• Minnie Eve
  • 28 September 2012

What are we running from and why?

The results are in for the Chariots of Fire relay race, one of Cambridge’s largest annual charity events.  Workplace Law’s team of six runners each completed a gruelling 1.7 mile leg, running as fast as they possibly could.  Individual personal best times were set and the final group time was recorded at one hour, 11 minutes – not forgetting the 34 seconds!  This mammoth achievement placed us in 80th position overall and 30th out of all the mixed teams.  In total, there were over 300 teams of runners – so more teams than you could shake a baton at.

We are all very proud and now enjoying the glory as well as indulging in some amusing action photographs – in which there was not a single trace of enjoyment depicted on our faces.  It was then that I was reminded that, during our meticulous training sessions (yes we did train!), nearly every runner finished their training run, not only wanting to be violently ill and extremely red in the face, but also cursing and swearing and asking why?  Why is it that we put ourselves through such pain and sometimes humiliation?

It was also a fairly unanimous feeling, after the sickness / redness subsided and pallor set in, that actually we felt better for it.  So much so that post-race we quickly forgot how bad it was and started planning next year’s training.  I experienced something similar, even when the scale of participation was significantly more traumatising, after the London Marathon.  Despite being well prepared – running a 20-mile distance in my furthest training run – nothing could have indicated how bad the last six miles were going to be.  During those last six miles I could think of nothing else except “why am I doing this?!” and about how much I wanted to stop, lie down in the road and be attended to by someone with a bedside manner to die for.

It was somewhat surprising, considering these feelings, that when asked if I wanted to enter the ballot for the 2013 London Marathon I wasted no time in deliberation and threw my name in the hat.  Utter madness.  So, is it because I have an overwhelming desire to stay healthy, blow off steam, avoid an ever expanding waistline, prevent heart disease – or am I escaping the daily torments of real life?  Motivation is a psychological feature, a process that arouses, sustains and regulates behaviour.  Intrinsically this is driven by enjoyment or interest.  Extrinsically, and the achievement of the outcome contradicts the intrinsic motivation, meaning we will bear the pain to reach a goal.

Over my lifetime I have set myself a number of physical challenges and goals, not just running orientated.  The most memorable experience was during the London to Brighton bike ride. Ditchling Beacon hill can be described as the most famous climb in southern England, and it’s no mean feat reaching the top in one go, still a la bicyclette! Through some power of higher force, I managed it and at the summit I experienced what can only be described as complete euphoria – like nothing I have ever experienced before and never since.  A huge part of my motivation today exists because I am chasing that feeling.  I thought that perhaps the marathon might be the answer to my quest but instead I just felt more exhausted than I have ever felt before!

For me personally, running gives me a break from a busy head.  It’s a time where I can disassociate from daily life in all its good and bad – dissociation itself being a motivational technique during running, to block out fatigue and discomfort.  I tend to focus on my breathing, as well as using visualisation techniques if I am on a set course or distance.  After reading an article about techniques that Paula Radcliffe utilises, I have also found that counting to 100 in my head is a really useful tool.  It is also a good way of gauging distance or time without constantly looking at a watch or checking your pace. 

As a fairly emotive person I am far more likely to engage in a form of physical challenge than I am something that might compromise my mental faculties, no matter how much it hurts! Every Saturday that I can, I take part in the local Park Run.  UK wide, it’s a timed 5k run, double the distance of the Chariots of Fire race.  Trying to improve on speed, it involves a fair amount of mind-over-matter, grit, determination and wanting to vomit at the end – I love it!  I have been known to whoop for joy when learning of a new personal best (yes, they text you the results!), so it is pretty evident my motivation is to achieve.  Once you have experienced the pain and moved on to the achievement, it is very easy to quickly forget how bad it was.  It becomes more than likely that you convince yourself that, actually, you enjoyed it!

I could easily spend hours exploring and considering the various theories on motivation, but to be honest it might contribute further to my busy head.  I’d much rather don my trainers, get in the zone, run for running’s sake and forget my worries.