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.