Running Motivation: Why We Run
Do you ever find yourself thinking out on a run, “why am I doing this?” Why do we put our body through pain, wake up ridiculously early, sometimes when we don’t want to, and still hit the pavement or trails?
I contemplate this question often, and what I found for me and others I have asked is that the role running plays in our life changes frequently. For example, I run as it brings me joy, to challenge myself and test my limits on occasion, to learn to be a good team-mate, to be a better decision-maker under pressure (think quick decisions in racing) to better my mental and physical health, to escape traumatic events and situations (as an outlet), and sometimes, quite honestly, running is a coping mechanism for me, especially in times of emotional challenge.
I was inspired to write this post as I think it’s important to explore this question as a runner. The answer to this question at certain points in your life can reveal the place you are in from a mental health standpoint. Tuning in to this is an immensely powerful tool. I personally have utilized it frequently over this tumultuous world context at present, particularly when I notice I am using running to cope with stress or other life issues. There’s no problem with this when it is ‘your why’ on occasion, however, it is important to recognize if there is a trend and address it.
Why do runners like to run?
My lovely team-mate Olivia and I, out for a run and laugh.
Photo Credit: Pro Image Event Photography
Interestingly, a lot of my team-mates began running because they weren’t so good at other sports. I can definitely say I am in this boat.orning can often provoke some philosophical thinking (at least for myself!). Sometimes I find it quite meditative, especially on early morning sunrise trail runs. I feel like I am awake before the ‘world’ wakes up in a sense, and very at peace with myself in nature.
But this isn’t always the story. As soon as I recognized that I tended to place running as a sort of stress coping mechanism tool I asked myself, what is the goal I am trying to achieve by placing running as this form of “tool” in my life? I couldn’t come up with a good answer. I recognized this trend in the early stages of COVID quarantine, back in March and April of this year (2020). I came to the conclusion that running can definitely play this role for me at times in my life, but it is dangerous if it becomes the sole reason for running when races and practices are nowhere to be found.
Recognizing the trend was my first step in truly understanding my motivation to run, and the role running plays in my life. It actually took COVID, when races are canceled and running is purely self-motivated, to realize these things. It is an important self-discovery as an athlete and has skyrocketed me for further growth.
It’s important to discern that the role running plays to us personally, and our motivation to run are both interconnected and different. Let me explain.
Role: The function assumed or part played by a person or thing in a particular situation.
So, running as it fits in our life – what function does it have for you? Because it makes you happy? You like the challenge and testing your limits? Physically and mentally bettering yourself? A coping mechanism? A stress-relief tool?
Photo Credit: Pro Image Event Photography
These will obviously change depending on the situation and context, as the definition states. The role running plays to us personally underlying motivators to a goal/goals we are trying to achieve. Like goals, our ‘why we run’ should evolve over time as you evolve as both an athlete and a person.
I asked a teammate on a recent run why she runs, looking for a variety of answers for this post. She said because it makes her happy. Surprisingly, I hadn’t thought of this first thing, but as an athlete who dedicates so many hours to running, it should be the number one reason. At the end of the day, when competitions and formal practices are canceled, we run to have fun and because we love it. better ourselves as people and athletes and become a stronger team player.
“Running is my meditation, mind flush, cosmic telephone, mood elevator, and spiritual communion”
– Lorraine Moller, Olympic Bronze Medalist
Motivation: The general desire or willingness of someone to do something or the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way.
This often changes, different to the role of running. Often races are our motivation, but with no racing, that has had to change. My motivations each day change from a desire to explore a new trail, to feel like I have achieved something first thing in the morning, to catch up with teammates, to maintain fitness for when races do roll back around, to get to the lovely brunch + mimosas waiting on the other side of a long run…
Motivation to run and role running has in our life can be the same at that very moment. For example, if I am highly stressed, and looking for some outside time, to make myself a little tired and get a hit of endorphins, I am running for mental health and stress relief.
Strength through adversity
When running becomes a coping mechanism to deal with stress, adverse life situations, trauma, and other mental health challenges, it can honestly be a savior. It is great we have a tool like running to help us through these tough times.
The danger is, what happens if we get injured or sick, and we can’t run for a while?
It’s important to have other things you enjoy and can throw yourself into when you can’t run. Running playing the main role in your life as a coping mechanism is risky, as I mentioned earlier. If you think that you might fall into this boat here and there, or full-time, I challenge you to learn an instrument, find an art form you’re passionate about, learn a skill, like Indian Curry cooking and the purpose of different spices (I learned how to make a variety of curries from scratch over COVID, it was super rewarding and I now have a new life skill).
Interestingly, at my lowest point this year I had very little energy or motivation to give to running at all. Even if I wanted to, mentally I was drained, which meant physically I had nothing to give. I got myself out of this rut, and I’m much better for it, as a person and athlete.
Stress is stress to the body, I was always told growing up by the influential sports people in my life. The body can’t tell the difference between stress caused emotionally, to stress accumulated from physical fatigue. I keep this in the back of my mind and provide myself with forgiveness, patience, and love when needed in regards to training if things are on the tougher side. It’s just life! Besides, put things in perspective – for those younger runners out there, missing a session will not impact you in the long term. Distance running is a long term game, reliant on consistency, intuition, self-awareness, and mental + physical health.
Remember the cups analogy (credit to my BSU coach!) from my Smart Running Training post? Here’s a reminder below…..
Imagine your life is balanced between different cups, that are each half-filled with water. Considering this analogy, most of us have cups for:
- Social life
All these cups need to be balanced with certain amounts of water, not overflowing. This is optimal to reduce stress and anxiety in our life. Before you think, “that’s impossible” – hear me out.
If 1 cup is overflowing with water, for example – a heavy load at work, something else has to give. Some of that water needs to go somewhere else to balance the extra work stress out.
If multiple cups begin to overflow, we start to spread ourselves thin. Don’t panic if this is you, especially at this time in the world at present. We just have to reevaluate priorities and potentially make a few shifts or changes to better suit our needs.
So, next time you want to push your limits or step outside your comfort zone in training, for example, make sure your cups allow for this. Same for any other endeavor. You’ll recover better, perform better, and develop smart habits for the future. It’s establishing foundations for long-term success in running or whatever it is you want to do.
Running motivation quotes to get you fired up!
I have a few favorite quotes.
“Fortune favors the daring”
– Virgil, The Aeneid
“I always keep in mind that it’s better to be undertrained and healthy rather than incredibly fit but injured”
– Ashton Eaton, two-time Olympic gold medalist & world record holder
“Excellence is not a singular act but a habit. You are what you do repeatedly.”
– Shaquille O’Neil (15x all-star, won 4 NBA Championships)
Remember, we are all just trying to do our best as people. Running is a reflection of life in this sense – hurdles, barriers, obstacles, tough days, great days, proud moments. Feel through them all, one step at a time.