I can remember a few years ago, hanging out in a hotel room with my then-BRC/Adidas race teammates following a Club cross country after party which was, as always, completely glorious in its displays of intoxicated-awkward-runner dance moves and even more awkward advances from Masters runners who prowled the bar and dance floor looking for some poor unsuspecting runner girl to attempt to seduce with an age group medal.
Ah, like Springsteen says, "Glory days, they'll pass you by." Those were some glory days, I tell you what.
Anyway, post-race party details aside and backtracking to the hotel room where we all sprawled around on chairs and beds and tables and the floor--like a weird game of How Many People Can We Fit In This Room--talking about who knows what in our collectively semi-drunken state, the topic rolled around to running, and who would race what now that the much-looked-forward-to-Clubs was over; the answers ranging everywhere from Bupa Great Edinburgh (we had some studs on the team), to US Cross to indoor track to the Santa Stampede.
"You know, the day I don't have a race to look forward to is the day I quit," one of the guys stated. "Racing is the only thing that actually motivates me to run." A couple of the other guys agreed.
I can recall being somewhat surprised at the revelation that there are, in fact, people who don't really like running in and of itself. That had never really occurred to me. I assumed we all raced because we liked running, and racing entailed running. Racing was just a natural side effect of having become relatively proficient at running, and wanting to see where one stacked up against others who had also become relatively proficient at it themselves.
I'm certainly not saying there is a single thing wrong with the sort of extrinsic motivation that running only for the sake of racing implies, I was just surprised is all.
Coming from my especially humble beginnings of a 30-something-minute 5k runner, there wasn't much to be extrinsically motivated by in those early times, and I guess it stuck. I always knew I'd be running whether I had a race on the horizon or not. Sometimes even, in seasons following and depending on the circumstances, in my heart of hearts there were actually times when I believed I would love running more without pursuing any race goals. And there have admittedly been times since when that has been true, but I always felt a certain obligation to test myself if I was going to invest so much effort into it.
But, if I'm honest with myself in looking back over the years both collegiately and afterwards, when there was an actual race schedule in place and a team to not let down, or when there was a setback to fight through in an effort to do reasonably well at something within a small window of time, there was an uptick in motivation and effort when it came to training. That uptick became slightly more challenging to find in later years when running became a much more solo endeavor. So to that end, I suppose I do understand the need to have a "carrot" so to speak, to find that extra gear and continually go to the well.
I have also found that I am starting to understand that concept even more in recent weeks. What with not really training for running races and cycling-hillclimb season wrapped up--which is the only aspect of cycling that I have thus far developed any real interest in--and having made the recent discovery that I don't actually enjoy gravel grinders nearly as much as I thought I would (in fairness, maybe I ought to do more than one, and ones that maybe don't involve 30 miles of sketchy downhill) and also having made the discovery that I don't really enjoy most cyclists that much, generally speaking, I've found that I need a carrot of my own to keep grinding away.
My present motivation/carrot to continue spending a couple to a few hours in the saddle each day has basically consisted of the fact that I like being outside and physical activity makes me a far more tolerant/tolerable person and that, perhaps above all else, I like Oreo's and would like to have the ability to continue to consume them with relative regularity without the strange paranoid fear of becoming morbidly obese and/or diabetic, and those rides are interspersed with 3-4 much-looked-forward-to weekly "runs" that I enjoy way too much to simply ignore the fact that I need to find a way to get back to being able to do more of those on the reg.
So I've decided to bite the bullet and attempt to make that happen via dropping a lot of coin to inject a syringe full of weird crap into my knee largely in the hopes of simply being able to put in more miles, but also in an effort to pursue my most recent fascination: having the fastest combined running and riding time up Mt. Washington next year. Apparently that's a thing.
What is it about that mountain? I don't know. But it seems like it's been a hell of a carrot for these last few years.
No, but in all seriousness, I'm still trying to figure out how anybody could possibly love partaking in any endurance activity besides running, and to have some of my former life back again (ideally non-surgically, at least for a while), whether racing ends up being part of the picture or not, would be a total game-changer. I'm not expecting a miracle here, but I'm feeling pretty optimistic.
Maybe that's how one can gauge one's love for something? The need, or lack thereof, for a carrot.