Every runner faces it: the dreaded alarm clock. It rings, you open and close your eyes, you toss and turn — possibly even offering yourself a platter of delicious excuses for skipping your run. But that pesky alarm clock, it keeps ringing …and your mind is overtaken by one powerful question: Why am I doing this? The answer isn’t easy. It lies in finding your why in running.
From pros to hobby joggers, we all inevitably ask this question. For me it turns up in the common scenarios:
- Early morning wake-ups when I am exhausted and have a hard several hour workout stretching ahead of me
- Long runs in terrible weather conditions
- Before a race, especially when it involves being cold
- When trying to get my run in around the family’s schedule without irritating or inconveniencing others seems impossible, or
- When a race goes horribly bad despite months of hard work
Related: How to Get Over a Bad Race
While there are many, very valid reasons for taking a rest day or procrastinating your run, there are an equal number of reasons for pushing through and taking the harder of two roads. Good runners operate off of talent, great runners thrive despite adversity.
So, how do we become that runner that says, “I can do this despite great odds?”
We become a runner who knows their “why.”
In this article, I collaborated with one of my athletes who is a writer Rachel Penate and asked other runners on how they answer that question and found their “why.”
Related: How to Become a Morning Runner
I will cover:
- What does it mean to find your why in running?
- Some examples of finding your why for runners
- 10 questions to ask yourself to find your why in running
- 4 strategies for answering “why am I doing this” in running
What does it mean to find your why in running? And why should you find your why?
Running is hard. Running demands so much of our bodies and our minds. We experience great highs but also great lows, and without knowing why we’re putting ourselves through all of the troubles of growing as an athlete in this sport, we will likely miss out on all the joy it can offer. And we will likely crumble when the going gets tough.
Finding your why in running is the key to maintaining your running motivation. Finding your why means truly connecting to the reason why you are getting up early and pushing yourself.
Related: How to Make Running a Habit
It may seem oxymoronic, but struggle can be a path for deeper satisfaction. Struggle can rid us of what doesn’t matter because it unapologetically reveals what really does. It has the power to reveal to us what is a true gift and what is simply just noise.
Jason Fitzgerald, run coach and creator of Strength Running, recently took to Instagram to share his thoughts and encouragement on this topic (check it out here). He reflects on all the hard mornings he’s experienced in his running life and concludes beautifully saying, “Even though it was hard, it was a gift… ” that simply being able to run is a gift in and of itself.
It’s a gift in the small moments:
- seeing a beautiful sunrise,
- the joy of feeling the flow while listening to a favorite song,
- hearing the special silence of a fresh snowfall,
- and providing the calm before the storm that is our lives as a mom.
As well as a gift in the big moments like:
- proving to yourself you can do something really hard,
- feeling alive in your body,
- showing your children what it’s like to believe in yourself and work hard,
- and the lasting friendships made on the run.
Your why is intrinsically tied to the gift that running is in your life. It’s worth the effort of exploring the answer. The answer may just make all the difference in your outlook on running.
So, what is your why?
I do not know what you are facing in your life, why you started running, why you continue today, what your roadblocks and goals and achievements are, but I do know that there is a why (or many whys) deep down inside of you that have the power to positively impact your life beyond running.
There is a good chance that your why is rooted inside of you, an intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation means your running motivation is rooted into your core values as well.
Conversely, extrinsic motivation means you are motivated by reward outside yourself—such as the affirmation you get when you run a certain time or look a certain way. This may motivate you too. Afterall, we probably have a myriad of reasons as to why we run.
Yet, research shows extrinsic motivation isn’t enough to keep you getting out of bed when that question beckons: why am I doing this?
The following exercise is an opportunity to take a moment and sit with this question during common challenging situations. Take 10 minutes or 10 days to get to an answer, but when you do, hold onto it with all your might because…it is all a great, great gift.
Related: How Running Makes You Happy
10 Questions to Stoke Your Running Motivation
(& Some Possible Answers)
- Why did I start running? To be healthier, to be challenged by a new goal, to prove a point to someone or yourself, because it felt good?
- Why do I keep running today? To stay healthy for your kids, to keep challenging yourself to new goals, to have a moment to yourself each day, because it still feels good.
- Why do I sacrifice so much for a hobby? It’s fun, it’s an opportunity for community building, it keeps you fit, because we’re not robots and it’s good for us to do something for ourselves… (even technology needs to be plugged in at night)?
