Even the most dedicated among us can fid it hard to get out of bed in the morning to go running. As drag ourselves out into the cold darkness, we often forget to to consider why we run.
That’s a mistake.
This subject came up for me in 2011, when I attended a conference on running and running injuries in Shepardstown, West Virginia. Joining me in the conference room were leading researchers from around the world, brilliant scientists who were sharing the very latest studies and findings on what happens to our bodies when we run.
At one point during the weekend, we all attended an open meeting with the general public where we were to lead a discussion about running. I had wondered whether anyone would attend, but I need not have worried: We arrived to a large room filled to capacity, with people spilling over into the adjoining hallway.
Twelve of us – myself included – were invited to sit at the dais and give brief presentations to the crowd. We were not given any guidelines or restrictions; each of us could just say whatever came to mind.
As luck had it, I sat near the end of the line. The presenters before me all talked about theories on injury and proper form. All the comments were insightful and helpful; these were people who knew their stuff. But when it was finally my turn to speak, I realized that, although all of the presenters had spoken about how to run, no one had talked about why we run.
That was, I thought, a problem. Even though running surely promotes cardiovascular fitness, core strength, weight control, mood elevation, and a host of other positive side effects, marathon running is a completely different animal.
Marathoners are no doubt fit, but no one needs to run a marathon in order to get fit. That goal can be attained on far less mileage. Marathon training and racing can actually be potentially dangerous activities. It almost goes without saying, then, that marathoners run for very different reasons than recreational runners do. Nevertheless, as marathoners, we rarely seem to take the time to really ask ourselves exactly why it is we run as much as we do.
In my remarks at the public meeting, I urged all the people in the room to ask themselves why they run. It wasn’t a frivolous question, I told them, because late in the marathon, when our bodies are tired and sore and begging to stop, when no one would blame us for stopping, the science of running and the details of our training schedules won’t be what helps motivate us to keep moving forward. At that moment, we’ll need to dig deeper to find a reason to push on. Whether it’s the memory of a loved one or a need to prove that we can persist when others would give up, each of us needs to tap into that intangible something, that force that enables us to step outside the ordinary into the heroic.
Your training program no doubt is a mix of workouts — long runs, maintenance runs, perhaps speedwork, tempo runs, and maybe even cross-training and strength work. All of those workouts are important, perhaps crucial, to your race preparation.
But these workouts are only tools to help you prepare for your race. To make the most of your running, you will need to add something more. You will need to add something of yourself.
Why do you run? When you can answer that question, you will be able to find the motivation you’ll need to keep going forward when others would stop.
Good luck and keep running!