Wednesday, February 3, 2016


What is the key to maintaining a high level of motivation throughout the year (especially now, during the “off-season”)?

That is the million dollar question.  And the answer (at least for me) is that there is no single answer.  I use somewhat of a shotgun approach - many, small motivating factors that inspire me at different times and in different ways.

photo by Israel Archuletta
If you want to reinvigorate your running, go out when no one else will, like during a downpour, or a blizzard.  Don’t expect great performances on these days, but they can make you feel alive.  About a month ago, we had a decent snowstorm, where the whole City was on a delayed start.  I couldn’t sleep, so I wound up going to work extra early, and to break up the long day, I went out for my typical lunch time run.  It was way slower than usual, as even on the plowed bike paths, there was 2-6” of snow, but it felt great.  I was the only nutcase out there and got lots of stares and honks from passing vehicles.  It’s kind of like being a kid again and just running freely, splashing through the puddles.

Motivation means making training a priority.  I put all of my trainings runs (and cross training workouts) on my Outlook calendar.  I make the items “private” and set the time to “free” so that I’m not actually interfering with my job, but unless a meeting comes up, I know that lunch time is set aside for a run.  Same thing for my evening runs or workouts.  Putting these items on the calendar forces me to have to opt out of a training, rather than facing the free time and having to find the motivation to opt in.  I’ll sometimes reward myself after a good training run, or even after a slow one that I struggled to complete.  I’ll treat myself to a chocolate bar or a pastry.  Sure, it negates much of the caloric benefit of the training, but not the fitness benefit.

Run with a partner or a group if you can.  The vast majority of my training miles are run alone, but when I’m around on Thursday evenings, I run with the Belmar Running Club (check with your local running store for a club near you).  Once in awhile, I’ll get pulled along at a pretty fast pace, but most of the time, I look at these runs as social/recovery runs and just enjoy chatting with like minded people.  If you can, find a training partner with similar abilities and goals.  If you and your partner are too far apart in fitness levels, running on a track, or side by side treadmills can work despite differences in speed.

I really enjoy races (especially when I do well), therefore I register for races well in advance (also because I’m a cheap SOB and want to get the early bird pricing).  Having these races on my calendar months in advance is a serious commitment and gives me a real sense of purpose and focus during my trainings.

I tend to run many races throughout the year (usually 25+).  This way, if a have a bad day, It’s not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things, and I have another race to focus on within the next month or so.  I can’t get demoralized for too long with a single bad performance.  I know there are plenty of folks out there who focus on a single race, but for me that’s just too much of a gamble and way too much pressure.  I’ve seen some of the best runners in the world have bad days and if you happen to have one of those bad days on your one and only goal race day...

Set a huge, motivational goal, far enough into the future to make it achievable, then focus on the short term accomplishments and celebrate every single mini-milestone.  I tend to have pretty lofty (and many times unrealistic goals), but I know that about myself so I don’t get too distraught when I fail.  This year, I’ve set a goal for myself to run 150 miles in 24 hours.  Having never run over 137, that’s a pretty tall order, but it’s not completely outside of the realm of possibilities (though it sure is close to the edge).  Sometimes, when I’m pushing extra hard at the end of a tempo run, or a fartlek sprint, I’ll imagine that I’m close and pushing for that 150 mile mark.  Silly, but these little mental games do help.  Now, this is a pretty singular goal, but to avoid the “all the eggs in one basket” conundrum that I previously mentioned, I’m giving myself one “practice” 24 hour race early in the season, and 2 serious goal races in the fall and early winter, when I should be in prime shape.

Sometimes, a little negative motivation can work also.  My first race of 2014 was the 52 mile Coldwater Rumble, which became my first DNF (did not finish) at mile 40.  Though I had long since stopped collecting race bibs, I posted this one prominently on my office wall, as a reminder of what I didn’t want to happen again.  A year later, after having run well on the 100 mile version of the race, I felt great satisfaction in ripping it down and throwing it in the trash. Now I’m not the type of person who normally holds a grudge, but having been turned down for a couple of teams, I get a certain level of satisfaction when I outrun one of their members at a race.  I also use that as a bit of a mental whip in trainings - if I want to show them what they missed out on, I need to really push myself.

Running Log!  Track your progress!

