Running an ultra is a lot like riding the roller coaster of life. One moment you can be on top of your game, feeling amazing, and the next minute you fall apart, feeling terrified that you’re not going to make it. I’ve personally had races where I’m having the race of my life, and a second later, something comes in and changes everything…..a pain, a negative thought, another runner’s energy….the list goes on and on.
The same is true in training for me. Some days I feel great, like I could run forever, like I’m unstoppable. Other days I have “lead legs” with not even the motivation to run the 3 mile loop around my house.
SO, how do we stay motivated in a sport that requires so much mental and physical endurance? How do we stay fresh and excited to train for the next race?
People ask me a lot about how I’ve stayed motivated in this sport for so many years. I think the answer is complicated. Each person’s motivation for entering into a sport and deciding to compete or not, is vastly different. It seems in ultra running, that people enter with either a long standing history of high school and college track/cross country, or, like me, they haven’t grown up with the sport at all. I only started running after college. It began as a way to get back into shape after too many years of partying in college.
I typically don’t pay attention to how fast I’m going, what my splits are, or how far I’ve gone. What I do care about is how I feel and whether or not I’m enjoying what I’m doing. I entered into the sport because I loved the way it felt to be outside, on the trails, breathing hard, and exploring in nature.
A week ago, I was running with my good buddy on one of our favorite loops in Boulder. The loop takes approximately 2 – 2:30 hours, and runs along the famous Mesa Trail, up Bear Canyon, and eventually to the top of Green Mountain. I’ve done this loop so many times that it now holds a host of good and not so good memories along the way. Some days this run can feel amazing, and other times it takes everything I have to get myself through it.
We started talking about the challenges of keeping our motivations high and feeling good on our runs. As I trotted up Green Mountain, less than a week after running a 100k race, I realized that there was this intangible feeling keeping me light on my feet and more carefree on the trail than I had felt for months. Why was that? I should be sluggish and tired, right?
The only answer I could think of was that I was now in a different head space than I was in the weeks leading up to my race. I have seen this happen to friends, and now me as well.
In the months leading up to a race or key event, we judge ourselves, we compare our training to others, we dissect and diagnose our runs as being good or bad, and we inevitably run feeling heavy and stressed about why we’re not feeling great at all times. I realized that after the race was finished and there was no pressure to train at a certain level, all of the self analysis dropped away. I found myself running with nothing to prove. No pressure to validate anything to myself, to my sponsors, to friends…to anyone. Eliminating the pressure and stress of having to prove ourselves is a key to keeping things light and fresh.
Truth is, I think this is what’s kept me running for many years. My running/training is very loose and unstructured. I tend to run when I want and for however long I want. Typically I don’t “over train”. If I was asked to run a hundred plus mile week, I would loose interest real fast.
It’s about getting outside, soaking in the scenery, chatting with close friends, and figuring out life’s problems. That’s what keeps me hooked into this sport. And much like life, it’s a roller coaster. Some days I feel unstoppable and others, well, not so much. But that’s ok.
In the end, remind yourself why you love to run and constantly tell yourself that you are strong, capable, and have nothing to prove to anyone (including yourself).