- Why am I doing this when the mornings are dark? Fitting it in early in the morning may ensure you get it done before the rest of the world wakes up. And, you may even get a nice sunrise out of it.
- Why am I doing this when the weather is tough? Runners who can handle tough weather often fare the best in races.
- Why am I doing this when my to-do list is long? The mental benefits of running will sustain you and ground you through the rigors of your day.
- Why am I doing this when I am just not “feeling it”? Every run (struggle or not) is a deposit in the bank of overall fitness. You will learn something from every run. It’s up to you to discover and apply it.
- What other potential roadblock do I struggle with the most? Enough sleep? Good fuel? Are you injury prone?
- What purpose can I attach to working through this roadblock? Getting enough sleep, fuel, rest will help you to avoid injury and feel better on your runs. And, you know another hour of TV or scrolling at night won’t actually fill your cup like a run will.
- How can the closest people in my life support me in living out this “why”? Daily/weekly check-ins? Being present at races? Supporting you at home with meal prep, childcare, etc.? Just simply being willing to hear you talk all about running even if they don’t get the allure at all?
How to Answer “Why am I doing this?”
Every Wednesday on my Instagram, I feature a mother runner and her reasons for running in a series I call #whyirun Wednesday. The reasons run the gamut from big such as helping her cope with the death of her child or overcome her battle against cancer to small (or smaller, I should say)—to needing that quiet time to be a better, more patient mom or it’s just plain fun to run fast.
Indeed, as a mom there are many science-backed reasons for running—for our health and also the health of our children.
4 Strategies to Answer “Why am I doing this?” & Maintain Your Running Motivation
If the above questions still don’t fuel the fire of your running motivation or leave you empty handed when it comes to determining your “why”—try these below strategies.
Think about the future.
If you look back on yourself ten, twenty, thirty years from now, will you be apathetic that you stopped running—or will you regret it? Will you care if you didn’t go for your goal, or decide it doesn’t matter.
If you decide it does matter, really ponder as to why. What sits at the core of that regret if you didn’t do it. What would you be missing out on?
Running is commonly used as a metaphor for life. And by giving up on your running, you may feel like you gave up on yourself and revealing your potential as a whole.
Try another hobby.
If you didn’t run, is there another hobby that you would rather do? If your running motivation has waned, then it might be time to try something new. You may fall in love with another pastime, or the distance could remind you as to why you loved running in the first place.
Afterall, distance makes the heart grow fonder.
What else would you be doing?
In his Instagram post, Jason Fitzgerald made an excellent point. He asked himself, if he wasn’t running 80+ miles a week—what else would be doing with that extra time?
The question hit home for me as I dabble in that mileage range and wonder if it’s out of balance.
Fitzgerald reasoned he would probably be staying up later watching Netflix or scrolling. It dawned on me—he was right. If I didn’t have to wake up early to run, I would just be staying up later—probably engaging in unhealthy habits like binging on cereal or scrolling on Instagram and feeling bad about myself.
If your time spent running is taking up valuable time with your family or sleeping, then yes—chances are you need more balance. But I bet in most cases, it’s not.
So really, what would you rather be doing than challenging yourself to make you better?
Talk to others.
In working on this story, I asked the robust mother runner community for their answers for when that question beckons. The answers are simple, powerful, and likely universal for most moms. Talking with your running friends may do the same.
Here are some of mother runners’ answers:
- I run to stay healthy and set a positive example for my child.
- Running is a rewarding mentally.
- I want to show my daughter what it’s like to be healthy (and fight diet culture).
- I think about the friendships I made through running, the sense of accomplishment, and the encouraging words from friends.
- I get to choose my hard, both options are hard, but one will move me forward and the other will not.
- I know running will make me feel better afterwards.
- I run to show my daughter we can do hard things no matter what.
- I look at past performances and how stronger I have become.
- I am a better person for running, in the immediate and long term.
- Because I GET to run.
- I am doing this FOR ME and I will feel awesome after.
I have found that journaling about the positive of my daily runs, no matter how small, helps me to stay motivated to run—even on the days when I rather sleep in. Keeping a log of how far you have come is also a powerful reminder that your consistency is key for changing your life on and off the road.
If you want guidance with your running and running motivation, check out my run coaching services. Also, be sure to check out my free training plans:
- Postpartum Training Plan
- After a Break Training Plan
- 5k Training Plans
- 10k Training Plans
- Half Marathon Training Plans
- Marathon Training Plans
- Strength Training Plan