I thought I would continue yesterday’s theme of ‘targets’ by looking at motivation and running. The two topics fit nicely together; having a target to do something is a lot easier to achieve if you’re motivated in the first place.
A general word on Motivation
Motivation can come from all sorts of sources. Today I really want to focus on those sources which are ‘positive’. So I’ll skip over the ‘drunken bet’ reasons as well as anything relating to ‘being forced’.
Rather than talking in non-specifics, the rest of today’s post relates to some of my motivations.
To lose weight
Back in 2005, I had started to put on weight. Having been very slim in my young-adult days, a sedentary office job and precious little exercise began to take its toll. Now I wasn’t grossly overweight, but I was quite affronted by the suggestion following a routine trip to my GP and I felt I should do something about it.
To get fit
When I worked in Manchester, I commuted daily by train. I thought I was quite fit at the time as I had a ¾ mile walk to and from the station. However, on the occasions when I was on the last minute for the train, trying to run that trip had be gasping for breath long after falling in a crumpled heap on the departing train.
To achieve something
This is a very personal situation, although many other people will find themselves in an equivalent situation.
In 2011, I decided that I wanted to raise money for the charity Myeloma UK. My late husband had been battling with Multiple Myeloma and Amyloidosis for a number of years by then. Neither illness is curable, although they were both treatable to some extent. As with any illness which is incurable, there is an element of complete helplessness about the situation. Whilst I was already doing all I could to help Mark, I felt I wanted to try to do more. Even though I knew that in reality, it wasn’t going to make much difference to his quality of life or prognosis, I felt a need to do something.
To deal with stress
When I started out running (actually before I’d even met Mark), I was completely unaware of the mental health benefits of exercise. Whilst there’s a lot more made of this in 2017, it wasn’t talked about in 2005. I think in part it wasn’t seen appropriate to talk openly about mental health at that time.
I guess I first noticed the link when I was training for Manchester Marathon in 2012, which was my first marathon (and first time I’d done a sport to raise money for charity). It was the first time I’d followed any sort of training plan or run as regularly as I was. The impact was the vast release of endorphins into my body.
I think I noticed it more when I hadn’t been running. My body was getting quite accustomed to these natural highs swimming around it, and so when they weren’t there, I really noticed it.
More recently I’ve harnessed that knowledge to help in the opposite situation. After my breakdown in 2015, I used to become engulfed in rage almost on a daily basis. It felt almost as if it were an electric current running through my body with no way of escape. I discovered that exercise was the way I could control these episodes. It was very much my Eureka moment in terms of the mental health benefits of exercise. It has been good to see over the 2 ½ years since that a wider conversation on this topic has become acceptable in the UK.
Mindfulness in running
This aspect dovetails into the mental health conversation above. However I think it deserves a separate mention as it is something beneficial regardless of any mental health issues you may or may not have. And whilst you may not feel ‘stressed’ per se, sometimes it is very difficult to disengage yourself from the whirlwind of life around us.
Mindfulness is great because it allows you to ‘tune out’ of all the other stuff, and ‘tune in’ to what is going on around you in the immediate and present. You will have probably seen exercises where you focus on your breathing to the point where nothing else is actually playing on your mind. For me, running gets me into that happy place.
When I set out on a run I would say I’m mentally all over the place; I’m trying to deal with work stuff, plan things within the voluntary work I do, work out a running route, think about conversations I need to have etc etc. I suspect most of us are like this.
Now I know some people plug themselves into their headphones and listen to music to drown out all of the noise above. Personally I find that makes it worse, but that’s just me.
After I’ve been running for a few minutes, I become much more aware of the pace of my steps, my breathing and how the run is feeling. I find the more I focus on that, the less attention I take of all of the other stuff. I’m very aware of what is going on around me; if I’m on a road run I’m keeping check on traffic; on a trail run and I’m constantly assessing what my feet are about to land in. It’s all super-immediate stuff. But it becomes relaxing as it shoves all the other ‘what-if’ thoughts out of the way. Even after getting home, those inconsequential questions stay away, for a little while.
To push myself
I’ve commented in the past that I’m not a natural sportsman and that I was actively discouraged throughout my school years. Yet, now I’ve found a sport that I’m not bad at. Sure, there’s plenty of faster runners out there with better technique and results. But equally I’m a long way from the scrap-heap that I was led to believe I was on during PE at school.
I guess it’s a bit like a loose-end of a thread. Having discovered I’m an OK long distance runner, I want to see what I can achieve. For many years I thought that a 40 minute 10k and 90 minute half-marathon were far beyond me, yet at the age of forty-something, I’ve achieved both. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m now at a point of diminishing returns on most of my road races. That said, I’ve a lot to learn in trail & fell running, so there’s plenty to keep me interested.
To help others
I know I’m not the only person to have come to sport later in life i.e. as an adult. When I started out 12 years ago, I didn’t know what the rules were. Where to look, what I was supposed to do or how I was supposed to do it. If I can help others derive even a fraction of the enjoyment I get from my running, that’s a positive. It’s why I set up a running group. At the point where I felt I didn’t know enough, I went on a run coaching course, so I could help others more. It’s a cliché in many ways, but I do get a kick out of seeing others discover the enjoyment in running.
After yesterday’s run-for-the-sake-of-it, today was all about doing something I wanted to do. Now I didn’t have time to get away to find a nice trail to follow. Instead I thought I’d run to a different park today. Still more tarmac than trail unfortunately, but it wasn’t a bad run. Even though it was icy cold, the sun was out.
So what is your motivation to run?
Those are some of the things that get me out running. What is it that keeps you going out to run? Let me know!