Why do we run?
It’s a question runners are asked regularly, especially ultrarunners. In a sedentary society where the average person will circle a parking lot eighteen times to park 15 feet closer to the store, running seems like an unnecessary burden.
Yet millions of us spend hours and hours per week running.
What propels us to do this often-times difficult activity?
I’ve always been fascinated with human motivation. It hits at the fundamental question of why we do what we do. It’s the fuel that ultimately drives all human behavior. Understand motivation and you understand humanity.
As a psychology student, I learned the basics of motivation. As a high school teacher and coach, I applied those lessons through endless experimentation. I focused on the types of motivation that drove different individuals. This deep fascination permeated pretty much every aspect of my life. When I started running, I asked my fellow runners a million questions in an attempt to plumb the depths of their psyche. More importantly, I asked myself the same questions.
Why did I run?
This question came to the forefront after I ran Grindstone this last year. Even though the race went extremely well and I had a great time, my motivation to run basically disappeared. I didn’t start the Chimera 100 a month later. I didn’t make the journey to Across the Years. Shelly and I ran the San Diego Trail Marathon… and it wasn’t enjoyable. The race itself was great… we just weren’t into it. Over the last six months, I’ve run about 100 miles. We’ve joked that we may never run another race again.
So what happened?
I realized pretty early that running slowly became less intrinsically motivating than it was years ago. The inherent challenges of learning how to run barefoot and run ultras were more or less met. There was less discovery. Less territory, both internal and external, to explore. The relative “newness” of running disappeared. It’s been replaced by other activities, most notably jiu jitsu.
Interestingly, my motivation to teach about running is as strong as ever. I published the Squirrel Wipe book, am working on an Interwebz-based running form project, and should be teaching live running classes in the San Diego area within a month or so. It is tempting to attribute this interest to the extrinsic motivation of money (we’re dirt-poor at the moment), but it’s not. I’d do all of this for free if I didn’t have a family to feed. It’s deeper- teaching satisfies a deep intrinsic drive. Since leaving the classroom, my ability to teach has been limited to the occasional running clinic. These new projects take me back to where I’m most happy- teaching others.
That brings me back to the original question- why do we run?
Perhaps more importantly, what happens when we lose that motivation to run?
I’m perfectly content with my present situation. I’m happy focusing on the ‘jits and teaching other about running. I don’t feel a longing to get back to training or running a particular race. In the event a cool casual run in an interesting place (sweet-ass mountains, perhaps?) with good friends materialized, I’d consider it. Otherwise I’m okay with very limited running. All of the positive experiences (learning, exploring, physical exercise, etc.) can be accomplished via other activities.
Maybe I just need to head up to LA and do a few beach runs with Sweeney (hint: it involves topless chicks):
What about others? How many of you have lost the motivation to run? Did it go away forever? Was the running replaced by some other activity? Why do you think you ran (or still run?) What is your motivation?
Share your thoughts in the comments section!