Runners tend to be a dedicated — some might even say obsessed — group. Come any type of weather or under just about any circumstance, they will find a way to get out and log their miles. But even the most dedicated runner faces a mental roadblock once in a while, a lack of motivation that threatens to derail training. That’s when finding a way to break through and stoke the fires again becomes imperative.
After 15 years as a runner, blogger Amanda Brooks, 35, of Colorado understands this well and has built in her own set of motivational tricks. When the excitement is running low, she pulls them out of her bag. “One way I keep it fresh is by setting up several small goals along the way,” she says. “So instead of one big race goal, I find smaller ways to gauge improvement.”
This might include a particular workout that she does every couple of weeks where she can measure her improvement. Or finding a reason beyond the clock to seek satisfaction in her efforts. For instance, a simple reminder that every time she finishes a run, she is happy she did it. “Or I think about the fact that I am more focused at work if I get a run in first,” she explains. “It’s the little things that can make the biggest difference.”
Melissa Theberge, a 46-year-old home-schooling mom in rural New Hampshire, knows well the battle to get out the door when motivation is lacking. She has found that by connecting to a virtual running community, she can keep on track. “My main strategy is to check in on Strava, an online training community, and see what my friends are doing,” she says. “If I see Jami ran with a stroller in Alaska, and Kate got her run in despite fighting a cold, I am able to reboot my mental game and lace up.”
Like Brooks, Theberge has also found that checking smaller boxes along the way to big goals can help. “Having a training plan and knowing that leaving a box unchecked will mess with my head is absolutely critical to my running consistency,” she explains. “Sometimes it takes me until evening to dig deep enough for that motivation, but knowing how I will feel if I can’t check off the workout helps me.”
For some runners, lack of motivation can become more than just a one- or two-day event and turn into something bigger. That was the case for 36-year-old Herndon resident and consultant Pam Champlain in 2013. “I planned to run a March marathon and then continue on with training for the DC North Face 50K,” she says. “By the time I finished the marathon, the last thing I wanted to do was keep training. I tried, but I started to dread my runs.”
After pulling the plug on her 50K, Champlain rekindled her love for running by introducing it to her boyfriend. “Learning to run for the first time in July of a D.C. summer might not have been the easiest introduction, but he stuck with it,” she says. “We took a run/walk approach for several weeks, which was perfect for both of us. It forced me to slow down, restart my own running in a cautious manner, and move my focus onto another person and their experience rather than how it felt for me. We started to pick races, and training and racing together was time we really enjoyed.”
Lifetime runner Christine Yu, 40, of Brooklyn has also had an on again, off again relationship with the sport. After several injuries and years without any focused running, Yu returned to more consistent training this past year. “I hired a coach to help me plot out a plan,” she says. “Through the training process, I fell in love with running again.”
Still, after running a successful half-marathon last spring, she decided to push harder and aim for a personal best of under two hours at a fall half-marathon. That’s when training became burdensome again.
“It was eye-opening for me,” she says. “I realized that I love running for running, not for hitting a big goal.”
Since changing her mind-set, Yu hasn’t dealt with a lack of enthusiasm. “By enjoying the process of being out there and the sport for what it is, I get so much more out of it,” she explains.
For each runner, the occasional dip in motivation is probably inevitable. The key is determining how to push past the barrier, something very individualized. For Yu, it comes down to the return on her investment: “It’s the process of putting in the time, day after day,” she says. “Running is really the only time that I’m present in the moment, and I relish that.”