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What Motivates Successful Runners

What Motivates Successful Runners

mindset and motivation Mar 22, 2021

Consistency may be at the heart of what makes a runner successful, but what motivates a runner to get out there every day and put in the work?


The answer isn’t necessarily black and white. Studies have found a combination of factors — everything from goal achievement to social influences to weight concerns — serve as motivation for runners. But if you dig a little deeper, the answer is simple. And it just might ring true.


Extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation


According to self-determination theory, developed in the 1970s and 1980s by psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, motivation has two sources: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation, as its name implies, generally comes from other people (or, in today’s culture, social media) in the form of either negative or positive reinforcement. Alternatively, intrinsic motivation is an internal drive to improve.


What’s interesting is that intrinsically motivated people are generally self-determined and confident in their abilities and their potential for improvement. They make sure to progress their workouts if they’re working toward a specific goal so they can see their improvement and succeed in each workout they do.


Highly successful runners tend to be intrinsically motivated. They focus on their achievements and individual growth over time — instead of just one race result, for example. But intrinsic motivation isn’t born in runners overnight. Most runners, and athletes in general, tend to start out being motivated by extrinsic factors, like losing weight, running with a friend, or earning a medal.


The more they run, though, the more they’re driven by intrinsic motivations. They run because they love running and have developed deeper motivations for doing it, like trying to beat a personal-best time or reaping the mental health benefits.


Making our motivations intrinsic


So, how do you become more intrinsically motivated in running? Here are six tips you can use to develop more of an internal drive to improve.


1) Put in the work.


Sometimes, the work is the motivation. Putting in the miles makes you a better runner and, over time, leads you to be intrinsically motivated naturally.


2) Have confidence.


Again, simply putting in the miles makes you a better runner. That leads to more confidence as a runner.


Similarly, if you’re training for a race, incorporating workouts that let you know you’re ready is a great way to build confidence. For example, if you’re training for a half marathon, running a longer tempo run two weeks out so you know you can run at race pace for several miles in a row will further motivate you to push hard the day of your half.   


3) Run in the morning.


It isn’t the easiest thing to do, but if you can get in the habit of running before your day starts — if you’re lucky, rein in some accountability buddies as a way to get yourself out of bed in the dark hours of the morning — it can set the tone for your whole day.


Running in the morning lowers your blood pressure and kick-starts your metabolism, which makes you more productive the rest of the day.


4) Strength train.


As you tire during a hard or long run, the first thing to go is your form. Strength training makes you stronger, which gives you more motivation to keep up with those tough running workouts — and watch yourself improve them.


5) Celebrate wins (and, if you finished, they’re all wins).


Even if you didn’t hit a certain goal you set for yourself, if you know you gave your all in a workout or race, it’s a win.


You also should be willing to modify your goal if you’re not feeling it on a given day. That can mean slowing a pace goal or distance of a tempo run, or adjusting your goal time for a race.  It’s important to make running a positive experience and set yourself up for success, not failure.


6) Know your “why.”


Every successful runner has a reason they started running and a reason they’re still running today. The reason can change over time and likely will — from externally facing motivations to internally facing ones, for starters — and it’s not always going to be just one thing. Your “why” can be as light as that you like to eat and enjoy a glass of wine a few times a week, or it can be as weighty as running for someone who can’t or to raise funds for a certain charity.


While all of these tips can help you become more intrinsically motivated, at the end of the day, it’s going to take time. And it’s only going to happen if you fall in love with the sport. Because, let’s face it, no matter how many medals or T-shirts we earn from races, it’s the love of running that keeps us coming back.


Now get out there and run your life.

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