Thursday, 13 May 2010

Motivation: Why do I do This? - Marlborough Downs Challenge


I finished last week's post commenting about Motivation, and stated that this week's post would be titled "Motivation: Why are you doing this?" I will briefly comment about motivation before focusing on this Saturday's 33mile Marlborough Downs Challenge.

The Motivation title, isn't mine. In fact the title comes from one of my running partners and work colleague at the University of Brighton. Jim Wallis, in addition to lecturing at the University of Brighton, and running the odd ultra trail race or two, is a sports psychologist. He provides sports science consultancy to a variety of sports people including William Sichel, the World class ultra-marathon runner.

Interestingly as we run together we seldom talk about psychology. Although I am firm believer in it's importance, I do not read about it, I am not really interested in the underlying theories. I have a semi-understanding of what makes me tick, and how my mind works, but I don't really want to do know what it all means, in terms of theory. This is in quite contrast to physiological, nutritional or biomechanical aspects of running. Quite often as we run, the three of us, (The third runner, is Rob Harley, also a colleague at the University of Brighton, but a sport and exercise physiologist, but only a one-off ultra trail runner!), we discuss physiology, nutrition etc.

So it came as a bit of a surprise when I read Jim's monthly newsletter, that he writes for Julia's website. (Julia is a friend I mentioned way back in post number 2. Not only is she very uplifting and thoughtful on many aspects, she is also an ex-international marathon runner and also runs the odd ultra run or two, Yes there are quite a few ultra runners out there!)

Anyway back to the story! Yes I got a wee surprise when I read Jim's newsletter item titled "Motivation: Why are you doing this?" Here is the link, so take a quick read, it's pretty short compared to my rather lengthy posts.

Jim describes me as "the typical ego runner. Driven my outcomes and places from an early age." If you have read my post on my first ever marathon, 30 years ago then this was a true description back then. Yes, I raced because I loved the excitement, I still do, however, back then the result used to have a big effect on me. I always wanted to do better. So I trained, I ran in order to get better. In some way I always wanted other people to think of me as a good runner. So I could therefore consider myself worthy of the praise! I needed these external indicators of success or esteem.

Have I changed from the 17 year old, running my first marathon? I would say yes. It appears that Jim agrees, as although he describes me now as "an exceptional ultra runner. Ego fully satisfied and in full working order." He then makes the following comment: "What is intriguing ... is his desire to run every day, any distance, with any level of runner. The capacity to switch from single minded commitment to hitting outcome measures, but revel in the humanistic value of running and all of the intrinsic rewards that it brings".

Like I stated above, we do not talk about psychology on our runs, but I would say Jim's psychological assessment of me isn't too far off the mark. I really do love the racing, however, the race result isn't the sole factor. For the last three years I have raced seven races each year, and am planning to race only six times this year. I however run probably around 5 - 6 times per week. It is this frequent running every week that brings me most of my enjoyment from running.

Come race day though. I get doubly rewarded, as I get the intrinsic rewards from the joy of running, but in addition I tend to finish near the front, so I also get my ego orientation satisfied! What is really surprising and what I have only began to realise, is how ones motivation influences performance. I will try to explain, but as I stated above, I am not a psychologist, and none of what I say will be supported by any research, it is solely based on my own interpretation of my experiences.

Since I ran my first trail marathon in 2001 and my first ultra trail race in 2008, I have won pretty well two-thirds of these events. Prior to 2001 I had only ever won one marathon. Why the difference between 2002 - 2010, and 1980 - 2001? I think that prior to 2002, my ego motivation was dominant. I was still 'needing' external indicators in order to have self esteem. What changed? Hard to say, but apart from getting older and wiser, my wife and I started a family and our first son Robert was born in 1999, and then Christopher was born in 2002. With the arrival of two young boys many things changed, with one of them being I guess, no longer the need "to be driven by outcomes, tangible rewards and external indicators of success and esteem." However what was strange, was the moment I no longer 'needed' the external success, the external success in terms of winning races came! How the mind works and how it is totally intertwined with the body, they are not separate things, is totally mind boggling" Hence I'll leave it to the psychologists to try and figure it out!

Enough of that confusing stuff, lets get onto this Saturday's race.

The Marlborough Downs Challenge is part of the Runfurther Ultra Series. The Marlborough Downs Challenge website shows that there are a total of 164 entries for the 33 mile course. I ran the race last year finishing a 'disappointing' fifth. That day my ego motivation wasn't satisfied. So that day I didn't get the double reward, however, I still enjoyed the event due to the intrinsic rewards, so I am back again this year, to race!

How will I get on? Well, how I run is largely within my control, but the place I finish isn't. I am looking forward to running fast, to running really hard, puffing and blowing, with a high heart rate. One reason that I look forward to racing so much is that I am a really lazy trainer. Seldom do I run faster than 7:30 mile pace. I probably have only one key training run a week, the rest of time I just cruise, chatting away with whoever I am running with, just enjoying the relaxed running. So come race day, no talking, no cruising, just the chance to run hard. I have aims based on what pace I think I can run over various terrain, I am a bit like John K and have time split targets along the course. But if I achieve them or not during the race, in some ways I don't really care!

I feel as though the ego motivation is getting less and less in me, only appearing occasionally. Jim may conclude otherwise. To those of you running the Marlborough Challenge this Saturday, if I get a chance to chat to you after the race, you can make you own conclusion. Ego or mastery motivated? More importantly though, how are you motivated?

To sign off, I will leave you with a quote from Dean Karnazes's UltraMarathon Man book. "Running is about finding your inner peace, and so is a life well lived. Run with your heart." pg 38.

May you experience the intrinsic love of running,



  1. Stuart, good luck with your Challenge on Saturday!
    I am looking forward to your race report.

  2. Hi Stuart

    Another thought provoking post.

    Have a great race tomorrow. I look forward to hearing whether your ego is satisfied.