Since becoming a more consistent runner in 2012, my motivation has been drawn from different sources, but my overall amount of drive has been about the same and relatively unwavering. I went from chasing PRs to running my first marathon to racing for fun to challenging myself with different kind of events (e.g., relays). On top of those challenges, there was a good amount of non-running-specific motivation. I liked the way running made me feel and improved my quality of life – I was more confident, made new friends, and lost a good chunk of the “muffintop” created by years of steady alcohol, noodle, and cake consumption.
Big Basin Week 5: Drive
No, this post isn’t about the love-it-or-hate-it Ryan Gosling movie. Instead, it’s about this question: what motivates you to get out the door and run?
I’d classify all of the above as positive motivators. It wasn’t until last week, when I was listening to the Marathon Talk podcast, that I recognized one of the “negative” motivations in my running. One of the hosts, Tom Williams, was talking about drive, and how his motivation for training ebbs and flows. He gave the example of many years ago, when he had been chasing the Ironman Kona qualifying time. His motivation was to meet the challenge, of course, but he also recognized that his job at the time was quite unfulfilling, and so he tried to find other venues to find meaning in his life. A bell immediately went off in my head; “This all sounds too familiar,” I thought to myself.
When I think about why I started running regularly in 2012, a few reasons pop into my head. One main reason was that I had signed up for the Oakland Half Marathon and wanted to improve my time, so I decided to train more regularly than I did for my first half marathon. That set me on a regular running schedule, which became a force of habit after a few months. The second major factor was moving to Oakland and living right next to Lake Merritt, which is basically a really pretty 5K track. When I had lived in North Berkeley, the hills were always the biggest obstacle to establishing a running routine. I’d go out for a 3 miler, feel defeated by the unavoidable hills, and not run for another week.
The third and final main reason for more consistent running was a career change. When I worked in academia, I lived the typical researcher life, where I worked about 10-11 hour days during the week, and 3-6 hours a day on weekends. Work-life balance for me was leaving lab by 6:30pm and not working on Sundays. Even though I had a flexible schedule, it was hard for me to fit in running because I already felt stretched, and more importantly, I didn’t have the motivation. In 2011, I left academia and was funemployed for 3 months before landing a gig at a small engineering and legal consulting firm. It was a part-time job that left me plenty of time to explore hobbies – like running! The first few months at my new job were fun and exciting. I love to learn new things (#nerdalert) and this was a completely different world. After a while though, the sheen began to wear off, and over the course of the next 3 years, I became increasingly disgruntled, to the point of getting angry and annoyed at the mere thought of going into work. Every Monday, I had a case of “The Mondays”. It was not fun — for me, for the Gypsy Runner, or for my boss (I’m guessing).
The other thing I should mention is that, despite the long hours I spent in lab for very low pay, I was fairly satisfied by my work. I felt like my colleagues and I were making contributions to scientific knowledge, which I’ve always considered to be a noble cause. My part-time job, on the other hand, dealt with personal injury lawsuits… not exactly the most virtuous aspect of our society. There were other reasons I didn’t like my job, but the main point is that I decided to concentrate my efforts on what I did like, which was my new hobby of running. It didn’t matter if I didn’t like going to work if it also meant that I only had to work 15-20 hours a week, which meant more time to train. No full-time job was going to be as flexible and as easy as this, schedule-wise.
Over the course of 3 years, there was almost an inverse relationship between how much I disliked my job and how much I was motivated to run. I was trying to make up this empty, negative part of my life with a positive and healthy habit…which is actually not how things work. It’s just a diversion, not a solution. At some point last year, I recognized that this wasn’t a tenable way to live, and I threw myself into finding a new job — even if it meant a reduction in my training.
I’ve been at my “new” job for almost 7 months now. For the first time since 2012, I’ve been struggling lately with drive as it relates to running. It didn’t help to start the 50K training cycle with a 2-week, super intense work trip, but in the past, I’d bounce back with no problems. These past few weeks, however, I’ve been depending on external motivation, like the contributions to my charity page, to get me out the door. I’m SO tired, and there are still so many weeks and miles remaining. It’s been a struggle, to be honest. The podcast made me realize that I’m at the point in my life where my work is really fulfilling (yay), but as a result, it has made less room for running, which makes me sort of sad. I recognize that I have limits, but that I also don’t place as much emphasis on running as I used to. I don’t look to it as a haven, or for it to add substantial meaning to my life anymore. It’s a good thing, really.
Despite this lack of drive, I did manage to hit all of my runs last week (week 5), good for 41.2 miles. I ran the Wildcat Canyon Half Marathon on Saturday, which I hope to recap soon!