An article hoping to help those who may be struggling with their motivation to keep running.
The types of motivation seen in any activity can be broken down into two categories:
This is when the activity is a means to an end; for example you run to lose weight, to gain fitness, energy, meet other people or be able to say you've run a 5k.
This is when the activity is the end; you do it because you enjoy it, you find joy in doing the activity.
Talking about running in this context can be interesting as, let's face it, when you first get started running absolutely, positively, sucks arse. Training your body up to be able to run consistently takes patience, hard work and often feels like an uphill struggle.
I've found most people start running with strong extrinsic motivations like losing weight, or wanting to finish the (absolutely brilliant) Couch to 5K programme. These goals are critical and really help get you towards the next stage, which I think is even more crucial.
At some point, maybe towards the end of the C25K programme, maybe after a few months sticking with your running to get those extra pound off, something will click, and you'll realise you are, through some minor miracle, actually enjoying yourself whilst running.
At this stage, you've crossed the line from extrinsic motivation to intrinsic.
It's my belief that those who run consistently and get the most value out of it are those who have captured that intrinsic motivation and fallen head over heels with running.
Below are a few ways I've found help to switch from "holy hell this is hard, I hate this" to "this is nice, the birds are singing, and my legs are flying".
Mastering the Conversational Pace
There's a guideline in training called the 80/20 rule which denotes that 80% of your runs should be low intensity, with 20% being high intensity.
What this means is that you don't have to, nor should you, go out and run ultra hard ultra fast for every run. Instead most of your time should be spent at a gentle, light pace, often know as "conversational", "easy", "endurance", or "zone 2" pace.
It's called conversational as it's a pace where you can comfortably maintain a conversation with someone, if you are talking in short bursts between breaths, you are going too fast.
To help find this pace, it can be as simple as talking to yourself whilst running, seeing if you can speak full sentences and if not, slowing down. Most running watches allow you to identify when you are in pace zones and let you check if you are in the right range too.
Why does this help your motivation then?
By having more focus on low intensity sessions you have more opportunity to relax into a run, feel like it's more a gentle jog than a hard work out, and give you a chance to enjoy the scenery, leading my nicely on to...
Find the Adventure
This one is highly subjective to me; however one of my biggest motivations as a runner is the sheer adventure & exploration is brings. I've seen more of Bristol and the surrounding areas in the last 2 years than I have the other 14 years I've lived here.
It's little wonder to me that those who stick to the same local running route for each session struggle with motivation, how can you not get bored of the same sights each time.
Rather than sticking to one route, get out there and explore your local area. If you're lucky enough to have a car and the time to drive to a trail, get out to your local woods, or a nice track along a canal, or anything that floats your boat. It helps make the run more of an occasion and gives you something to focus on outside of how tough the workout is.
Treating running the same as you'd treat a nice Sunday hike helps, and you can start to catalogue where you've explored, hunting down where you'd like to run next.
My favourite feature of Strava is their Heatmaps function, which allows you to show everywhere you've logged over time. It can be immensely rewarding seeing it grow from your local 5k route into a sprawling map of your local region as shown above.
Escape & Losing Yourself
As life pressures grow, whether it's kids, work, annoying flatmates or the like, especially during the Covid lockdown, having something you can escape into can help enormously. For myself running offers a chance to clear my head, let my thoughts wander and gives me something concrete to focus on for however long I'm out pounding pavement.
When you settle into that conversational pace, it's surprisingly how easily your mind starts to relax. I'd recommend trying a few runs without music, and instead focusing on breathing, zoning out and just enjoying it.
As I went through in this article, it can also often be beneficial to stop obsessing over time, distance and pace too. Stop checking your watch, stop micro managing your foot fall and just chill into it.
This ones a bit trickier during the Covid Lockdown, however note that under current UK rules you are allow to meet for exercise. Running with others is a fantastic motivator as it both gives you a great chance to catch up with friends whilst also generally keeping you at a conversational pace naturally.
Before lockdown we use to do a run every Wednesday lunchtime around Spike Island in Bristol and for many of us it was a key motivator for maintaining runs the other days of the week.
There are some great online communities that can help keep that social side alive too, notably the Running Punk community is a highly active, welcoming and fun group to take a gander at.
As a final point, something to note, a phrase the Running Channel often use in their videos:
Comparison is the thief of joy - Running Channel
And you should totally internalise this. There's nothing quite like seeing someone whizz past you and feeling like maybe your too slow, or seeing the mileage a colleague is putting in on Strava and wondering whether you're not doing it right.
What you have to remember is everyone is at a different stage in their journey, have different goals, levels of fitness and thresholds. What's important to focus on is how you're doing against your own goals, and whether you are doing better than your previous self.