What’s Your Current Running or Triathlon Goal?
To get fitter?
To get faster?
To go longer or tougher?
No matter what it is, I’m going to give you a simple 60 second exercise that will help you achieve your goal.
“Why Am I Doing This to Myself?”
But before we get to that, think of a time in a race when you didn’t push yourself as hard as you could have.
We’ve all been there.
We’ve all had that feeling of disappointment when we didn’t achieve our target.
And this can often be because we lacked a clear reason for doing the event.
In the most extreme cases, this can even lead to a DNF (did not finish).
But there are more subtle ways that it can affect your performances.
For example, how many times have you ever…
… Coasted through a long training run
… Not pushed as hard as you could in a speed work session
… Not given yourself enough recovery
All of these can be a result of not having clear motivation.
The question surrounding ‘motivation’ has been particularly important for me recently, as I prepare for my next challenge…
Running more than 800 miles in 9 days will test my mental strength to its absolute limits.
Having a clear set of reasons for taking on the challenge will be really important.
Especially for those moments when I would prefer to lie on the sofa rather than run.
Whether that’s during training for the challenge, or during the challenge itself.
The Importance of Knowing Your ‘Why’?
There are a number of benefits for having a clear reason for ‘why’ you’re taking part in these events.
It Keeps You Motivated
Identifying your ‘why’ will help you push through those dark times in training and races.
It Gives Your Hobby A Greater Meaning
Sometimes you need a really good reason to drag yourself out of bed on a cold, wet morning.
Linking individual sessions to a bigger objective makes you realise how that session impacts your whole training plan.
One of the best ways to give your hobby more meaning is to link your ‘why’ to something external.
For example, raising money or awareness for a charity.
This external motivation can make individual sessions harder to skip.
Showing Others How Important Your Hobby Is
Taking part in endurance events can be a selfish act. And we need the support of our closest friends and family to help us achieve our goals.
Providing a clear, meaningful reason why you’re taking part can help them understand your deep-rooted motivations.
And by letting them in on your ‘secret’ for competing, you’re encouraging them to provide support too.
It’s Tried and Tested in the Business World
Your company probably even has a ‘mission statement’.
As athletes we should be constantly looking to learn and apply new techniques to improve our own performance.
And learning from the business world is a good place to start.
Elite Athletes Do It
The world’s best athletes have fully embraced the need to define their key reason for competing.
What is Your Reason for Training and Competing?
So we know that finding your ‘why’ is important.
But how do you decide what your ‘why’ is?
This is obviously an extremely personal decision. But there are some examples below.
These are grouped into these broad categories:
Internally or externally focused
Physical or philosophical
1. To Get Fit
One of the simplest, yet probably the biggest, reasons that people first get into exercising.
2. To Explore
One of the most unexpected benefits I’ve found is that you can see some amazing places.
One of the highlights of my athletic career was running in the Sahara desert as part of the Marathon des Sables.
Running in 45 degree heat across sand dunes, mountains and even getting lost in the desert (twice!), doesn’t sound like a good experience.
But it was one of the best things I've ever done!
And I would never have seen that amazing part of the world if there wasn't a race there.
3. To Escape Or To Manage Stress
This is closely linked to ‘getting fit’, but is more focused on the psychological benefits.
Paula Radcliffe stated that this was one of the main reasons she runs. This was especially true during stressful times, like when she was accused of doping
And this can be particularly important when life becomes very busy and stressful. Running or cycling can be used to ‘clear your head’ from other issues.
4. To Gain A Broader Perspective on Life
Now we're getting into the philosophical reasons…
These are more relevant for more experienced athletes.
Again, the elites can show us how endurance events help them gain a deeper meaning for life.
5. To Achieve Enlightenment
And now we get deep and spiritual.
This is even more of an extreme reason than ‘to gain a broader perspective’. And admittedly, not many of us will fall into this category!
By far the most interesting example of this is the Buddhist Monks of Mount Hiei.
In order to become a monk at Mount Hiei, you have to run 1,000 marathons in 1,000 days.
Genshin Fujinami, one of the few monks to have completed the challenge was quoted in The Guardian as saying...
