Head Games Part 1: Motivation

Head Games Part 1: Motivation


As I have learned over the past few thousand miles, running is more of a mental than physical battle. In fact, I have even logged enough miles and hours of contemplation on this subject that I have come up with a percentage. It seems to me that running is approximately 90% mental and only 10% physical. So its ironic to me that so many runners focus so much on the number of miles they are getting in, the number of minutes spent training, wanting to get in just one more 1000m rep, JUST ONE MORE!

Am I guilty of running that extra 0.05 of a mile just to hear my watch ding? Absolutely! Do I run some of my workouts faster than my coach asks sometimes? Yes… Do I feel extremely stir crazy right now because I just got my wisdom teeth out and haven’t run in … wait for it… 2 WHOLE DAYS **DUN DUN DUNNNNN? Yes, extremely sir crazy.

But then I remember that only 10% (my own number, maybe don’t put full faith in my sagacity) of my running prowess is accounted for by fitness. So therefore I should spend far less than the vast amount of time that I do worrying about the actual physical training aspects of my running. For this reason, I wanted to create a recurring “Head Games” post where I discuss and address the mental aspects of running since I have identified it to be such a big deal.

The first “Head Games” post is about Motivation *said like how Spongebob says Imagination, hand waving included*. In these cold dreary brumal days, it can be so hard to get out the door. Motivation is one of the biggest mental hurdles to overcome as a runner; to willingly subject yourself to pain and discomfort because… why? Keeping the perspective of what you do now helping you later, is sometimes hard to remember when its -10 degrees outside and you’re snuggled up in your comfy bed watching copious episodes of The Office. Well here is my advice to myself and whoever else is reading this…

Think of your physical training as an investment. The lines “money in the bank” or “cashing in today” are frequently seen on runner’s Instagram captions and they have some truth to them. The training that you put in today is an investment for those days in the future, when you find yourself at the end of the race able to push just a little bit more. At the end of a strength workout able to lift just a little bit more than the time before, able to do just one more rep. And this investment, unlike the monetary kind, is not depleted once used. It will be there at your disposal for future times as well.

When I really don’t want to get up to run, it sometimes takes me until the last possible hours of daylight to do it. However, I remember the promises I have made to myself and that I am a person of integrity and thus I forge ahead. I remember the running dreams I have for the future and that I owe it to myself to at least try. This is not without making some compromises though. Sometimes I say to myself “just put your running clothes on and then we’ll reassess if you really want to run”. But by the time my clothes are already on I have committed to running; I have tricked you once again self! Next, I say “Oh you’re feeling tired today, okay well just at least get through 5 miles and then you can stop if you really want to”. And usually by the time I get through 5 miles I have completely forgotten about this small deal that I made with myself because I am enjoying the run so much. Albeit some days it doesn’t happen this way and I do stop at 5 miles, but you know what, that’s okay.

I do the same thing in races, I make small deals with myself if I’m feeling especially nervous or intimidated by the fields of talented girls that I have the privilege to race. Usually the deals sound something like a flowchart and go something like this: get to the 2k mark with the leaders if you’re not feeling it back off and if doing okay stay with leaders, next get to the half-way mark and if not feeling it no big deal settle back but if doing okay start getting hyped for some move-making, lastly if I can get to the last 2k (my personal safe-spot) feeling strong, then f$&@ing let ‘er rip!

But it has taken 4 seasons of gritty collegiate XC, and 3 seasons of track to work up to a flowchart of mini deals like that. It used to be deals like: just finish the race, or try not to think about dropping out of the race this time. My first few races at Santa Clara, I would frequently find myself asking “Why again did I ask to be let onto the track/XC team? Why is this fun??? Wow, soccer was a lot less painful…” I would think about quitting during every race, but I knew if I could get to the half-way point my own stubbornness to just finish the damn thing would carry me through to the finish. The first time I didn’t think about pretending I somehow passed out or broke both of my legs just so I didn’t have to finish a race, well that was a momentous day for me! Its all about perspective and the process.

