The problem with motivation


Running is, at heart, an incredibly simple activity. The fact that so much has been written about it doesn’t take away from this essential truth about running: it’s about putting one foot in front of the other.

If we want to run faster, we have to run, at times, faster. If we want to go longer, we have to run, at times, longer. When we need to recover, we go slower. It’s as basic as that. It’s also an honest sport. Nearly all runners get better through running more. Of course, it’s not quite that simple. But if we look at what the best do, the one thing that I guarantee that they have in common and the thing that sets them apart from me is simply the volume of miles that they run.

I’ve been asking the best runners that I know about how they go about training for a marathon. All have said ‘run more’.

Interestingly, nobody has said work on your motivation. It’s interesting, but not really surprising for me. I’ve worked as a teacher for the last 20 years. I’ve lost count of the the number of teachers I’ve mentored, coached, trained, guided and advised. Successful teachers are the ones who get the work done. Successful students are the ones who get the work done. Like the marathon, successful examination results are based on actions, not motivation. I’m not hugely interested in what people say they are going to do. I am fascinated by what people have done. I explain this to students almost every day for I honestly believe that our fascination with motivation is damaging.

Here’s why:

If I waited until I was motivated, I’d hardly ever run. I’m not motivated to run at 8PM when I’ve been up since 5AM and I’ve already done 12,000 steps at work. How motivated I am at 8PM is utterly irrelevant. What matters is simply getting the work done.

The marathon does not care how motivated I am. How motivated I have been in my training won’t help at all when things get really challenging. What will matter is how well prepared I am. What will matter is the miles that I have run in training. Mental strength in the marathon comes from knowing that I did the work even when I didn’t want to.

Motivation often follows the action. I think that motivation means being in the right frame of mind. This is why I run. It helps my frame of mind. And that’s why I’m not bothered about how motivated I am when I step out the door. It doesn’t matter because I know that I will return home feeling in a better frame of mind. My motivation rises after I’ve been running.

We don’t need to be motivated to do anything. This is a bit of a con. We just need to do it. These days I keep it simple. Do I want to do well I the marathon? Yes. Then I need to get the work done. Adding in to this simple equation the question of how motivated I am or am not risks derailing the whole project.

A proper marathon deserves proper training. Motivation is optional.

I’ve been mulling all of this over this week. It’s been my second week as a Bolton Marathon Ambassador. I’ve covered slightly more than last week and most of it has been really comfortable. This is the foundation stage of the training and the aim is getting fit enough to do the training that I want to do in the final eighteen weeks before the marathon. I have decided that each week I’ll end one of the runs with a mile that is quicker. I ended Tuesday’s run with a mile at 7:10. It dawned on me that this is still over 20 seconds slower than sub 3 hour pace. A 2:45 marathon is a staggering 6:17 minutes per mile. There is a lot to do and yes, I am motivated to do it. If I wasn’t, I’d still be doing it anyway.

I’m also going to start a session each week. Initially this will simply be strides as a way to try and reconnect with the idea of running faster. At the moment I still feel very uncoordinated and I feel like I’m shuffling along.

What isn’t shuffling along is the community that has built up around this event, for good reason too. This will be the first marathon in the world to avoid using single use plastics. There will be a ban on littering the course. Thought has gone into how the water stations will be supplied. It’s going to be a challenge that is significantly different from other road marathons, not least because of the 1800 feet of climbing involved. I need to start thinking about hills.

No I don’t.

I need to start running on them. Keep it simple.

Week two: 34 miles

3 thoughts on “The problem with motivation”

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