The Different Kinds of Running Motivation

Both as a runner and as a coach, I think a lot about motivation. What will get me out the door to run today when the weather is crappy? How do I convince a client to keep running when they feel like they aren’t making progress?

With races sidelined last year, many runners have struggled to find a motivation to run other than races.

There’s No Universal Running Motivation

There will be days when you really don’t want to run. Being a runner means running anyway.

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Doing that requires motivation – a strong why.

When I went through the training to become a running coach, the instructor repeatedly said the primary goal- the main motivation – of every runner was to get faster. Not to get stronger or ‘do better’ by any other objective or subjective standard, but to beat the clock.

I could not disagree with this statement more.

‘Runners’ are not a unified group with one single anything. We have a million reasons for getting out of bed in the morning and going for a run.

Not All Motivation Is Created Equal

There isn’t even a single kind of motivation. I believe there are two kinds of motivation:

• Motivation (capital M) and
• motivation (little m)

Motivation (capital M) is your big picture motivation. The Big Why. The drive to accomplish your big, audacious, long-term goals. The things you want to be remembered for after you’re gone.

motivation (little m), is what you want to do right now.

You need Motivation because there will be days when you have zero motivation.

What you want to do in the moment

On days when you lack motivation, you need to call on your Motivation to remember not only what you want to do right now, but what’s important to you in the long term.

Motivation To Run

There’s no right or wrong M/motivation to run and your motivation doesn’t have to be important, noble, or life-altering (although it can be).

Your motivation – your why – needs to be yours. It’s a personal thing you don’t have to explain or justify to anyone. If it works for you and gets you out the door, work with it.

My Running Motivations

My running motivation has varied over the years, but contrary to what my instructor thought, running faster has never been my motivation. The idea of getting faster (for the sole purpose of getting faster) does nothing to motivate me. (Side rant: when I raised my objection to his ‘all runners only want to get faster’ idea citing myself as an exception to his rule, he told me I “was just kidding myself.” Getting faster, he reiterated, was the primary goal of every runner. He was every kind of wrong.)

More often than I’d care to admit, what gets me out of bed to run is my love of junk food. More than once I’ve stuck it out on a miserable long run because of the pizza or cupcakes I knew I’d eat later in the day.

I also hate wasting money, so when my running motivation is lagging, I’ll register for a race. Races are expensive, especially when you add in travel and hotels. Once I’ve made that investment, I’ll do whatever is necessary to get to the start line. My motivation becomes to not waste money.

While my motivation (little m- what I want to today) will vary, my running Motivation is always the same: to be a healthy runner for as long as I want to run.

How Do You Find Your Motivation?

You know yourself best, and only you can know what your M/motivations are. It isn’t something others can tell you.

Motivation (capital M) is often tied to your big picture, long-term audacious running goals.

motivation (little m) can come from anywhere, can be tied to short or long-term running goals (or not), or can change regularly (or not).

A few ideas to help you find your running M/motivation:

Your Audacious Running Goals

What is your big picture, I want to complete it at some point in the next 15 years, if everything lines up just so, running goals?

If you one day want to run the Berlin Marathon, qualify for Boston, or win an age group medal, that’s your Motivation.

Break that goal down into smaller short-term goals and that’s your motivation.

Your Dirty Little (Running) Secret

Do you have a dirty little running secret? Something in the running world you fantasize about?

This could be anything: some small race you heard about that you got obsessed with or running a race in costume. It could be something that seems so unlikely you may not want to admit it to others, or something that just seems silly (but that you still can’t get out of your head).

You don’t have to admit it to anyone else if you don’t want to, but own it and work with it as your running M/motivation.

Cold, Rainy Saturday Test

To either determine your M/motivation or to test if your motivation will actually get your butt out the door, use the Cold, Rainy Saturday Test.

The test is this: Imagine it’s a cold, rainy Saturday morning, and you’re supposed to do your long run (whatever that means to you).

What things/ideas/accomplishments make you more excited to run than stay under the covers?

Or, if you think you know your M/motivation, think of those warm covers and your Motivation. Which one wins?

Thinking about this ahead of time makes it much more likely that when that cold, rainy day comes, you’ll be ready for it. If you wait for said cold, rainy morning to think about why you should run, you likely won’t be able to come up with much.

Make It Rewarding

While some M/motivations will be big-picture and important, they don’t have to be. Rewards and self-bribery are a great motivator for many.

Is there something you enjoy you can restrict only to runs? Or restrict to only doing after a run as a reward (like me and my cupcakes)? If you’ll only listen to a favorite podcast, music, or audiobook during a run, you’re much more likely to get out the door.

Et Voila! Motivation!

Journal Prompt

What Motivates you? What do you want to accomplish over the course of your life? How do you want to be remembered? How does your running fit into your Motivation?

What motivates you in the short-term? How can you make yourself get out the door when you don’t feel like it?

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