When you are training for a big race, it’s easy to find purpose in your running. You know that if you skip your weekend long run often enough, you will arrive at the starting line underprepared and the suffering will start sooner.
But how do you find purpose in your running now, with no races on the horizon?
I recently had a heart to heart with one of the athletes I coach about this. Let’s call him Antonio. We met over a video call to catch up and talk about training. At one point, he asked dejectedly, “what is the point of all this?”
For Antonio, racing was the highlight of all the hard work he put in every day. He loves to travel to a race destination, excited for not just the race, but an entire weekend of hoopla, with some hard running thrown in. He worked hard in training because he often would imagine race weekend’s fun, adventure, and accomplishment. And he could more easily say no to that extra cocktail in the evening knowing he had a long run the next day, a key part of his race day prep.
The goal of the race event gave purpose to every run. In other words, the event was the driver of his running and without it, he was struggling to find purpose.
Most people are event driven, in running and in life. We tackle the day’s events as they come, checking off lists, putting out fires, getting things done. When we solve one problem, we move on to the next one, and there is always a next one.
More often than not, we end our day of work feeling utterly exhausted.
As runners, we often set goals based around events or races. We then design our training plans to achieve our desired goal. If the goal is to run a marathon, we may organize our training plan into one or two speed days a week with a long run on the weekend, with plenty of easy running sprinkled in.
Each day, we check the training plan, run the scheduled run, and check the box. Rinse and repeat.
It may look like we are driven by a purpose (to race well), but it’s actually the event that is driving us. When those events disappear, we struggle, lose focus, and may even stop running.
What can we do?
We need to shift to becoming purpose driven runners.
The difference between an event driven runner and a purpose driven one begins with asking yourself why you run. Is it because you want a certain number to follow your name on a race results list? (I certainly did.) Or is it because running serves a higher or deeper purpose?
After all, racing is a rare event in our running lives for most people, lasting a few minutes to a few hours. The training is the bulk of our running life while a race is simply a snapshot of a much larger picture.
When we zoom out and ask ourselves why we run, or our purpose, we start to unravel a deeper understanding of what our running and our fitness mean to us. It could be weight management, stress relief, a sense of confidence and strength, fighting aging, mental health management, a feeling of identity and camaraderie, and so much more.
These qualities of running are the real achievements in your running journey and do not fade when the novelty of a new race PR wears off.
Races will come back eventually. And when they do, we can once again train with the dream of the event pushing us a little faster.
But until that day comes, how do you want to approach your running life? A purpose-driven outlook will focus on the bigger picture of why you are a runner in the first place. If you love the fun and accomplishment of racing, you can view this time as an opportunity to get strong and stay injury-free, even with no particular event goal in sight.
You can become a better runner now, because you have time to focus on what you might skip when training for a race.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that becoming purpose driven can feel vague and even a little New-Age “woo woo.” It’s much harder to go out for a difficult run with the unquantifiable goal of good health, rather than aiming for some number that you either get or you don’t.
But as runners, we do hard things and we become stronger for it.
Antonio wanted to have a real reason to run hard again and so we got creative. We picked a virtual race to structure training around that helped him get back into his race-training mindset. And so he headed back to the track.
Yes, the virtual race is an event, but that is not the purpose of his renewed training enthusiasm. His purpose now is to reclaim his identity as a runner who trains well, rests well, and works hard. When we get to the other side of this, he can happily go back to racing, fitter than ever.
How about you? Are you a purpose driven runner? I’d love to hear from you.