On Motivation

What makes us run? What drives us out the door – for some times it really is a drive. It’s easy to run when you feel like it or when the sun shines under clear blue skies. But how about on those days when the wind whips the rain sideways into your face and the temperature hovers just this side of zero?

These were some of the thoughts rattling around inside my head as I ran along the rails to trails  from Upper Tantallon to St. Margaret’s Bay on a beautiful Autumn day. I’d been thinking a lot about motivation lately. My own has fluctuated over the course of the year, and last week I didn’t feel so much like running – again. Likely, the lack of enthusiasm derived from the last six or so weeks of relatively hard training I’d been doing, along with a weekend of back-to-back races. But regular readers of this blog know that way back when originally the impetus for all these words was to chart my journey as I attempted a sub-three marathon. What’s happened to that?

As it turns out a marathon of any kind for me isn’t going to happen this year. I passed over a deferral to Boston. I put in some of my long runs, but then pulled back from committing myself to a fall race. Instead, I decided to run a couple of half marathons and a 27-kilometre trail race.

Training has gone well. I’m still not as speedy as I was two years ago, but given the interruption of two training cycles over the same number of years – most recently from my nine-week bout with plantar in the spring – I’m fairly content with where I am currently. That said, I wasn’t feeling the love for the marathon. Quite simply, the motivation wasn’t there.

Therefore it shouldn’t come as any surprise after a three-day lay-off, as I ran along the trail, the damp gravel surface crunching beneath my feet, I wondered about motivation and why we run the way we do.

I’d put the question out there on Twitter the other night, asking people what motivated them, and received back a scattering of answers, all quite different. Answers included: “I put my shoes on and go;” to “my heart, my desires, my medals, #relentless;” to “all the shoes I’ve worn out.”

That great documentary film, The Spirit of the Marathon, opens with Deena Kastor running while in voice-over she says,” Sometimes those moments that challenge us the most define us.”

All good answers; in fact, there are no wrong answers to such a question.

One person wanted to know what motivated me? Good question. I had to give it a lot of thought.

On the surface, it’s competition. But before I competed, I ran, just to run. I love to compete; it gives me a focus for my running, but it’s not everything.

I value the people I run with. The old saw is run with someone for an hour and you’ll hear their life story. It’s true. Maybe it’s the time spent together skipping over the roads, or the fact you don’t really see the person you’re running with – you’re mostly looking ahead – so the run becomes a kind of confessional where you unlock your heart and speak openly and where the conversation transcends what you did last week or who is top of the charts, but moves deeper into more meaningful territory as you push further up  the road.

Not that every run is like that. Hardly. I’m better known for my trash talking than for my deep heart-to-heart conversations.

But I like the latter as much as I enjoy the banter of the former.

Just looking at the changing colour of the leaves and the views out over the water, and throwing surges in or longer efforts when I felt like it, reminded me during the run today how much I value nature and fun. Getting me out the door gets me outdoors. The world can be falling down around my ears, things are going to hell, but it’s nothing some clouds drifting across a fall sky and a tree-lined trail can’t cure.

That same evening I doubled and went out with the trail runners in my area. Dipping up and down along rocky, over-grown doubletrack off of St. Margaret’s Bay, I paced a young boy who might of been all of seven years old. He was very serious about his running, chasing after the older boys, but as we thrashed through the thickets and leaped over rocks and scrambled up hills in the cool evening air under the light of the nearly full moon, I was having fun.

That sub-three marathon is coming. I have a coach. But for this season, for me, it’s a return to nature, and an appreciation of its beauty, and to running for the fun of it, for the pure enjoyment of the animal simplicity of the motion. In the long run, those qualities will make me a better athlete, for through the love of running and through the understanding of what motivates me I will be better again able to embrace the inevitable suffering the sport demands.


About subthree

A multiple award-winning journalist, I'm currently a contributing editor with both Canadian Running and Canadian Cycling magazines. My articles have appeared in Explore, Canadian Geographic, enRoute, The National Post, The Globe and Mail, and many other magazines and newspapers. Formerly a competitive cross-country mountain biker, I switched to running in 2006. I've run seven marathons, qualifying for Boston five times (and which I've run once). Generally, I've placed or won in my age group in races, in distances ranging from five and 10 kms to half and full marathons. I've also taught spin classes at a number of leading Eastern Canadian gyms. Sub-three was a 2012 #Runchat finalist for Best Overall Blog.
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10 Responses to On Motivation

  1. Ian cordner says:

    Oh man, do I ever know that feeling Charles! They say that a runner has 7 great performance years in him/her soI must have shot my bolt. Five successive Boston’s has led to a lethargy I never thought I’d experience but 2 years off from surgery has sure changed my way of doing things. The need to race is gone, for the most part, although I do feel the juices flow from time to time, but the thought of getting out there for 26 miles at 6:53 pace just doesn’t do it for me any more. Maybe my age (62) is working against me because I hate aching all the time following hard runs. At some point, cannot one simply step away from racing and run only when one gets the urge? That’s where I am these days.

    • subthree says:

      I understand the seven years to be a progression from when you first began running to when you leveled out; after that, it becomes increasingly more difficult to improve, although not impossible. Nothing wrong with running to run. But I’m still planning on being very competitive, including in my next four races ending this season.

  2. Steph Moore says:

    Holy smokes, that was an awesome post hon. I hope you get a lot of views on it. You are one very gifted writer.

    Your woman who loves you.

    Sent from my Windows Phone ________________________________

  3. liverunloveyoga says:

    Awesome post! I know the feeling. It’s funny what motivates us at any given time to go out and run. I’d love to say I always run for the competition or the love of racing but quite honestly sometimes I run because it’s the only time I can get some peace and quiet and other times it’s because I know I’ve had too many sweets and need to burn some calories. The important part is that you know you’ll come back to it and accomplish that goal eventually…just not right now. I admire that. Alot. Good luck with the rest of the season and enjoy running for fun!

    • subthree says:

      Whitney, thank you. I appreciate this comment. I always read your blog and know the ups and downs you’ve experienced over the year. So true, right? Sometimes you just have to put the race aside and just concentrate on the flow. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on this. All best to you.

  4. Dawn says:

    I started running three years ago, almost to the day, solely to meet some people in a new city. I think I accomplished that in spades. I have a network of seriously good people in my life. Now that I’m racing, one of my mental strategies before a race is to remind myself of the kind, supportive, energetic people this sport has led me to. It helps me keep the race in perspective. I also love the time I share with my running friends I haven’t met yet, like you and some of the other folks on Run It. Post It. It’s neat to know so many nice people have your back.

    • subthree says:

      Thanks for taking the time to read and post such a thoughtful comment, Dawn. Hope your running is going well! It’s true: running is both a great way to meet people in a new city and form friendships and a way in which to explore that city itself.

  5. ryan.jacobson@gnb.ca says:

    Great post, as per normal, Charles! I was just talking about “motivation” and “running just because…” the
    other day with a friend. You see, I race too, from 5k’s (just PB’d, breaking 20 mins last week) to the,
    marathon (#2, PEI on Oct 14th -hoping to qualify for Boston) – but with all the training and self induced
    pressure to push ourselves to go faster, PB and oh…don’t forget the possibility of winning a medal or
    other treasured race swag (lol)…I said to my friend…”I think it would be nice to maybe, perhaps just
    enter a race for FUN! Maybe do a 5k and finish in 28 or 30 minutes? That is a respectable time, don’t
    get me wrong, I just mean it might be fun to run or race, without the pressure that we put on ourselves.

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