People often ask how you stay motivated. For getting in shape, running a marathon, or tackling an endeavor entirely unrelated to fitness.
I’ve never really had an answer.
I was a motivation machine when I was training to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I was so focused on the goal — obsessed even — and that alone proved to be an endless font of giddy-up. I couldn’t answer the motivation question, because I didn’t have a problem staying motivated.
The 100-miler was different. The idea of training for it overwhelmed me so much that the first time I signed up for one, I never even started training! Ultimately, it took a two-year plan, knowing that tackling a hundred would first require me to get back into marathon shape, then back into 50-miler shape, and finally into the uncharted territory of whatever 100-miler shape was.
Staying motivated for two years wasn’t easy. I call myself a runner, but I don’t have whatever the it is that compels other runners to religiously put their miles in, running just for running’s sake.
Instead, I’m prone to violent ups and downs. Seventy-five straight days of running, then a month of almost none. That feeling where all you want to do is run, followed by the struggle to get yourself out the door at all.
How to Stay Motivated
That was 100-miler training, for me. In hindsight, I’m amazed that I made it happen.
But in the process, I discovered the secret to staying motivated. Ready? Here goes:
There is no “stay” motivated. You get yourself to run consistently by scratching and clawing and throwing every damn trick you have in the bag at it.
To try a gentler metaphor: you ride whatever wave is coming in, for as long as you can. And once that wave passes — which, rest assured, it will — you tread water until the next one comes in, then you do it again.
Behind all the waves, of course, is a source that’s generating them. That source is your goal, or whatever your deep-down reason for running is. The source is essential; else there are no waves of motivation to ride.
As I said, my journey to the hundred was a rocky one. When we moved last year, I lost interest in running for a while — too much to do and see and experience in a new place. And just when everything started clicking again (last summer during the running streak when I set my sights on a fall or winter hundred), it all blew up: The worst period of inexplicable anxiety I’ve ever dealt with hit me, and I didn’t do much of anything for a few months. Running no exception.
When I look back, there was no one way that I stayed motivated. I took what I had, worked with it until it waned, then searched like hell for whatever would motivate me next.
I know, I know. My “secret” is unsatisfying. So, in case you find it helpful, here’s a list of different motivators I used to get my lazy ass out the door at one time or another during my training for this race. None, on its own, would have been nearly enough to get me to train for two years. But together, and backed by a goal that I felt I had to achieve, they got the job done.
12 Forces to Get You Out the Door
1. Accountability — what could you do that would make it embarrassing or painful not to run? As they say, if you want to take the island, burn the boats. For me, heading up our No Meat Athlete group at Rock ‘n’ Roll USA provided plenty of motivation to train … wouldn’t look so good for me to be the one to quietly bow out at mile 20, you know?
2. Inertia — just a few consecutive X’s on your calendar (meaning you ran) are surprisingly motivating … when there’s that visual reward, you don’t want to break the streak!
3. Books and movies — Rich Roll’s and Scott Jurek’s books came out within a few days of each other last year, right when I needed a jumpstart. They led me to others, too, like Way of the Peaceful Warrior and Body, Mind, and Sport. And don’t forget the moving pictures: I watched Unbreakable, Running On the Sun (free on YouTube!), and Spirit of the Marathon (free on Hulu!) a few times each when I needed a jolt.
4. Written (and rewritten, and rewritten) goals — I’m a big fan of goal-setting and personal development, and this year I’ve had a set of written goals that I take the time to rewrite every single morning. The hundred was one of them, of course. If you set goals right, they can the powerful source of many more waves of motivation.
5. Fear — goes hand-in-hand with a strong goal, as that goal approaches. Fear can be your friend if you use it right.
6. Laughter — one downside of getting rid of cable TV is that I don’t laugh quite as much as I used to. So my iPod, loaded with a podcast of an idiotic radio show I like, was often my reason to run.
7. Healing — last winter, when I was recovering from the anxiety bout, many of my runs served to prove to myself that I was strong, both physically and mentally. And when I made listening to audiobooks one of my anchor habits for beating anxiety, my run provided the window of uninterrupted time I needed each day.
8. Meditation — certain people meditate better through movement than by sitting. I’ve discovered that I’m not one of them, but focusing on my breath and body was an interesting experiment for a few weeks that gave me something to think about (or really, something not to think about) while I logged some miles.
9. Habit overhaul — developing a few easy habits first helps build momentum for creating tough ones. By making daily running the fourth or fifth habit in a series of changes I made last summer, I found it easy to stick with (for a while). Have some other changes you want to make? Bundle them with running, but have the patience to attack them in succession, not all at once.
10. Hills — believe it or not, I’ve come to love hills since moving to the mountains, and many times the excitement of a 15-minute climb has been my reason to run. A track session or other tough workout could serve the same purpose, I think, but I like the visual reward that a hill offers once you’re at the top (and later, when you drive by that hill and know that you climbed it).
11. Relaxation — think running isn’t relaxing? Have a couple kids, then give it a try! It’s incredible!
12. Exploration — go somewhere you’ve never gone. I still use old-school gmaps pedometer to plan out routes, and I usually bring along a crib sheet, because I’m the single worst navigator on the planet. But I felt like a regular Magellan when we moved to Asheville and I had a new neighborhood to explore.
For some slightly sexier motivation ideas, see a post I wrote a couple years ago, Get Motivated! 11 Ideas that Really Work.
So that’s how you “stay” motivated. Or, at least, how I do. Whether it’s running a 100-miler or writing a book. Gee, speaking of books …
Brilliant Segue: the No Meat Athlete Book is Officially Available for Pre-Order
I’ve mentioned it in passing, but now that they’ve finally got the cover right, I’m ready to announce it for real:
My book is available for pre-order, just about anywhere books are sold!
And yes, writing a book was as hard as training for any race, with all the ups and downs and joy and self-doubt you’d expect. But it’s done, and I’m extremely proud of the finished product that I, with lots of help from co-author Matt Ruscigno, created.
The official release date is October 1st, when the book tour begins (more news on that soon). But please don’t wait … pre-orders are very important and helpful to me in getting this thing out there and convincing stores to stock it. So if you’re a regular No Meat Athlete reader, I hope you’ll consider pre-ordering, instead of waiting.
Click here for more information about the book and where you can pre-order it, and to see nice things that lots of people have had to say about it.
Many thanks, in advance. 🙂