In an age of uncertainty for many, motivation is an issue, but Fast Running’s Robbie Britton asks why?

“Why should I do my 20 mile long run this weekend if my race is likely going to be cancelled?”

This tweet caught me by surprise. Why wouldn’t you want to spend a few hours enjoying the pleasures of the long distance run? It brought about a thought process about motivation and how for all of us it is different, but being motivated by the end product, the race that might be cancelled, we’re surely missing out on most of the fun.

If every long run is a chore and then when it gets to race day you’re racked with anxiety about whether you’ve done enough training or purchased the right percentage improvement in your shoes, then what aspect of this fine hobby are you enjoying? If it’s just the post-race tweet and likes on Facebook then surely there are easier ways to get that satisfaction. Have you tried posting videos of narcoleptic goats?

Enjoy the ride

It’s not your usual spring season with all the concerns of Coronavirus and the cancellation of events, but whilst I have previously used the Steve McQueen quote “Racing is life; everything before or after is just waiting” as an email signature it isn’t something life should be lived by.

Take an analogy of collecting football stickers. As a youngster the goal was to fill up every single page of a Merlin Premiership Album, but it wasn’t placing the final sticker and boasting to your friends that brought the enjoyment. It was the opening of hard earned packets and the intense, Wolf of Wall Street swapping in the playground that filled me with excitement and joy.

Apply this to your marathon training. You’re not collecting stickers but fitness. Investing your time in becoming a faster and stronger individual and whilst there is a lot of validation when you finally get that PB number, it’s too small a thing to focus all your motivation on.


Motivational Climate

As more and more events are cancelled (Athletics Ireland introduced a blanket cancellation for their affiliated events as I wrote this) the question we should ask is how do we stay motivated to go running if we’re not.

As Erika Kelly recently wrote about on her Fast10 blog, Ryan and Deci’s “Self-Determination Theory” is a good place to start. There are three key aspects they highlight for a healthy motivational climate and athletes, parents and coaches can be instrumental in whether autonomy, relatedness and competence are part of an athlete’s existence.

If you expect all your enjoyment to come from race day that can be detrimental to your performance. Photo: Robbie Britton


Personally autonomy feels vital. An athlete has to feel like they have some control and ownership over their own training and racing. Just being told what to do on a daily basis, without reasoning or discussion, can lead to feeling of staleness and low motivation. If you’re just following the words of a coach or a stock training plan off the internet then it can feel like you have no say in your own training.

The same could certainly be applied to your work life as well. No autonomy is a sure fire way to lose any motivation. Even just following a pre-written plan it is good to have a little of your own control. There isn’t a coach on earth who can put a plan on the internet that everyone should follow. No one knows you better than you.

So if you have a good coach then discuss your training with them. If something doesn’t feel right for you or if you want to make one changes then you should feel comfortable to and if you’re just following a plan downloaded off “Runner’s Planet” then make it your one. Take some control.

We may not control whether races are cancelled or not, but your own training is up to you.


One of the reasons that we love a new PB is because it lets us know we’re competent. Training is moving you in the right direction and it’s solid proof that it’s working. Feeling competent doesn’t just need to come from races though.

Think about the factors that might make you feel the opposite? If every long run or interval session is a struggle then you’re going to lose that motivation quite quickly. Is your session or plan set up so that you’re going to fail? Even in weightlifting not every set is “to failure” and our running shouldn’t be either.

Are you attacking those long runs a little too quickly from the start or just not fuelling sufficiently for the time on feet? If every long run makes you feel like a failure then of course you’re not going to enjoy them and training will make you feel beat up.

Slow the pace of that long run by 10-15 seconds a mile and add in some decent, race practice fuelling in and it’s a whole different story. Finish the long run feeling like you could go on and you’re full of a feeling of competence. Motivation will stay higher than if you’re knackered.


Just knowing you’re not in this alone will help. In this hyper-connected world we can often feel more alone than ever. In days of old it was simply going down to the club and seeing your peers in the same boat. We trained together, struggle together and built life long relationships around our running.

That still happens, but at times we can get too obsessed with an online world. Social media connectedness isn’t the same as a real life connection. It’s important to keep our real relationships healthy and talk to our friends and family.

At the moment everyone is facing a similar problem for their 2020 season. A common enemy can bring us all together more than anything else in the world and just speaking to others in the same situation (ie every other runner) will let you know it’s not just you feeling the strain.

Even better if you talk about this during your Sunday long run together, but remember to wash hands, stay a metre apart and don’t turn to the group run if you’re feeling poorly. This should go for all the time, not just in the current crisis.


So have a think about your own training and just how thrown you are by the Coronavirus. It could be a really good opportunity to assess your own motivations and why you run.

It’s it’s just for the Facebook likes and Strava Kudos, then that’s what we’d called extrinsic motivation. Look for the intrinsic motivation, the things that matter to you, something that is personally rewarding. Going out for a long run should be a joy, something to look forward to, not dread.

Every single run is an opportunity to improve yourself and whilst not everyone will be enjoyable, if every single outing is a chore then something isn’t right.

Take it from an injured runner, I’d take a 20 mile road run in a thunderstorm any day of the week.

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