I started running in 1995 when I was a sophomore in college. My running motivation was simple: I wanted to lose weight. I had been a gymnast for most of my life, which kept me fit. When I quit gymnastics my last year of high school, the pounds started creeping up. I didn't particularly enjoy running, but it burned more calories than anything else. It was a means to an end.
It wasn't until I was in my mid-twenties that I started to actually like running and see it as part of my lifestyle. I was single, so it was also a way to meet people and feel involved in my community. I tried a few running groups and got involved in races.
When I got married and had two babies in two years in my thirties, running became less about being social or training for a race, and more about claiming time for myself.
Now that I'm in my forties and solidly in the sandwich generation, running helps me deal with the stresses of midlife. I love that it burns calories, but it's far more about my mental health. These days, it's just me and the road, and the solitude helps me think. In fact, I had the idea for this blog post during a run!
There's no one-size-fits-all when it comes to why we're motivated to start running—and then to stay running. Plus, what motivates you early on in your running adventures may gradually get replaced by another motivation altogether. This is especially true for women, because our lives tend to rock and shift more significantly with the demands of different decades.
The key is to keep your overall motivation, even as some of your individual reasons for running fall away. Here are three tips for sticking with it when you feel a shift on the horizon.
1. Keep a running log, but include qualitative data, too.
While I like to track the quantitative data (my miles and my times), what I find more valuable is the qualitative data (my thoughts about running). For years, I've been jotting down a little nugget about each run, comments like, "Thought about so many things today," or "Found myself crying," or "Felt like I was in amazing shape during the uphill climb!"
This moment of reflection is helpful, because it gives me a chance to think about what running means to me in that moment. It's also interesting to scan back through notes when I'm feeling uninspired and need to connect with my motivation. You can keep a log using one of the running apps (most allow for notes), buy a running log at the bookstore, or use a notebook (I've done all three).
2. Always run on your own terms (even when your terms change).
Remember that it's your running practice—no one else's. I say this because sometimes, we can let our motivation get hijacked by other (well-meaning) people. For example, if your motivation as a runner is to lose weight, don't let anyone shame you about that, or talk you out of that motivation.
As I mentioned, when I was younger, running was often something I shared with other people—my sister, my friends, sometimes a running group. But where I am in my life now, I don't want to share it with anyone. Period. Too many people already want things from me, and I've decided running is the space where I'm not compromising. Friends and acquaintances often ask me if I want to run with them—either for company or accountability. I wish them well, but my answer is always the same: An unapologetic no. I want the solitude (wearing my running ID band from ROAD iD helps me feel safe while by myself). Your motivation is your own. Be stubborn if necessary!
3. Embrace the peak/end rule.
Research shows that we tend to remember an experience positively if it had two things: a peak moment and a good ending. This is called the peak/end rule.
For example, let's say you do a five-mile run where you start out tired and uninspired. But around mile three, you soar during that one-mile stretch through the gorgeous patch of trees. Then, you pick up the pace the last few tenths of a mile and finish strong. You will most likely remember your run in a good light. What I love about the peak/end rule is that it's completely moldable and can apply no matter what your motivation is.
Every year of life brings new inspirations and new challenges. It only makes sense that your running follows suit.————
Judi Ketteler writes frequently about things like running, happiness, and the challenges of being in the sandwich generation. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Runner's World, and Good Housekeeping. She lives and runs in Cincinnati, Ohio. Find her at judiketteler.com.