What Makes You Run?

Thoughts on Motivation by Matt Fitzgerald

by Matt Fitzgerald, Best-selling author & 2016 Hyland’s Boston Marathon team member.

I’m thankful that I’m a running coach and not a personal trainer. There are many reasons for this, but one of them has to do with motivation. Typically, people hire a personal trainer because they want to lose weight or get healthier, not because they want to work out. But runners who seek help from a running coach aren’t lacking for motivation to run. They not only WANT to run but LOVE it. They just need a little guidance with the X’s and O’s.

The interesting thing about motivation is that it comes from within. One person can’t motivate another, and in my experience there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to motivate a person to exercise if he or she doesn’t want to. That’s why I love working with runners. They bring me their motivation, I bring them my knowledge, and with this combination progress becomes almost automatic.

Because motivation is generated internally, it is highly individual. What motivates you to run might be different from what motivates me. For one person, running might be all about setting a positive example for her children, whereas for another it may be competition that lights his fire. Neither of these motivators is inherently better. Whatever it is that excites YOU to lace up your shoes and head out the door is okay, even if it’s different from what pushes anyone else you know to run.

Still, we’re all human, so certain types of motivators are widely shared. It’s no accident that runners are more often excited to achieve goals that are related to big events than to chase goals they can achieve on their own. The reason is that people are social beings, and things tend to matter more to us when they matter to a lot of other people. Any runner can go off and run 26.2 miles on her own anywhere. But it’s much more exciting to cross the same marathon finish line as thousands of your fellow runners. Hence, a runner whose goal is to finish a marathon is more likely to do the hard work required to get there than is a runner whose goal is to run 26.2 miles solo.

Not all race events are equally exciting and motivating to every runner, though. Whenever a runner asks me what his next goal should be, I always turn the question around and ask him what’s in his heart. A runner who really prefers 10K’s shouldn’t feel obligated to run a marathon just because his coach says it’s his “best distance.” Likewise, a runner who strongly prefers the trails should feel free to stick to trail runs no matter how many of her running friends try to talk her back onto the roads.

There are some events whose aspirational appeal transcends types and is almost universal. The Boston Marathon, of course, is chief among these. No event motivates more runners to run more miles than this one, partly because of its history and partly also because it does not accept all comers but requires that a qualifying standard be met. Boston is not “the best” marathon by any objective definition. It is the most famous, hyped, and coveted marathon, however, and as such it plays a uniquely powerful motivating role in the sport of running.

If a runner I’m coaching asks me if I think he or she can qualify for Boston, and I’m really not sure, my answer is always, “I don’t know. But if you want to try, it really doesn’t matter.” Because the point of such goals is not to achieve them. Their true purpose is to motivate a transformative journey that you will never regret having taken, no matter where it leads.

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