At the end of the challenge, you spend 9 days in a dark room without food, water or sleep.
And if they fail to complete the challenge, they have to commit suicide!
6. To Meet People
Not all of us want to achieve enlightenment through exercise.
And we certainly don’t want to commit suicide if we don’t complete a challenge!
And the social side of running and cycling for many people is a big reason to take part in these activities.
7. To Push Our Limits. Or to Push The Limits of Humankind
Most of us like to say that we have pushed boundaries and achieved something that we never thought was possible.
Whether that’s a new race distance or a personal best time.
The biggest and most impressive examples of these are from adventurers who have pushed their personal limits as well as the limits of humankind.
Robert Scott said this was his reason for attempting to reach the South Pole in 1912.
A more recent example is from Killian Jornet.
He’s widely regarded as one of the best ultra-runners on the planet, having won some of the most gruelling ultra-races around.
He’s also the holder of the fastest known ascent and descent of Matterhorn, Mont Blanc and Everest.
So whether you’re attempting to break world records.
Or looking to break your own records.
Pushing limited can be a very powerful reason.
8. To Raise Money or Awareness for Important Issues
Some of the most remarkable achievements have been because people have had an external motivation for taking on a challenge.
Jamie McDonald, aka 'Adventureman', didn’t have a background in ultra-running when he decided to run 200 marathons back-to-back, solo and unsupported across Canada.
But he was raising money to repay the hospitals that saved his life when he was a child.
By linking your performance directly to other people, you make yourself more accountable to achieving that goal.
9. Because it is Necessary To Survive
The most extreme reasons for exercising can be seen in two of Christopher McDougall’s books.
The idea in his best-selling book ‘Born to Run’ is that our ancestors had to run extreme distances just to survive. This was the idea of ‘persistence hunting’.
Whilst we didn’t have the speed that lots of animals did, we did have better endurance. Which meant we could tire them out over longer distances.
Running for our ancestors was a matter of survival.
In another of his books, Natural Born Heroes, he tells the story of a group of spies in World War 2 who ran huge distances to resist the Nazi invasion of Crete.
Although none of us will ever be in these positions (hopefully!), they do show the power of external motivation.
Should My Reason for Competing Change?
The reasons why you compete in these events will adapt over time.
Mimi Anderson, who holds multiple ultra-distance records around the world, is a great example of how your motivation can change over time.
She didn’t start running until she was 36.
And it was purely as a way to look better physically after suffering from anorexia for more than 15 years
That reason transformed into needing to have a better relationship with food
And, eventually it became much more philosophical…
It’s completely natural for your reasons to change over time.
And it’s important that they change too.
Because that means that you stay fresh and motivated for your next challenge.
What Are the Steps for Discovering Your ‘Why’?
Now here’s the simple 60 second exercise that I promised at the start.
1. Write Down 3 Reasons Why You Do These Type Of Events
Do it RIGHT NOW!
These could be from the list above, or other reasons that are important to you.
The key thing is that they are personal for you
Write down at least one internal focused one and one external focused one.
2. Tell Someone
Make yourself more likely to focus on these things by telling someone.
It doesn’t matter how you do it. It could be via email. Or face-to-face.
And if you’re feeling particularly brave, and want the biggest benefit, you could even announce it to the world via social media!
That’s it. It’s that simple.
Think about all the hours and hours you spend with your head buried analysing data in Strava, Training Peaks or SportTracks.
And think about the 60 seconds you just spent doing something that is much more important.
This trick will have a bigger impact on your overall performance than analysing the details of one individual session.
It’s vital to define your reason for taking part in endurance events
This article lists 9 reasons as a starting point. But there will be others which are more relevant and personal to you.
You can identify your reason ‘why’ with a simple 60 second exercise
Robin Harvie puts it neatly at the end of his book, Why We Run…
Most of us aren’t like the person he describes.
Most of us need a clear reason for pushing ourselves to achieve something great.
So make sure that YOU HAVE A CLEAR REASON for doing what you do.
Otherwise that PB or new race distance might be harder to achieve than you thought!
What’s Your Key Reason for Competing?
Let me know in the comments below, via social media or by Contacting Me directly.
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