Motivate Yourself: Becoming a Lifelong Runner
This is probably the most difficult topic to cover when writing about running because it’s particularly hard to pin down in any specific form. I can drone on for days about form, shoes, equipment and the like, but when someone asks me what motivates me to run, and I really think about it, I’m not precisely certain. Sure, I could say something along the lines of “it’s a great way to stay in shape” or “I’m chasing a personal best marathon time.” For me, these things happen to be true, but they don’t explain why I run; they are side effects or, let’s call them “added benefits” of my running, rather than the ultimate goal. To put it another way, I don’t need to run races or become supremely physically fit to enjoy running. I would do it regardless.
But this answer begs the questions: “why is this the case?” “How have I gone from someone who really disliked running, to someone who dislikes the days where I don’t run?” “How have I maintained the level of enjoyment and fulfillment I feel when I run for the better part of 5 years?” “Can anyone do this?” In this article, I will try to explain how I developed my passion for running and how it has kept me consistently motivated. I firmly believe everyone has the ability to change themselves for the better through distance running and that everyone can also learn to enjoy it for its own sake, as I have.
Setting Positive Expectations
Distance running is usually associated with unreasonably hard work, competition, pain, battling your own body, and suffering. Beginning with these hostile expectations, it’s no wonder many people quickly give it up! Although you certainly can work hard, experience pain and exhaust your willpower while running, these things are not the true essence of running. Push them from your mind. Instead, begin to associate positive feelings with running. For example, I look forward to running because I have taught myself to associate it with hard but cleansing physical work, clearing my head, deep and steady breathing, mindful reflection on my thoughts, and enjoying being outside, engaging my body and focusing my mind. In a word, it’s meditative. Perhaps your positive reasons will be slightly different, but the point is that when I run, I look forward to all of these things, because they make me happy. I promise they will make you happy too.
Pushing Past the “Winded Phase”
This is one of the biggest hurdles to runners just starting out. It certainly was for me. By the “winded phase” I am referring to the period of time where you are constantly out of breath after relatively short distances, even at slower paces. This is completely normal, but it is very challenging because it is during this phase where many people learn to associate all those negative attributes with running.
You must push through this phase, because it will get better. If you need to start with only one mile at a time, start with one. If you must walk to regain your wind after only a short time, walk, and then start running again when you can. When you can finish one mile without walking, start the process over again with two miles.
The human body is incredible, and it will respond, but it takes time. You must be patient with yourself, but also firm. When the last thing on earth you feel like you want to do is go outside and run, go outside and run. If you are able to go three times a week, you’re off to a great start. Soon you will find that the two mile loop you were struggling through just a month ago is small potatoes and you’ll be on to tackling 4 miles.
Running for Its Own Sake and Removing Distractions
In order to enjoy running for its own sake, you must practice running for its own sake. In many ways this relates to reforming your expectations. If your only reasons for running are finishing a specific race, being able to keep up with your friend, or losing a specific amount of weight, your long-term success will be uncertain. What happens after you run that race? What if your friend moves to a different town? What if you lose the weight? Then what? Goals such as these are certainly things to strive for, but if they are the only things you’re running for, they are merely distractions.
The same can be said for measuring distance and pace. I know many runners who are absolutely consumed by these metrics and it erodes their enjoyment of running. For example, If they do not run a race in a specific time, or do a workout at less than their projected pace, they can become frustrated, angry and depressed. It is detrimental to always hold yourself to such standards, whenever you run. The truth is, you will have good days, bad days and days in between. Push yourself, but always go with the flow. Think of this process as focusing on the greater journey, the journey of becoming a lifelong, happy runner. Running a great race in a great time, crushing that 20-mile long run, losing weight, or being able to run with your friend who ran track in college are all milestones on the journey, but they are not the destination.