My running log is one of my biggest motivating factors (please feel free to copy my log and modify it to your own needs if you would like).  I track lots of stats about my running and I really look forward to entering in the numbers on the spreadsheet after every run.  Though I use Garmin Connect for all my runs, weight, and other workouts, I also use a simple spreadsheet log.  I started the spreadsheet before I had a Garmin, so it’s got a bit more historical data, plus it’s much more customizable to my needs (I wish Garmin was listening to this).  I changed from Excel to Google Sheets a couple of years ago and have never looked back - it’s free, shareable, easily accessible from all computers and devices, and handles time better (especially when dealing with time duration, as opposed to time of day).  At a glance, I can see how many races I’ve run over the years, daily, weekly, yearly, and total mileage, upcoming races, etc.

I have two cells for each day (and weekly totals).  The second cells are for actual mileage, but the first shows my planned mileage in light grey text.  I’ll enter in the mileage of any upcoming races for the year, as well as my anticipated training miles for at least a few weeks out.  I’m typically conservative with these guestimates, so it adds to the positive reinforcement when I surpass them.

In addition to tracking daily mileage (I don’t really separate out multiple daily runs, unless I have 2 races in a day), I total up weekly and yearly mileage.  Having 9 years of data, I can look back on previous years and see my improvements.  Early in the year, my total mileage is pretty uninspiring, but I can look back at how it compares to the same time in previous years and see that I really am pushing my limits.  Increased mileage is a pretty simple, yet powerful motivation.  Especially for new runners, mileage and pace will increase rapidly and should provide great inspiration.  For longer term runners, those improvements may be pretty minimal, so tracking other progress may be beneficial.

A few years ago, I started tracking weeks where I went over 50 miles, then 75, and 100.  I highlight those weekly totals, as well as tracking the number of those weeks within a year.  If I’m close to a benchmark (50, 75, or 100), it can provide just a little bit of an added push to run that extra couple of miles, or force myself out on a crappy weather day.

This year, like last, I committed to more speed work (both fartleks and tempo runs), so on my log, I’ve assigned a different color to each, and can now see at a glance if I’ve met my goal of 2 to 3 speed workouts per week.  Also, since most of my tempo runs are on the same course, I use a separate sheet to track my pace/mile and total time.  That way, I can see how I’m (hopefully) improving over time.  When I do have a breakthrough training run, I feel re-energized and that 150 mile goal seems so achievable.  Now don’t expect to see progress every day, or even every week.  The body needs time to process the repeated training and recovery into actual improvements.  You will typically see cyclical improvements every 2 to 4 weeks depending on your workouts and schedule.

I’ve got a progress sheet on the spreadsheet that I used to track my placement on races that I ran for multiple years.  I don’t really use it much anymore since I’ve switched to ultras, but it can be beneficial.  At a quick glance, I can see how my placement improved over the years.  Big races like the Colfax Marathon, Bolder Boulder, or Denver Marathon, can be pretty telling, as the overall field doesn’t change that much.  Smaller races can be quite misleading since all it takes is a few fast runners to knock you down from 10% to 30% in the standings, so be careful not to beat yourself up unnecessarily (or take undue credit).  Also, in the Pikes Peak region, we have a free 2 mile race every month (the Nielson Challenge).  I don’t get to run this very often anymore (when I do, it’s pacing my daughter), but if you can run an event like this frequently, track the results and your progress.

Over on the right hand of the spreadsheet, I’ll sometimes track my “lap” time and placement for races.  If the race involves repetitive laps, I like to see how I paced myself.  Proper pacing is a big goal, and one of my main strengths, so I like to see if I came close to negative splitting the course.  I also like to see how I placed throughout the race (when that data is available).  Leadville 2015 was a great pacing example.  Though I didn’t meet my time goal or run negative splits, slowly climbing my way up from 173rd place at May Queen to 22nd by the finish was a huge accomplishment and a victory in itself.  The 2015 Javelina Jundred is another example.  I again didn’t meet my time goal, but I can see how my placement went from 111th to 17th over the course of the race.  I also slowed down more than I had hoped, but I did much better than most.  This kind of data reassures me that I’m doing something right, even if my overall time wasn’t great.  It also gives me confidence early in an ultra when so many runners are zipping on by me.

With the exception of a small amount of negative reinforcement, focus on the positive.  Find the data points that excite and motivate you - time, distance, pace, race placement (overall, gender, age group), number of races, etc.  Dream big, but celebrate all of the incremental improvements.

What motivates you?  I’d love to hear other ideas.