Through my newly formed identity as Coach Julia Webb (not assistant coach- Coach coach!), I am fortunate to lead a group of 16 runners at Nike to a half marathon in less than 6 weeks. For part of that class, I am picking a different topic to focus on each week and the one I’ve been putting a lot of thought into recently is MOTIVATION. From that, I wanted to share my thoughts with the world since I always wanted to be a motivational speaker! So here’s what I have to say…
To be a successful runner you need consistency which is only brought about by a strong dose of motivation. There is so much that can be said or taught on “how to run”, but the only way you are really going to improve is by running more (which in itself can teach you how to become a better runner without having a coach). To run more naturally, you need to love doing it and to get to that point you need to be motivated to get out there.
So what’s your reason to run? Why do you want to get faster or run more?
For some people its easy to see why they do it. They are talented. My husband Alan is a great example. The first season he started competing in 9th grade he was able to go from a swimmer who ran in gym class to a state champ in the 3200m within the matter of months. From that feedback of working hard and training, he saw that if he kept it up he could be really good in the form of a scholarship to run in college and beyond to Olympic dreams. Motivation for that is usually pretty easy. Not to mention it’s really fun to outright win races and get attention.
Most people don’t get that lucky break. We start running & discover our starting point is lets say 8:45 for an “all out” effort in gym class in 9th grade. (for me it was 6:40 and I felt like a superstar beating all the girls in my grade except 1 who was actually on the cross country team). Most of us will find that we are unlikely to ever have a chance at the Olympics or a scholarship, but that shouldn’t end the reasons to keep running in the top list of your priorities.
Besides striving for the Olympics, why are people motivated to participate in this “method of punishment” used in other sports? The list goes on and on – losing/maintaining weight, health benefits, stress relief, socialization, staying in shape, being healthy, getting the runner’s high/boosting your mood, accomplishing a difficult task, enjoyment of being outside, adventure, clearing your mind, the feeling you get during one of your “good” runs and more. I would challenge a person who “hates running” to sign up for a 5K, give themselves a good solid 3 months to train by building slowly for guaranteed success, and then ask them if they would ever want to do another. I’d say chances are they could get hooked.
Me? A Runner?
I never intended to be a runner. I was in denial that there was any real benefit other than proving you have a slight bit of insanity for revolving your life around running. Because if you really want to be successful, that’s what you end up doing. Once you set a running goal, you unknowingly develop your entire week around planning your runs. Eating, working, traveling, other time spent on your feet, sleeping, weekend socializing (including adult beverages) – all go into the equation of how your running will end up during that week. You have to make the needed sacrifices to make room for your body to be ready and willing for the task of running to stay healthy and injury free. Yet in turn, all this sacrifice should improve the other parts of your life, because it forces you to have balance and treat yourself with respect (because you will make physical demands on it to perform any given day).
How I got hooked
Besides knowing I had some talent, the day I really became a “runner” was my first day at cross country in September 2000. I had always loved the conditioning part of other sports, but wasn’t sure I could make that sort of thing my “sport”. Once basketball was a clear “no” for my future, I thought why not accept the challenge of joining cross country. That first practice – a 5 mile run (further than I had ever gone before) with a group at a conversational pace was so freeing and fun. I couldn’t believe how fast the 45 minutes flew by as I was talking to the other girls, all while getting a nice workout in! No pressure to know the ins and outs of any specific play, no coach barking orders at me. Just outside running! The hard workouts were even better. The rate of improvement your first year when you start to actually train is beyond thrilling. Watching your mile time drop 20 seconds each time out there with no big pressure is awesome. From that point I was ready to find a college team to compete for (and now I am 31 and still compete in college races like I’m 18!)
For me, a day without running just feels like a wasted day. Unless there’s a purpose to the rest day (like a big race coming up or a much deserved recovery day), I don’t feel right. I am full on addicted. I love to race because I love the challenge. A well executed race where you really put yourself out there can expose so much about yourself, which you can take the feedback and apply it back to becoming a better person in the other aspects of life.
Once you got the motivation to get out and run consistently, you also have to understand that great performances don’t just happen by osmosis or training alone. They happen when motivation meets the opportunity when our body is ready and willing to take on the challenge. You have to recognize that to have a break through performance, you can’t expect it to be comfortable from start to finish. The more you end up pushing yourself, the more rewarding the results can be.
How Can I Stay Motivated???
√ Set Some Goals
Whether it is setting a PR, finishing a half marathon under 2 hours, losing 15 pounds or trying to match your best 5K time from high school, goals are crucial for giving you a reason to be out there. Make short term (achievable in the near future ) and long term (lifetime) goals. Get them written down (somewhere visible) and make sure you are checking back on them often!
√ Pick a Race
Even if you could care less about competing or running fast, I still believe every runner should pick a race (or 10) each year. Take time to look at your calendar for the next 6 months. Check out the local racing scene or even more fun find a race when you are traveling. If you are brand new, I don’t recommend anything past 5 or 10K in distance. Beware of the marathon sign up when someone persuades you (and there’s no way you’ll be ready). It takes a LOT of work to get your weekly long runs in, and there’s no need to rush the process. At most a half marathon your first year is plenty!
√ Come Up with a Realistic Plan
Working around your schedule, either by your own knowledge or a coach’s help, start looking at how much running you can actually do each week. Mark your runs in your calendar as if they are obligations! Don’t question it or make excuses – just get out and do it! For me, I can no longer get in the 80 mile weeks I was consistent about right out of college. With a kid, a husband who is like another kid**, part time jobs, and a recent history of pushing myself too hard with a beat up immune system, I can only handle about 50 each week.
