Big Basin Week 5: Drive

Drive2011PosterNo, 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?

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.

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!

Howdy! My name is Jen and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I like to eat, run, and blog, but not usually at the same time.

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Posted in Big Basin 50K, random, Training
18 comments on “Big Basin Week 5: Drive
  1. Mike says:

    I’d say the most important take-home lesson of this post is that your new job is going well! At the same time I think you’ve hit on one of the inevitable truths of any hobby, especially one as challenging as running and especially during life transition periods: it’s going to suffer from its share of motivational ebb and flow. Even Bill Rodgers admitted “I often lose motivation, but it’s something I accept as normal.” And it’s one of the reasons I don’t subscribe to the “Every run must have a purpose” philosophy… whether it’s an outlet for lab stress (then) or entrepreneurial stress (now), I like running for a reason, I like running for no reason, but more than anything I just like running. It’s the perfect outlet for what ails me, and I find there’s no shortage of challenges to keep me interested.

    But I know several runners who now depend on running for the endorphins their day-to-day lives can’t provide, and in those cases they abuse it just like any other recreational drug. And if you can fall out of love with a person, why not with a hobby? So I’d say it’s perfectly healthy (and a much better alternative than burnout) for your motivation to occasionally end up at the lost-and-found. You’ll always know where to find it… and you’ll be all the more appreciative when you do go back to claim it.

    • Jen says:

      I still have the motivation to run, but the main thing I’m struggling with is the motivation to train for a 50K. I think 20-25 mpw would be perfect right now. I’m already looking forward to track workouts and trying to demolish my 5K PR.

      I definitely thought about the recreational drug metaphor, too. There are runners who’ve turned a healthy hobby into an unhealthy obsession. At least I know I’m not in that group.

  2. bt says:

    This is a super insightful post. Well done. I think if us “average” runners want to run for a long time, we have to be cool with the reality that at different points in our lives, running is going to mean and be different things for us. The fact that it can morph to play so many important roles is one of the great things about this hobby, if we can let it be less and more to us at different times. As you note, the reality is, when we aren’t super driven to focus on running (particularly if life is asking us to focus some of our limited motivation/discipline elsewhere), it can be difficult. So, well done on hitting your runs last week – 41.2 miles is super solid!

    • Jen says:

      Thanks! I was stretched thin last week, and that finally came to a breaking point this week. I had to skip 2 runs and stay home from work one day, just to rest. Lesson learned!

  3. Naomi says:

    I love, love, love your insight in this post because I’ve actually felt the same thing myself over the past several months. I truly believe in the ebbs and flows of running and have seen a pattern of it in the runners I’ve met, esp through social media. Thanks for sharing this!

    • Jen says:

      Thanks, Naomi! I knew it was going to eventually happen to me, where I’d lose a bit of my mojo. I’m just glad it’s due to a positive development, rather than something unfortunate, like an injury or burnout.

  4. Angela says:

    I agree, this is definitely more good news than bad! Because a job you dislike does definitely not do good things for your mental state, even if you can distract yourself with healthy hobbies like running. These days, I’m happy with my job, partly because of the work but also partly because it’s very flexible, which means I don’t have to feel guilty about my runs anymore. In the last few years I’ve gone from feeling like I needed to “motivate” myself to run to having it just be a habit that I do on basically the same days & times, day in & day out (barring, you know, travel/special events/etc.). It’s basically like brushing my teeth. I just do it & don’t even really think about it.

    • Jen says:

      Totally agree. Like I wrote in response to Mike’s comment above, I’m not completely out of running motivation, it’s just hard for me to get myself out the door for these long training runs. Plus the more tired I get, the slower I get, the more time it takes for me to finish my runs. Maybe I’ll start running for time instead of mileage.

  5. Cathryn says:

    I was nodding along for all of this – since I’ve started studying (and doing something I love) my motivation to run has waned dreadfully. But as Naomi said, there are ebbs and flows in everyone’s relationship with running. I’m wondering if I should be less bothered about getting a PR in any distance and spend more time enjoying my running and doing it for love. And I’m also keen to add in new things – like cycling and (ugh) swimming as I know it’ll make me stronger all round.

    I also think that if you’re tired, DO rest!! I’m glad you took a few extra days off.

    • Jen says:

      I sensed that you might relate to this post! I agree with your thought about running more for fun and less for PR’s. I think that as we have big goals in other areas of our life, it takes the pressure and focus away from running?

  6. Jan says:

    I find my motivation comes and goes too. The change in season always helps me…the first few cool fall days are so much fun, as are the first few warm spring ones. Friends often get me out the door, although sometimes I just crave that depleted feeling I only get from a good hard run!

  7. dlubi says:

    Great post! So happy work is going well and you have so many positive things going on!

    In terms of training for long events… I definitely appreciate the highs and lows of endurance training that you mention here. Sometimes it’s really challenging to get out the door for the really long workouts while there are so many other things someone could do with that time (including much needed sleep!). Training for long events is not easy physically or mentally, and as training volume builds, I genuinely think everyone comes to a day/week when they question why they are doing it. If the ultra run is something you’ve always wanted to do – then focus on that finish line for motivation when you need it!

    I’m also a huge fan of running by time rather than miles (for me it helps mentally and also places emphasis on quality workouts rather than quantity). It’s also ok to change your goals mid-season and find new things to enjoy about running anytime. If that 5K PR is calling you – maybe mix in a fast 5K during your training? If you want to adjust the way you are training… maybe even talk with a coach who can re-design your training plan to meet your goals and give you some new types of workouts? You have done some great work already! Keep it up, stay positive, and take rest days when you need them!

    • Jen says:

      Thanks, Danielle! I was just thinking today about how much more work training for an Ironman is, and how much you sacrificed last year to meet your goals. Then I thought that I should stop whining! Haha. Seriously though, I feel like part of the stress has been juggling social events that I couldn’t skip, craft projects (2 baby blankets this spring!), work (plus commute – I know you can relate), AND 50K training. Now that my social calendar is calming down, and the 2nd blanket is almost done, I feel a little better… hopefully that will translate to my training! I’ve also been reevaluating my goals for the 50K – hope to write about that soon. 🙂

  8. […] it makes me somewhat accountable and often, I need your virtual eyes on me to motivate me to run. Jen blogged last week about struggling with motivation as her job situation has changed – I’m sure […]

  9. Great post and I can completely relate to it. I too am a lab person and found myself initially getting into running when I worked in a very stressful position in academia. When I later moved to a new job, I relied on running less for an outlet, as the job was challenging. I’ve noticed my training tend to get more serious when I need a challenge (i.e. am not getting one at work).

    • Jen says:

      Yes – totally agree! I now think of running as a stress-reliever and some time to myself to stop thinking. I just wished it didn’t take as much time as it does because then it stresses me out again! 😉

  10. […] weeks of training, I wanted to thank those of you who left thoughtful comments and responses to my Week 5 recap about motivation. In hindsight, I realized that the post made it sound like I was struggling with running motivation […]

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9/2/18: Race to the End of the Summer 5K
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