Today was the first truly wet run that I've embarked upon in months, in fact I struggle to remember the last real weather challenged run I had to overcome. Off the top of my head it was likely a pre-UTMB exploration in France, though there was no lack of motivation to run in the Swiss Alps on that day.
So the question I'm posing is, where do you find your motivation? What are the most challenging days and/or weather conditions that you have to overcome to get your sweat on?
One of the biggest things I've learned over the years is that lack of motivation can come in many different shapes and sizes, though the vast majority of a lack of motivation exists entirely in our own heads. Being mentally fatigued is far more difficult to get past than simply being physically fatigued. As an example, if you're fired up for a run, let's use the Grand Canyon as an example, you're going to make that run happen no matter what your body might be physically telling you. If however you find yourself at the peak of your health and fitness but are not excited by the terrain you're covering that day you're run is going to be a challenge to complete. The mind controls what the body will and will not do more so than the body controls the mind.
Back in 2005 I was training for my first ever expedition adventure race, that being the 2006 Primal Quest, Utah. I was then residing in Squamish, BC, the aptly named "Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada." I was months into my training for a goal that was so daunting that the fear alone got me out the door each and every day. I wasn't feeling necessarily physically beaten down, but everything just became more of a challenge to complete. Day in and day out for weeks on end was an absolute slog. My motivation was nearing zero, I wasn't having all too much fun and I started to wonder if I was experiencing some underlying health issue.
Seven years on I forget what lead me to the following recognition, but as I assessed my training routine I came to terms with the fact that it was exactly that, a routine, completely repetitive. On my scheduled three hour ride day I'd take my mountain bike out on the three hour route I knew. On my two hour paddle day, I'd lug my kayak to the river and paddle down into the sound and back. A two hour run was always completed over the same known two hour route. There was a 90 min loop, a 60 min loop, etc. The adventure was gone and the whole reason I had even been enticed by the sport to begin with was because it was called ADVENTURE RACING.
I metaphorically threw out all of my known, set routes and went about exploring and embracing the unknown wilderness surrounding me. Like an overdose of caffeine, I was wide awake again within days. I started paddling the waters further south of town and quickly discovered hundreds of years old native rockwall art on the sea exposed cliffs near Furry Creek. On foot I found a whole new access point to get up The Chief via a gully scramble. On my mountain bike I learned new trail linkages and started discovering old logging artifacts. I couldn't wait to get out the door and to see what I'd find next. I had to remove the structure to do so though. I had to embrace the unknown and keep the adventure within what I was doing. I met one of Canada's most experienced adventure racers at the time and I was asking him for some training tips, he responded with,
"Training? I've never trained a day in my life."
"I play everyday, but I never go out to train. I go outside to play in the woods and to interact with nature. When I stop enjoying it like play then it becomes work. Work, no matter what form it may take, will always feel like work."
So as I sit here after a successful run on a day that's calling for 80mm of rain it is with an awareness that I consciously went onto a trail system I am less familiar with. I woke up early and was struggling with the mental image of where I wanted to run today. I started rifling through areas in my head and as soon as I thought my way to a trail access point that felt like it excited me I packed my bags and headed straight there. My run, and day of play was salvaged because of this.
Tracking back to the point of this posting, here are a few things I realize I use to motivate me when I know it is nothing more than my own head that's preventing me from getting out the door.
1) Remove The Blinders: The aforementioned day of exploration. Remove all expectations from your day and simply take every new trail turn you can find. Your current favorite routes were once completely unknown to you. Never lose sight of that.
2) Socialize: Training partners are great at keeping you honest. Like most I embrace running as a primarily solo pursuit, but there's nothing better than a planned group run to prevent the snooze button and to make the miles fly by underfoot
3) Mission Possible: In the true doldrums of our longest months which contain the least sunshine I create mini-missions for myself. Taking last winter as an example, we experienced an early and unexpected low snowline that refused to recede. One of my mini-missions was to grab my snowshoes and run from home to the snowline on Mountain Highway. I'd then start snowshoe running up to the tracked high point in the snow and go about breaking trail for 1/2 - 1km further uphill. The snow usually being hip deep while doing so. Once I completed my mission I'd turn around and retrace my steps home. By the end of this I'd have been on my feet for multiple hours, climbed 5-600 meters in elevation, and most importantly not once thought about the run itself. Creating a mission for yourself removes pace, distance and elevation expectations and allows you to go through the motions without over-thinking the going through the motion process.
4) Music, Podcasts and Audiobooks: My necessity for noise distraction to overcome lack of motivation goes in this order. A) no noise, I like to run in my own head as much as possible B) music, nothing distracts my mind on the 'I'm about to over think this running in the rain' days quite like music C) podcasts and audiobooks, on the days when I know I need an entire distraction of the mind to get out the door I fire up a good book or my favorite podcast. I haven't looked for research saying so but my own anecdotal experiences tell me that having to actually listen to a voice and process what it is saying, rather than just humming along to a song, takes the mind into a deeper state of distraction and concentration. My worst weather training days have a great audiobook on standby to conquer them. It has yet to fail me.
