"Albert Camus wrote that the only serious question is whether to kill yourself or not."

Hell on Two Feet

Yesterday I started (and finished) “Hell on Two Wheels”, a story about the Race Across America (RAAM), which is a 10 day (if you’re fast) non-stop bicycle race… and was motivated to put some thoughts down on paper. Err… screen.

com·mit·ment  (k-mtmnt) - n.

3. The state of being bound emotionally or intellectually to a course of action.

An interesting thing happened to me the other day, and it got me started on several weeks of thinking about motivation, specifically “what motivates me?”

I was readying myself for a weekend long run. It was a “back-to-back” weekend, and I was scheduled to run a 38 km (24 mi) trail run on Sunday, after a 24 km (15 mi) Saturday run. I had all my gear laid out, fuel prepped, gels, chews and socks and water, ready to go. The problem was, it was freezing cold out, and pouring rain.

I knew that my run would take me almost 5 hours. I knew I’d be running up to the snowline, and beyond. I knew I had a long, long way to go, through snow and slush and ice and roots and mud. It was going to be awful…

I spent a long time just standing around, awkwardly staring out the window at the gloomy skies and drenched city. The g/f asked the obvious: “Why don’t you just put it off until tomorrow?” and I had no response. I just paced around, confused and uncertain.

Finally, after 30 minutes or an hour, I sighed, got dressed and headed out into the rain, for what would be, unsurprisingly, one of the worst, coldest runs of my life. I ran for 5 hours, 100% soaked to the bone, hands so cold I was unable to put my gloves back on, let alone open my various fuel packets. It was tremendously hard, dangerous, and stupid. And of course I got sick.

Why didn’t I move my run to Monday? I have the day off, after all. The forecast was good (indeed, it turned out to be a great day.) I should have moved it. But … I couldn’t. But why?

It wasn’t the training schedule. I’m dedicated to my schedule, but I am ok with moving runs. I do it all the time. I am ok with missing runs (though very rarely my critical long trail runs.)

I realized the reason I couldn’t move my run was that I had simply poured so much energy into psyching myself up for that specific run that I was unable to face the challenge of doing it again. I had prepared the food, the clothing. I had put aside the time. But more than that, I had allocated such a large amount of willpower that could not simply be reassigned. I had even dreamed about this run!

I realized that morning that 90% of the challenge for me was making the commitment. Once that decision was made, the running just kinda happened.

(Of course every runner is familiar with this. How the hardest part is getting out of bed. Getting out the door. Once you’re out there, the “doing” is easy.)

But to think that the act of recreating that commitment was more challenging than a 5 hour run in icy rain! This surprised me. I hadn’t, up until that point, witnessed my own dedication from an objective point of view. Truly, I don’t feel dedicated. I feel like: “I just spend my time running when others spend time watching TV. I don’t even run that much!” But in that weekend I saw that in fact there is more to it than that. There is clearly a “behind the scenes” decision making that is going on.

Who or what is making these decisions, I am not sure. But it gets me out running at 11 pm after an evening of steak and beer because I don’t want to miss a run. It makes me run 5 hours in the rain. It makes me get up at 1 AM for a night training run… So I guess it’s a good thing.

I’ve always said to people who I coach (or at least motivate): “Make your long run your weekly priority. Make it the highlight of your week. Everything you do in your week should be in anticipation of, and preparation for, that one run.” Though I meant it, I didn’t know the degree to which I felt it, in my own training. Now I know, at least to some extent, how much that attitude is a driving factor in my own training.

I still don’t know why I run. That’s a topic for my next blog post, I guess. But now I know a little better about how I get out there… It all starts with a commitment!

1 Comment

  1. Dimitri

    Nice post. I often find myself thinking about what ultimately motivates me to go out and run. I hadn’t considered this idea of not being able to move a run to another day once I have committed a lot of my willpower to doing it. But I think you are right. I get excited but also nervous and anxious before my long runs and it’s a lot of mental and emotional work to get myself ready to go out the door. When I look at it objectively from outside my point of view, I don’t know how I do it. The truth is I’m quite lazy.

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