Also, helping me to stay motivated is remembering that I run because I like it, I really do. If you do not find yourself relating to this last sentiment you might want to re-think what you are doing, and I will be the first advocate for anyone looking to switch sports or hobbies. I like the way running makes me feel, and I know that often even a sub-par run will help me to feel better than if I was to not run at all.

Lastly, some might just need some tough love for motivation to get out and run (my personal favorite kind of motivation). No matter how many small deals you make yourself or the perspective you have on your passion and love for the sport sometimes you just need someone to tell you: if you want to accomplish badass things then get out there and train like a badass. This is no excuse for not training smart, a subject on which I could write a whole novel. But if you really want to accomplish those big goals you have to get out there and just at least try, you owe it to yourself. It might be snowing and -14 degrees outside, but if you can get over your mental demons and get out the door you are already 90% of the way there!

Now time to buck up and be a badass!


29 thoughts on “Head Games Part 1: Motivation”

  • Thank you so much for this perspective! I was also a soccer player but quit to run; it’s so fascinating that although running is so much more painful than Soccer is, something special about the challenge draws us to it:)

  • Excellent article! I would recommend making a post on the mental struggles of running and how to practice mental strength during training as a means of making or breaking a race.

  • I too, just got my wisdom teeth out and am admittedly itching to run. Will the few days without running totally ruin my indoor season? These thoughts often tempt me to wallow in insecurities and self doubt, but then I just need to remind myself that the mental toughness is what really matters-especially when we are forced to take rest days. It always helps to think of the races where I felt like crap but just put myself in it anyways- those are the best races. Going forward with a disrupted training block, I hope both of us can remember that we are still badasses- wisdom teeth out or not!

  • As I read these, I find myself reaching for my compete journal to write your words in. I’m so glad you’re sharing your knowledge with other runners!!

  • This is amazing! I look forward to reading more! Next possible subject: Comparing yourself to other runners. Something every runner is guilty of. There’s this really amazing runner I race against and I’ve beat her before but now I can’t and it tears me in every way and I don’t know how to not see it as if it’s the last thing in the world. Thank you for your time xxx

  • Thank you so much for this! I’ve had many moments, since I started running, where I’ll just lack motivation and I find myself questioning why? Reading this makes me feel so much better and makes realize I’m not the only one with doubts and I can definitely overcome that.

  • I love what you’re doing! This Advice is helpful on so many levels. Keep going! Maybe: Breaking out of your comfort zone. (Like when it’s time to start making the big moves In a race or at practice)

  • I enjoy this post. It’s funny because even after several years of running, all throughout my collegiate races I would think things like “what if both of my legs suddenly break” or “what if a plane crashes into me at this exact moment.”

  • This is so awesome! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this, I agree that conquering the mental aspect of running is key to success. Looking forward to reading more posts!

  • So awesome to hear that a runner like you have days where you would wanna skip a run!
    I do have a blog post request, how do you juggle school commitments with running! Would be great if you can share your schedule & how do you cope! Is my 2nd & last year that I can take part in my school competition & wish I can do my very best even with school work! Thanks!

  • Nice start, Grayson! And I think you are pretty spot on with your 90% mental assessment. Physical strength will get you started, but mental strength is what builds endurance. I definitely lost that battle in 2017 haha. Potential Head Games subject: the mental benefits (and maybe drawbacks) of training with others. USA has had a resurgence in distance running largely, I think, because we have started training in very close-knit teams that often live and eat together, something we have learned from the mighty African teams that have dominated the sport for so long. Would love to hear your take on this. Keep it going, on the track and the blogosphere!

    P.S. If your career gets as big as we all think and hope it will, this website could become a big deal as well. If you require a professional editor’s help, just ask.

    • Thanks for the idea Ryan! I think this would make for a very interesting post and I have personally a few different thoughts about training in groups versus individually, especially while in college. And thanks for the offer to help editing!

  • This helped so much, thank you so much!! You’re such an inspiration to me and every morning that I’m feeling unmotivated before I run and need some motivation I just go onto your Instagram and look at your photos. I think to myself that’s where I want to be, that’s how good I want to be, that is what I want. So I walk out that door and run.

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