Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Motivation and "streak running"

This post from a Cool Running discussion board asking runners what keeps them motivated made me start thinking about the question. Then over the weekend I came across this quote from Walt Guzzardi as replicated in Kevin Nelson’s book The Runner’s Book of Daily Inspiration: “I don’t make a decision every morning. I made a decision once, long ago, to run every day. When I wake up, the decision is already made.”

Exactly. As a member of the United States Running Streak Association (USRSA), a membership organization of runners committed to running a mile or more every single day and therefore maintaining a “streak” for as long as possible, I’ve heard this question a lot in the two and a half years since my streak began, and those USRSA members whose streaks are a lot longer that mine – like three or four decades – no doubt have heard it thousands more times than I have. But the funny thing is that motivation was much more of an issue before I pledged to run every day, when there was still a “Will I or won’t I” question each day. Once I decided to do a running streak, I stopped thinking about motivation, because I was no longer in the position of deciding whether or not I feel sufficiently motivated to go. As Walt Guzzardi said, the decision is already made.

Still, there are days when I feel decidedly more enthusiastic about running than others. Since I live in New England, the weather is probably the biggest factor in how much I feel like going running. But it doesn’t have to be a crisp sunny fall day or a mild spring morning for me to feel compelled by the weather to get out. A light misty rainfall brings out my running urges, and so does a day like today: snowy and wintry by appearance but with temps in the mid-30’s predicted, a good fifteen degrees warmer than any of the days I ran last week. I’m excited today just to get out without neck warmer and face mask on, and without my skin chafing from the bitter wind.

It’s a common phrase among runners that “the hardest step is the one out the door,” meaning all you have to do to go running is get started and then the run takes care of itself, but for me the hardest step can be the one just before that: getting dressed for the run. During the work week, I usually run midday, and especially on cold days, the idea of changing clothes can seem like a hassle. So sometimes if I don’t have to be anywhere else first, I just dress for the run from the time I get up in the morning and remove that step altogether.

The dog motivates me. Around midmorning, she starts poking at my typing hands with her snout. I know she’s ready, and I know that if I give her a good workout now I’ll be rewarded later in the day with the endearing sight of her curled up contentedly on the couch, face on paws.

Podcasts, too. I load up my iPod every week with highlights from a variety of podcasts available through iTunes from NPR, the New York Times and the New Yorker. Knowing that going out for a run means 45 minutes – or even 15 minutes – of Terry Gross, Peter Sagal, Adam Gopnick or any of my other favorites makes it seem not so much like running as entertainment.

But more than anything else, it’s the streak itself that motivates me. Streak running is not right for everyone, but I maintain that it does solve the motivation question once and for all. I keep track of my streak days on a dry-erase white board that hangs in our mudroom. Not only my family members but several friends and neighbors know they can check it any time to see what day I’m on. Ever since getting into the triple digits, I’ve benefited from the added encouragement of the “Wow!” factor: people who glance at the white board and say “Wow, you’re past 100 days!” “Wow, you’re in the 500’s!” My son, upon seeing yesterday that I was up to 892, said “Wow, Mom, you’re going to get to 1,000 days soon!” (Not all that soon. Late in the spring. But eventually.)

Several years ago, my younger sister worked in an office building overlooking Boston’s most popular running route, the paved pathway along the Charles River. Many of her co-workers were accomplished athletes and took advantage of the setting. “What’s great about you as a runner is that you don’t talk about it,” my sister commented to me once.

“Talk about it?” I said, puzzled. “It’s just running; what’s to talk about?”

“Oh, you should hear the people I work with,” she replied. “They talk about it all the time. ‘What time are you going? How far? Who are you running with? Which route are you doing? Do you think I should wear shorts or tights? How many water bottles are you bringing?’ Believe me, they find plenty to talk about.”

Coincidentally enough, not long after that, I went to work for the same company and saw what she meant. Up until then, I had no idea there was so much to say about running – or, more specifically, decisions about whether to go. Of course, in a way the last laugh is on me and I had no right to feel supercilious. I may not have talked about it ad nauseum, but I went on to write a book about my running and start a blog dedicated to the topic. I guess I’m not immune from the running conversation either.

At this point I’d need far more mental impetus to break the streak than it takes to maintain it. Why go running today? Because I’ve already decided I’m going to. And so it’s one less decision to make today.

1 comment:

  1. Nancy, I totally see how streak running can take out all the vascillating about should I, shouldn't I? that we often put ourselves through before exercising.

    And I agree the undressing and dressing part is one of the hardest parts. These days, I prefer to get my exercise in by walking, which I try to incorporate into my daily life, which thankfully eliminates the need for workout clothes.

    Of course my workout is not nearly as good as yours though. :-)