**yes Alan is my other kid. A big kid who can do taxes, pay the bills, with enhanced skills in creating an insane amount of dirty laundry and the need to go to the grocery store for some essential at an average duration of every 36 hours. Ideally I would like to help him eliminate the added stresses of everyday life so he can rest as much as possible between training sessions to improve. When I forget that and expect him to be super dad, we all suffer (note his final performance at Millrose when I was in transition becoming a working mom!)
√ Get a training log
A log (online or written) keeps you accountable and can be fun to look back at how far you will come. You don’t have to go crazy with a ton of details but I do because its like my journal too. Start recording your workouts – add up your miles and seeing your hard work on paper. That also means get a watch so you can record how much you’re running (no need for GPS, just something so you have a ball park idea!)
√ Find some running friends and/or a good playlist
If you don’t have any (my mom is one of those people), there’s no excuse – especially if you live in a big city like Portland. Here everyone seems to run. There are endless training groups, running stores with group runs, and now the popular thing called the internet. You can find meet-up groups and more.. there is mega power with finding running pals via social media. If you live in Small Town, USA where you are the only person running, then call upon the almighty iPod. There’s nothing wussy about running to music on your everyday runs. It can definitely be uplifting and much more fun. I would recommend probably keeping your iPod off during your races, so you can soak up the race experience and not drown it out. If you want to go old school and look for non-electronic or non-human options when you can’t stand the thoughts in your head, there is praying the Rosary mid run (which I used to do) or counting dogs (or people who are wearing sunglasses) – which I used to do as well.
√ Reward your hard work!
Make it a fun game by giving yourself rewards when you meet your goals (it doesn’t always have to be food, but food is an easy choice when you run so much and need more calories!) Set up small rewards along the way to keep yourself from feeling like its all about hard work and no end point to race day. So tonight tell your husband you are getting a mani/pedi with a friend (and he’s staying home with the kid) after you cross off that next goal in this weekend’s long run. (Hear that Alan?)
What happens when I don’t feel like doing it??
We all have our days. Remind yourself of how you’ll feel if you don’t get out- like a big fat pile of blah. The mental guilt should be worse than the physical discomfort of getting out and running! If you have a big number (such as a 10 mile run) which seems impossible with your current energy level, just tell yourself you’ll go a mile and each mile reassess that you can go another. You can also tell yourself you will run “Kenyan” .. my slang term for “super chill pace” – which is how they start on their easy days.
Another way to outsmart your lack of motivation would be running somewhere as an errand – and don’t think of it as a run, but more you have to get to the ATM 3 miles away, get the cash and return. Out and backs are always more effective than short loops so you don’t get tempted to stop mid run. If you meet up with a group only running 5 and you are planning 8, do the 3 miles before they get there. You don’t want to look like a weirdo who can’t socialize post run because you are more hardcore than them 😉
Other random tips for motivational success
√ Post pictures of yourself on the fridge or on your Facebook profile- that in which you were in your best physical condition or during a great race you ran. You can even pin up photos around your house** of people you aspire to be like. This could be professional runners, super fit celebrities or if you’re really weird like me – you can post pics on your mirror of people you want to beat in your next race. I will admit I did this in college (yep Shauneen Garrahan, you were on my mirror).
**I don’t expect you to do that if you are past the stage of living in a college dorm but give props to those who find the space in their adult houses
√ Motivational quotes are awesome! Put them on the background of your phone/computer. Thank you Lauren Fleshman for the quote from your birth story- it constantly reminded me to get my mind right when the going got tough in workouts or races.
√ Get a blog and put the word “Run” in it. You will look pretty stupid if you end up gaining 50 pounds and completely quit running later that year. Even if you don’t get hundreds of followers, hold yourself accountable by pretending everyone is eagerly awaiting your next blog by posting consistently about your training and racing.
√ Do some mental imagery in your next training run or at the end of the day when you’re laying in bed or in the middle of an ice bath**. Here’s an activity I do that pumps me up – I run some laps on the track imagining I’m mid-race. As I’m running (not race pace) – I have the voice of an announcer with a British accent giving the play by play of my race as I am hitting specific splits with “6 laps to go” and so forth.. He’s going on about me moving past certain competitors and how I’m having the run of my life. During this imaginary PR race, I usually end up running well under 7 minute pace after a good mile without any perceived effort just being pumped up (which then means forcing myself to slow down because it’s one of those days I’m suppose to be recovering). It’s super fun! I also heard that the mind achieves what it believes, so maybe if I do this often enough, I will somehow transform this in my next race even when I have not put in the workouts to translate. This is especially beneficial to do with a stroller so I can actually do the announcer talk out loud and people will think I’m just having a strange conversation with my toddler. 🙂
**I also don’t expect everyone to be partaking in regular ice baths but these are an awesome time to imagine yourself running and staying tough (while experiencing real life discomfort)!
Now Go Forth & Run!
Those are just a few ideas – find your personal way to get motivated and stay that way! It could be watching Rocky or eating a sleeve of Oreos the night before a long run, ensuring you that run enough to burn it all off (not recommended unless you are at your current goal race weight). The sky is the limit to creativity on keeping your mojo high!
The last piece of advice I have and most important is don’t ever forget your PMA √ (imagine me saying that in the most dorky voice ever). Positive Mental Attitude (again in slow drawn out dork voice) is the key to success in life and running. We all have our bad days, but do your best to smile through them and know a good day is right around the corner!