I have been thinking a lot about motivation recently.
I find running really difficult and many times not particularly pleasant experience, so why do I keep doing it.
Motivation is one of the four legs which support the ultra running table upon which we dine – Motivation, Resilience, Training and Execution.
Take away any one of these and unless the others are unusually strong, that table is likely to fall over.
Take away two of these and that table is more likely than not to fall over.
Take away three of them and unless the last one is massive that table is on the floor.
Motivation is inextricably linked with the other three legs holding up this table. If you are not motivated you will not achieve the consistency or quality in your training required to give you the fitness and skills required to finish your chosen course.
If you are not motivated then your resilience will be compromised. You will have fewer reasons to keep going when things get tough, and as we know, at some point in an ultra, things are going to get tough.
If you are not motivated it is highly unlikely you will have the focus and concentration needed to make smart decisions and execute your race properly.
When I think about my own running, motivation is very important to me.
In the small self selecting group of weirdos who run ultras, ie most of my friends, running stupidly long distances every other weekend is seen as normal.
Unfortunately, I do not have those genes or that natural ability. For me, running long distances is a big deal. I can’t just go and knock out a 30 mile run for the fun of it. I need something to get my adrenaline flowing because without the adrenaline the running becomes a chore.
Before I list the things which motivate me, perhaps I should first list the things which don’t motivate me. Races which involve the following things just don’t do it for me at all, despite being hugely popular with some other people
- running in circles – I cannot do looped races, they just mess my head. Running is not enjoyable enough to do it for hours and end up back in the same place
- low key marathons on open roads – without the crowds, how is this different from a training run?
- short ultras – too long to run fast, too short to run slow, they are just pointless and they hurt
- FOMO – running a race just because everyone else is doing it
- Races at the wrong time of year – if I am not fit, running is going to hurt more than usual, so why do it.
If those things don’t do it for me then what does?
- the journey – I like the feeling of going somewhere in a point to point race
- Big mountains – the bigger the scenery the more my motivation
- Support Crew – I like the feeling of having my trusty crew to run towards, knowing they will look after me no matter what
- Epic Adventures – big and scary, stepping into the unknown in terms of my capabilities. The sort of races which take over your life for 6 months
- Travel – racing in new and different places
- Razzmatazz – I love big city marathons, crowds and race expos
- Logistics – races which are big enough to require serious planning
- Breaking new ground – finding new races which are a bit off the beaten track
- The Classics – chasing qualification and then running the big classic races
- Competition – maintaining your place in the private pecking order which exists inside your head
- Failure – or more specifically fear of failure
- not being very good – if I ever actually became any good at it, I probably wouldn’t have any reason to keep doing it
Races which combine some or all of the above are the ones which light a fire in me, which give me a target to chase, which get me out the door on cold winters morning and which give me the motivation to keep going when things get tough.
The psychologists talk of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. The extrinsic motivators are those external things: the prize money, the medal, the praise for doing well. While it is nice to get a pat on the back from your peers when you run well, I am never going to win anything so there are few extrinsic motivations for me.
The intrinsic motivations are the ones to do with sense of achievement, enjoyment, curiosity, self esteem. Why am I doing this? what do I want to achieve? Why do I need to finish this thing? The intrinsic motivations are the ones which I suspect are linked to greater resilience. One of my favorite lines is a quote from the movie Chariots of Fire, attributed to the Flying Scot Eric Liddell: “Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way. And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within”
We are all different and I am sure we are all motivated by different things. The one thing we all have in common is that no matter how talented you are, without motivation you are not going to get very far.
Motivation is about finding that power within you to make you want to make it to the end of the race.
Don’t be fooled by the weirdos, if you are a mere mortal, running long distances is hard and you need to have a reason to make you want to do it, because it is going to hurt.
After writing this piece I had a Facebook conversation with Murdo the Magnificent which adds some more colour to this subject. I add it below for completeness
MtM: You mention competition. Is this more “against yourself”; or against peer group rivals who you sometimes finish ahead of / sometimes not?
Me: an interesting question and one which I realise I hadn’t fully explored. It is a bit of both. It is about competing against yourself to finish in a given time or in the top 20%, 50% whatever. It is about competing against the age graded percentages. It is about racing your PBs from previous years or beating as many younger people as possible. It is about staying ahead of some peers in the performance stakes (this is not necessarily a particularly nice trait) . The actual in race competition against peers is mostly sport and while it can spur you on to a performance on the day, that is a short term motivation and isn’t strong enough to sustain the effort required to prepare for some of our more arduous adventures.
MtM: I’d agree with all of that. And possibly add a distinction between this competition element during the lengthy training period, and the competition element on “race day”. With the latter, part of it will depend on how the training has gone, and how intact / uninjured you are as you toe the start line. All good stuff to mull over
Me: yes I agree, my race day motivations are very much dependent on the possibilities for performance – going into a race well prepared, fit and in a good state of mind creates the possibility of a good performance. When this possibility exists I am more motivated to focus and suffer.