5) Dream Big: Throw down for that big race you've been dreaming of. Just because you aren't fit enough to attempt it today does not mean you can't and won't be ready to do so in eight or nine months time. A big-ass scary-as-shit goal will make short work of your alarm clock. I used to be the captain of the under-motivated, then I signed up for the biggest adventure race in the world in 2005, for the 2006 event, and my life has never quite been the same for it.
6) There's More To Running Than Just Running: IE cross-training. Having recently gotten past some neck and back issues I'd been dealing with I've really attempted to get to know some of other sports that I love once again. Primarily this involves gym work, squash, skiing and likely some hockey again, albeit the floor version instead of the ice version, but I find all of this exciting, and fresh and familiar all at once. This guy had it right, way back when.
There are very few people who can train in such repetition so as to pound out the miles five, six and seven days a week, week in and week out, month after month and not suffer through injury in doing so. Personally I am fortunate to be able to log heavy mileage without the standard issues a lot of people attempting high mileage may encounter, however there is not a single one of us who wouldn't benefit from cross training in the form of gym work, cycling, etc. You know that guy Kilian who seems to be a pretty decent athlete, he uses a road bike as cross training, in fact most European mountain runners spend a decent amount of time road cycling. It's interesting to me that we don't see that same mentality on this side of the pond. When you're mind and body start to feel the impact of the pounding of repetition, mix it up, stay healthy and continue to get stronger instead of being forced to the sidelines.
7) I Do Not Want To Suck: For me at least, I find motivation in competition. This is touched upon in five, but that's more in reference to the fear of not being able to finish a certain goal. Whether your goal is a podium finish or a personal best time, competition can be a great motivator. I attempt to pick the most competitive races I can find so that it keeps me honest. There is nothing quite like day dreaming about the best ultra runners in the world and how hard they themselves train to help me get past my rolling mental excuse list.
8) Talk It Out: Conversations ongoing in my head;
"I don't wanna." and be sure to say this in the most childish pout mouth you can.
"Cause it's wet outside."
"You've gotta be kidding me."
"It's weally, weally wet outside." an Elmer Fudd voice will suffice here
"Yeah that's called rain, it does that here sometimes."
"It looks poopy outside."
"Listen are you injured or severely fatigued here?"
"No. It's poopy outside."
"Yeah, I'll pack a diaper for you, get you're ass out the GD door you pansy."
"But, but, but...."
This is where I put myself in a headlock and it becomes incredibly violent until the stick a soother (Salomon flask bottle) in my mouth and get on with it.
Giving it a voice can give it meaning. Most of our excuses not to do things are entirely trivial and they feel even more trivial when reviewed internally or even spoken out loud.
9) Give It Twenty: That's it, give it twenty minutes. That's my only rule on the days where I'm really in doubt of if running is a good idea. By the twenty minute mark things usually make sense again and I can't believe I fought so relentlessly with myself to begin with. I think in all the years I've been enforcing the twenty minute rule I've only turned back once at twenty five minutes. That day it was the absolute right call, but the other 100 times I've instituted this rule on myself I've ended up with some of my best, some of my longest and certainly some of the most rewarding days of my year.
10) Give It A Rest: Seriously, shut it down for scheduled maintenance on an annual basis. Training/playing creates stress on your body. As runners/athletes we become incredibly efficient at dealing with this stress and seeing it as positive stress. On a cellular level though your body is just dealing with stress and trying to keep you healthy. Your body does not differentiate between what we know to be healthy and unhealthy stress levels, it just knows a stress response.
Ultra running specifically has grown into a twelve month a year pursuit for many runners. With large money events now taking place in September and December there is little downtime to be had unless it is specifically structured in at the beginning of your year. In 2013 I lined up for seven ultras, three of which were 100 miles in length. All but one of those races went as close to 'according to plan' as could be suggested. When I sat down to plan my year I structured in the downtime and then stuck to that plan. Following each of my three hundred mile races I enforced three weeks of near downtime. Doubt the validity of my statement? I've posted all of my workouts this year to my Movescount & Strava feeds. I was not injured following any of these races, I was embracing forced recovery.
Following each of HURT, UTMF and UTMB I shut it down in a big way compared to my regular training loads. Even following UTMB in which I only made it twenty miles I shut it down following the event. Why? The physical and mental stress of the training leading up to a big race is what really takes it out of you. In a five week span while training for UTMB I logged over 1,000km, almost all on trail and while averaging nearly a vertical kilometer of gain per day. Whether I made it to mile 20, 50, or the finish, my mind and body needed the break. Without structured downtime the best of the best have two years in them. By the third year there's inexplicable issues that arise either through injury or over-training. Schedule in downtime and enforce it or your body will do so for you, and it won't coincide nearly as nicely with your personal racing goals.
Newton's first law of motion, though not scientifically applicable certainly rings true when jigged to state that 'objects at rest tend to stay at rest, and objects in motion tend to stay in motion.'
The less you do, the less you'll want to do. The more you do, the more you'll want to do. So get out and do something and make it habitual. Whether your goal is to win a race, to finish a race, or you're just attempting to get/stay healthy, your body desires movement. Don't let your head get in the way of that.
My challenge to you. Go and run a completely new route this week. Take one day, one run, one hour and find something new out there. You'll be thankful you did.
So how do you motivate yourself to get out and get after it?