Motivation is a fickle beast that pops up when we least expect it.Seeing a runner charging along while you’re driving can make you want to leap from the car and run along with her. But then, when it’s time for your own scheduled run later that day, motivation is nowhere to be found.
Over the summer, I got to talk to a few sports psychologists while reporting on stories on the topic. Their tips revolutionized the way I view motivation, and taught me low-motivation days are no accident.
My biggest mistake: I’d been sitting back and waiting for motivation to strike me. But, as Peter De Vries put it about another of my pastimes: “I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.”
Here’s how I see to it that I’m motivated before every run:
- Identify negative thoughts. Sports psychologist Alison Arnold says negative thoughts can be sneaky. We know better than to tell ourselves we’re about to have a crappy workout. We’re more likely to make definitive statements about our performance: “I always get tired around this point,” or “I always get hurt in the winter,” Arnold says. Letting your mind focus on pain that might be quite real – “My knee is killing me” – counts, too. When I stopped to think about this, I realized that I really never give myself a break from a barrage of sneaky negative thoughts. Regulars in the chaotic, crowded happy-hour that is my mind: The tendonitis in my ankle hurts, and it’s only a matter of time before that makes my old hip injury flare up, too. I’m not sure if I can keep up with my running group tonight because I’m tired/sore/wimpy. Sheesh. Maybe we should try a different bar.
- Substitute positive thoughts – or at least neutral ones. Arnold says not to sweat it if positive, sunny thoughts don’t ring true at first, and suggests taking “one step up on the feel-good scale.” My positive spins: My hip and ankle problems have made me a stronger runner and overall athlete thanks to months of physical therapy. I am running with my doctor’s OK, and am playing it safe by sticking to low mileage for now.
- As for keeping up with my regular pace group: This has never actually happened with my regular gang, so it’s a bit of an absurd worry. But if it did, I know most of our group-run routes, so it’s not a big deal if I fall behind. Channel your passion. Every runner should have a long-term goal they’re passionate about and should remind themselves of that goal often. A runner training for Race for the Cure might repeat “cure” during speed workouts. A runner training for a marathon might hang a course map on the refrigerator, tape a motivational quote to the bathroom mirror or create a billboard with inspirational magazine cutouts and photos.
- I have a little bulletin board with ads for upcoming races, pictures of places I’ve run in the past and running ads I find inspiring. My favorite one: a Brooks ad featuring a stick-figure runner smiling, with the caption: The longer I run, the smaller my problems become.
- Find a mantra. I like to remind myself that, after a run, I feel both powerful and graceful — feelings that can be hard to channel in the painful heat of the moment. So I repeat: Strength, power and grace. Also, a runner who has qualified for the Boston Marathon a few times over shared this mantra, which she uses on hills: this will make my tushy less cushy. It sounds silly. But during your next tough race or speed workout, ask yourself: Would I like my tushy to be less cushy? See if it doesn’t make you pick up the pace.
- Express gratitude. Sports psychologist Kay Porter suggests thanking your body as if it’s a separate person. So I give my body constant shout-outs during hard workouts and races, and promising it an ice bath, a protein shake, a good dinner out, a post-race massage. I also express thanks that I can run at all, which is something I never want to take for granted.
Amy Reinink is a Silver Spring, Md., based freelance writer who blogs about her training adventures at her Web site, amyreinink.com.