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Running for Fun, to be Competitive, or for Fitness?

Posted by on Jun 27, 2012 | 18 Comments

Why do you run? Do you run strictly for recreation? For cardiovascular health? For fitness? To improve your performances? To fit into that strapless dress you bought last Tuesday? To win?

All of us may respond in different ways, but there’s a reason why we run. Most of us probably run for a variety of reasons. Regardless, there’s something that motivates us that doesn’t motivate the other 99% of the population.

For me personally, the motivation changes. Sometimes I run for the adventure of seeing new places, especially remote mountains.

Other times I run for fitness. I like to eat. I’m packing enough extra weight as it is… running helps me keep that in check.

I’d like to say I run for health, but ultras probably do more damage than benefit.

As of late, I’ve been motivated by competitiveness. Specifically, I’ve developed a strong desire to get better. That desire has led me to start doing longer tempo runs again. I haven’t done these workouts regularly since about 2008 when they were prescribed by the Crossfit Endurance plan I was following in preparation for the Burning River 100 miler.

How Others React to Your Motivation

Nonrunners tend to react to runners in one of two ways. They’re either amazed (I can’t believe you run that far!) or perturbed, which often seems to be a case of alleviating their own cognitive dissonance for not exercising (I’d run but I don’t want to destroy my knees before I’m forty!).

I don’t mind either reaction. If a nonrunner responds with the former response, I usually try to leverage that into a persuasive argument to turn them into a runner. If they respond with the latter response, I tend to either ignore the comment or respond with a snarky “And that eighty pounds of extra weight you’re carrying is good for your knees?”

Either way, nonrunners rarely cause me much concern.

Runners are a different story. We tend to have a bit of an in group-out group reaction to other runners and their motivation. We react positively to those that are motivated to run for the same reasons as us. We also tend to react negatively to those that are motivated for different reasons.

My own motivation shifts from time to time. For most of the winter, my competitive spirit took a back seat to adventure. I ran a few races and gave them a strong effort, but improvement wasn’t my first priority.

When I would meet new runners that were clearly focused on competitiveness, it was fairly obvious they didn’t consider me a “real” runner (for lack of a better term).

Likewise, when I started talking about wanting to improve to be more competitive, it was obvious I was alienating some runners that were decidedly non-competitive.

What’s going on here?

It’s perfectly natural to feel closer to those that share similarities and distance from those that exhibit differences. We surround ourselves with like-minded people. We crave similarity and avoid novelty… most of the time. It’s a fundamental element of the human condition.

Are runners, regardless of their motivation, really that different though? I would think our similarities would far outweigh our differences. Wouldn’t it make sense for all of us to just get along?

Okay, so how many of my readers are thinking “But wait, Jason regularly rants about the differences between road runners and trail runners, elites and non-elites, or triathletes and ultrarunners!”

Indeed, I make this logical error on a regular basis. Knowledge of the concept doesn’t necessarily insulate you from committing the same error. :-)

So how can we learn to be less judgmental toward our fellow runners? And by “we“, I really mean “I.”

The trick is to pause before expressing our thoughts. The thoughts themselves, of liking those that are similar and disliking those that are different, are impossible to circumvent. We can’t control them.

We can control how the thoughts are expressed, though. By pausing before expressing, we give ourselves the opportunity to assess why we have those thoughts. We may be having those negative feelings because we’re envious. I’ll admit part of my dislike of triathletes stems from the fact that modding a bike with endless upgrades looks pretty damn fun! Recognitions like that may help us develop some empathy for those that are different.

Another solution is to put ourselves in their shoes. Attempt to see the world through their eyes. I’ve used this technique extensively in the barefoot running world by initiating conversations with shoe store owners, shoe designers, and people in the medical community. It helped my develop a much more balanced view of barefoot running. I just need to apply that same technique to more realms within the running world.

What do you think? Do you view others negatively because they have different goals or motivations?

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18 Comments

  1. Barefoot Josh
    June 29, 2012

    If you’re competitive and having fun, you’ll be fit.
    If you’re having fun and fit, you’ll be competitive.
    If you’re fit and competitive, you’ll be having lots and lots of fun.

  2. karen
    June 28, 2012

    I run simply because I love it. I try to make every run a meditation, whether it is a shorter, quick run or a long slow run. It keeps me focused.

  3. briderdt
    June 28, 2012

    I wouldn’t say that my motivation to run changes much, but more that it changes how much and how fast I run. I run because I like running, I like the feel, the movement, the primal nature of it, the communing with my inner self and my maker. I am not a runner because I run, I run because I am a runner.

    I have a minimal level of running that keeps me sane, regardless of what other motivations there might be to run — events, races, etc. It’s my “need to run” level. Beyond that, events will motivate me to go farther or faster.

  4. Thurs, June 28 | UltraRunnerPodcast.com
    June 28, 2012

    […] Jason Robillard examines the motivations for running. […]

  5. Mary
    June 28, 2012

    I, too, go through phases. Sometimes I just run easy for weeks/months at a time, pooh-poohing all those goal-oriented runners with earbuds on who are trying to get faster and/or lose weight. I think myself a “purist” who runs for the love of running. Then, I get a feeling that I’d like to run faster, maybe, see if I can run a decent time in a race, and I start putting in the occasional tempo run and aiming for a race, occasionally putting in earbuds for motivation and pacing, pooh-poohing all those runners who just plod along the same slow circuit all the time without setting goals for themselves.

