How to Stay Motivated as a Runner

Running Jun 17, 2020

When it comes to prolonged running habits, staying motivated can be difficult. Whether it be a lack of motivation to finish a long run, maintain a consistent running schedule, or continue training when you don’t see results, motivation to achieve an end goal often dwindles over time. The way in which you are motivated also affects how you can improve or maintain that motivation.

Types of motivation

There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Someone who is intrinsically motivated to do something derives enjoyment out of the activity itself, and does the activity solely to feel that enjoyment. Someone extrinsically motivated does an activity in order to achieve a different goal (e.x. working out to lose weight or studying to pass a class). It is important to understand whether you’re intrinsically or extrinsically motivated to achieve your running goals; understanding this makes it easier to properly motivate yourself in the future. The study "The Emerging Neuroscience of Intrinsic Motivation: A New Frontier in Self-Determination Research" provides the details and insight used in this post.

If you are intrinsically motivated to run, there is no need to add any external incentives. Research has shown that when given an extrinsic motivation to someone who was intrinsically motivated, it actually decreases their desire to do something. If there are aspects of running that you still find unpleasant, analyzing them and finding ways to mitigate their negative effects is likely the best thing you can do.

If you run to achieve some sort of end goal, losing motivation can mean that achieving that goal is not always enough of an incentive. Those who are extrinsically motivated can benefit from giving themselves another reason to maintain their running habits or goals, such as a reward of some sort. However, they should limit the frequency of the reward, as overusing it will decrease the reward’s value.

Finding ways to make running more enjoyable for you can help develop genuine enjoyment of the activity and make it easier to stay on course for your running goals. If you’re having trouble forming proper running habits, it is helpful to start by integrating your habits into your life in a way that causes the least amount of disruption. For example, if you find a trail near your work, you can start running regularly after your shift ends. This makes it easier to hold up the habit in its beginning stages so that it’s easier to keep later on.

How to stay motivated when trying to complete a long run

Many people have trouble starting or finishing long runs due to their tedious nature. One way to make long runs more bearable is by keeping your mind occupied for its duration. Some runners do this by listening to music or audiobooks, but this can also be accomplished without any devices (e.x. spending the run planning the specifics of a road trip). Mentally tuning out of the run can serve to mitigate boredom and distract you from feelings of exhaustion, which makes it easier to finish long runs that you otherwise would not. I’ve used this technique before and personally found it effective, and sometimes more engaging than listening to music. Experiment with different methods to see what works best for you.

Since these methods only serve to ease the difficulties that come with a long run, they can be used by both people intrinsically and extrinsically motivated to go on long runs. Keeping your mind busy is not an external incentive, so it does not reduce the motivation of someone intrinsically motivated. If you’re extrinsically motivated, being less susceptible to boredom or exhaustion can make long runs more bearable and could develop an intrinsic desire to run in the future.

Motivation through others

If you have trouble sticking to a consistent running schedule, you can form or join a running group that operates on a consistent schedule. The desire to stick with a group can make you feel more obligated to run when you otherwise would not be motivated to. If the running group contains people you’re friends with, running with them can also make the runs more enjoyable.

Regardless of how you motivate yourself, it's most important to incorporate that motivation into your running habits. That way, they become a continuous tool for encouragement and a reliable way to make running more enjoyable for you.

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