  These small races help string together the time between big races and can provided some relief from boring training miles.  I would put both the Race to the Top stair climb and Run for Remembrance events listed above in this category; it's more about the energy and having fun then testing my fitness or accomplishing a goal.

  • Use Social Media to Hold Yourself Accountable - I love social media.  I know. Big surprise!  But in all seriousness, I think it can be a huge motivator.  By making a registration or race publicly known, I feel I'm more inclined to train and focus on a goal because I know people will be asking how training is going or how the race went.  I really love that most mileage services (Strava, Garmin, etc.) allow you to publish your training runs/races to various forms of social media, mainly Twitter and Facebook.  I don't use the automatic push to publish for every run (although I did in the past) for two reasons, a) I don't want to clog up people news feeds with small 3-4 mile runs everyday and b) I would say most people could care less about daily mileage compared to big events like races or "epic" runs.  Even then, unless you're a runner or just a really good friend I would be willing to bet that you simply scroll past most of the runs I post.

  • Run with a Partner - This one isn't for everyone (including me) but for those folks who struggle to make it out the door or find it easy to blow off an evening run, having someone waiting and more importantly counting on you to show up helps reduce those "missed days."  This February, I went on my first "long" training run with a partner, a friend from college who is still around Blacksburg and happened to be training for the Yuengling Shamrock Marathon this Sunday, the day after Rock 'n' Roll.  My goal for the day was 20 miles, longer than any training run I had ever completed; we planned to meet for the last 12 miles of my run.  I left the house around 7:40 and managed to get in just under 8 miles before meeting him at 9.  We decided on the Huckleberry Trail, which I happened to be running the Blacksburg Classic on the following weekend, and planned on doing the full length, 6 miles out and back.  This was the first time I had run with a friend, or anyone for that matter, since moving from Charlotte.  After discussing pace we settled on 8 min-miles, faster than I was planning on running but well within my capabilities and fitness.  It was great to have someone push me and hold to me running the full 20 miles I had scheduled for the day; it's far too easy to bail when it's just you out there all alone in the cold.  We stayed very close to our 8 minute pace for the duration of the run, only fading in the last mile or so (Strava File).  This was a perfect example of why running with someone is great.  I met my mileage goal for the day, finished my run early in the day, and ran quicker than what I thought possible for longer; it was an excellent confidence boost and a great time catching up with an old friend...so maybe it is for me?
  • Listen to Music - I used to be a diehard "NO MUSIC" type of runner.  I believe that music makes runners/cyclists extremely vulnerable in their environments, mainly to traffic but other consideration are important like other runners/cyclist, animals (who hasn't been chased by a dog on a bike?), and unfortunately not so friendly people.  This isn't necessarily by choice however, the shape of my ears does not allow or even help to hold ear buds in and consequently I have to use a hat over my ears to "hold" them in place.  If anyone has recommendations or a solution, I'm all ears (see what I did there?) for a good set of around-the-ear headphones or earbuds.  Unfortunately, as the winter draws to a close, so does my time being able to listen to music on runs.  I found on several long runs this winter, having music helped pass miles quickly and picked me up when I was on the verge of quitting.  Check out Rockmyrun.com for mixes, I've downloaded 5 hours of mixes for free from the site for simply signing up for a free account.  
  • Create SMART Goals -  My first post of the year talked a little bit about SMART goals (Specific-Measurable-Attainable-Realistic-Timely) and how as an engineer I'm inclined to think of most goals or objectives this way.  Last year, I set the a goal of 1200 miles for annual mileage, this year I have upped that goal to 1300 miles in hopes to better last years (~1060 miles) mileage. It seems daunting if you think about it as just a number, but the monthly goal, ~109 miles, seems attainable and realistic, although I'm yet to hit it for a month this year.  My point is that this goal helps keep me going when I don't feel like going for a run or there's nothing on my calendar to look forward to or I haven't bought new clothes recently.
  • Buy Some New Clothes or Shoes - Of all the "motivators" I've listed, this one seems to be the least realistic for a frequent habit (maybe not) but it is what got me out the door three weeks ago and has helped me out other times when the couch has been calling me.  As a runner and engineer, I totally geek out over new gear or clothing and will occasionally indulge in some online therapy, if the price is right.  As I mentioned above, everything I order is on clearance or deep discount for being last seasons colors or model.  This helps keep costs down and the running draw from smelling too awful, although it's tough to avoid.


These are just a few of the things that help me out the front door when the weather outside isn't "ideal" or there are "too many things to do" or I'm simply "just too tired."  Don't let this post lead you to believe that I never miss a training day and always make my milage goals, hardly the case.  I do believe that you have to be mentally prepared to run and often tell myself that it's "okay" not to run and that everyone needs "those" days, as long as they're not too often!

As a future teacher, I'm going to have to figure out how to run in the morning as afternoon coaching/lesson planing will likely eliminate any chance of evening runs.  So how about you guys, how do you stay motivated when all you want to do is come home for work and crash on the couch? How do you get yourself out the front door?

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