    You’re absolutely right that we should stop judging other runners and accept that everyone is in it for his/her own reasons, and that these reasons themselves are never static. The trick is to find kindred training spirits whose goals ebb and flow more or less in sync with yours.

    Right now I’m kind of with you, Jason, wanting to get faster and at the same time really enjoying running in the mountains and on trails, longer distances (but not as long as yours!) I need to be outside, I need to be moving. That’s the bottom line.

  6. John
    June 27, 2012

    I run because it’s fun. Simple. Trustworthy. Enlightening. Decompressing. Long. Short. Fast. Slow. Sun. Clouds. Rain. Snow. Quiet. Loud. Here. There. Everywhere. Anywhere. Middle of day. Dead of night. Steep Hill. Flat Track. I run because I can. And every step I can run, I am forever thankful.

  7. Kev
    June 27, 2012

    with cerebral palsy on my right side, walking everyday (especially minimally) has been great therapy for my foot and lower leg muscles. I don’t expect miracles, but it’s great to stand up at the end of the day with a bent knee and my heel touching the ground. Of course, i wake up the next day and have to start all over again, but whatever, i love being outside anyways. Right now i’m starting to get back into running ever so slowly since i seem to be more prone to injury than most.

  8. NickW
    June 27, 2012

    I run for fitness, pleasure, relief from stress, competitiveness (with myself of course). When I first started bfr I was very judgmental of those runners in shoes. Now, I could care less what people have on their feet. I am proud of that heavier set person that I see out there running and secretly praying that they keep at it. I am in awe of that dude that seems to run all day in my neighborhood. That old Asian guy I see running everyday, ya, I can only hope I can still be running when I’m that age. Those people like Jason and some of you all that run ultras, man, you all are lucky to be able to run like that and I hope someday to get to that point.

  9. joohneschuh
    June 27, 2012

    Why do you run?

    Why do you want to have kids?

    Why do you love your wife?

    Do you see a pattern here?

  10. Jen
    June 27, 2012

    I don’t think I judge WHY people run, but HOW they run. Not just what kind of shoes they wear, but also their form (nothing makes me more smug/concerned than seeing an overstriding heelstrike) and what they’re running with (impractical clothing, too much make-up, humongous earphones to tune out the world). When I catch myself doing that, I take a step back and try to stop judging. It doesn’t really do anyone any good.

    • Steve
      June 27, 2012

      I’m the same, Jen. Almost as soon as I see a runner, I’m thinking about their form (usually critically). There’s an older man who I pass on the way to work who’s taken leading with his head to extremes. He’s practically bent over, studying every inch of the pavement at close quarters. Part of me so wants to show him a better way. He looks more dedicated than me, which makes it all the worse.

  11. Bill
    June 27, 2012

    I have run for different reasons at different times. Sometimes it was motivated by health, and sometimes it was about weight loss or feeling better. I am very competitive, but as it relates to running, I have always competed with myself rather than with other people.
    These days I run for the sheer joy of it. It’s about being in touch with myself and my environment; finding the joy in that.
    Running in my bare feet has been a revelation.

  12. Bare Lee
    June 27, 2012

    You know who really bugs me? Snakes! They don’t even have legs.

  13. Rebecca @ Runner with an Appetite
    June 27, 2012

    I run because I have for most of my life and it has become part of who I am. I am also super competitive and I like to push myself, so running give me an avenue to do that. I, too, enjoy indulging from time to time in food and booze, so running helps keep that in check.

  14. Chris Hurst
    June 27, 2012

    I run mostly because my job requires it. Active Duty Army. I get the boot if I can’t run 2 miles in under (about) 17 minutes. As an officer, the unwritten standard is higher. Anytime I run, I have to run hard and not fall behind the rest of the group. If I do, then I’m looked down upon. Who likes that?

    I run minimalist because I like getting stared at. Also because I’ve had tibial stress fractures and difficulties going long distance.

    I definitely judge runners by the shoes ever since transitioning from standard running shoes. But reading this blog helps me look at myself as a runner, not a barefoot runner.

    So nowadays I’m just happy to be running. I enjoy running in any kind of group of people. I tend to push myself harder and I like that.

    Cheers.

  15. Dave
    June 27, 2012

    I’ve given up on putting myself in other people’s shoes as it messes with my proprioception, and I get complaints about spreading foot fungus.

  16. Mike
    June 27, 2012

    I run for fitness. Three years ago as a nearly 50 year old married father of 3 kids I was 100lbs over weight with zero cardio and probably insulin resistant. After 9 months of careful diet and cycling I lost the weight. The following Autumn I added running as a winter cardio. I then read “Born to Run” and learned about minimalist running. Now I train for a 1/2 IM.

    So when I started it was a shock I could even run. I Progressed to how good can I get which was followed by bad running form injuries. Restarted with desire to run w/o injury. Current reason is desire to get faster with the appropriate fitness benefits!