On Motivation

Motivation is a funny thing. Sometimes I find it where I least expect it, springing out of nothing and driving me forward. Other times I dig deep, begging it to come out and play. I go through the motions, hoping to feel its driving presence. And yet I flounder, lost in a sea of uncertainty. Not sure what I am doing or why…

In 2017, when I finished my first hundo at the Yeti 100 mile in Virginia, I felt lost, unmoored, drifting. Hours on the trail, the singular focus of a big race, the recovery, the prep, the mental struggle, it had all taken a toll on my family and on my psyche. After the initial high of the finish wore off, I went through the motions of training, ran a couple of races, picked out big goals. But nothing pulled that elusive drive out of me. I was doing things because “that’s what ultra-runners do.” I was pursuing goals and races that I felt people expected or would prove that I belonged among my ultra-running peers. But I had lost my passion, I was unsure of my motivation, and I didn’t know if I wanted an athlete’s life anymore.

I had some success early in 2018, finishing second female in a small 100k and putting together a strong training cycle for my second hundred mile attempt at San Diego in the summer. But the deep drive wasn’t there. I went into that hundred miler planning for it to be my last, to prove I could do a more technical, harder long race, and then move on to other pursuits. And then when it got hard, when 65 miles later I didn’t want to be there, my lack of commitment and motivation caught up to me. I turned in my bib and walked away, taking my first DNF.

But a funny thing happened with that DNF. Less than one week afterwards, I was planning my own personal 100 mile run for redemption. Not a race with shiny hardware. Not a race to prove anything to anyone other than myself. Just a long solo slog through the nearby, rather average looking city trails, devoid of stunning views, manned aid stations, or finish lines. I was excited, I was driven. My motivation, which had failed to show up in San Diego, returned in full force for this very personal mission.

After that hundred miles in July, I completely expected the lost feeling to return. I had come to accept the postrace blues that engulfed me after the Yeti 100 Mile, and thought it was a normal part of the race cycle. It wasn’t the first time I had experienced the let down after the excitement of a goal event, but by far, those months after Yeti were the hardest I have faced, as I described here previously. The bigger the race, the bigger the hole that is left I guess.

But quite unexpectedly, after my DNF and subsequent personal hundo, I have found a peace, and a deeper meaning and drive behind my training, then ever before.  Instead of facing a lack of purpose, I am rooted with a sense of what I am doing and where I am going. And yet, I have no hurry to get there.

In the past I have felt I only have so many years to accomplish my goals, I have felt a need to do everything now, to let no opportunity slip by. I have felt I only have so many runs in me, and I must accomplish everything I can in those limited number of races. I felt I needed to do “well” at San Diego because it would be my last hundred, and I felt that someday I would hang up this ultra-running hat. I was acutely aware of how much my hobby took from my family, and I felt the pain of guilt every time my goals took me away. I felt my racing days were limited, so I had to do everything now, so that I could then put this behind me and focus on family.

And yet now, I am more aware that this passion to push myself physically beyond my physical limitations is not going anywhere. I am a better wife and a better mother when I have goals that I am pursuing, when I have miles in my legs. It is a delicate balance, that is easy to tip too far. There are many times the scales have pushed our family to the edge. But ultra-running can build me up and make me a better person for my family, if I tune out the world and listen to us.

I will run more hundreds, I have bigger dreams and goals. I have no doubt that I will pursue them. But now I understand the pursuit of those dreams is as important as the achievement itself. The process is more satisfying than the success. I don’t have to hurry, I don’t have to cram all my goals into a few races or years. And I can better balance my family and my running if I take the time to enjoy the ride. I am on nobody’s timetable but my own, and finding a balance in training and family brings a deeper joy than any single buckle or facebook brag. I run for myself, I run for who I want to be, I run to taste the pain of limitations and know that I can push through. I run long and far because I want to know I can, and because the pain that I find out there on the edges of possibility gives me clarity that I don’t find in the comfort of daily life. Facing my fears, pushing headlong into that which scares me, moving forward when everything screams to stop, that is where I find a strength and courage I never knew I had. That is where life makes sense. That is where depression, fear, uncertainty, anger, pain, loss and everything else is burned away. That is where my deepest self resides.

Ultra-running is more than a hobby, it is a part of me. And learning to let it find its own rhythm in my life has brought my motivation back. I don’t resist it, or view it as a short term goal, or see it as pushed on me by outside expectations. It is more than a single race, or single run, or single training cycle. It is more than a new PR, an old injury, or lag in desire. And even if I never finish another race, I will always be an ultra-runner, looking to push past my anxieties and fears, reach beyond my perceived limits in all aspects of life. In the words of Scott Jurek “This is who I am. This is what I do.”

Author: Michelle

I am a wife, mother, writer, and ultrarunner. I have been writing most of my life in my head, never putting it in a more permanent form. As an adult I let myself get busy, and let writing slip into the background. While I experimented with running in college, I basically started from scratch after my son was born. I was quickly hooked, and over the next 6 years moved from the 5k to the marathon, and then on to trails and ultras. And yet, it wasn't until this year that I understood the connection writing and running have for me, that they are two tangents of the same process. And so, this blog was born to forge a connection between these two parts of who I am, and to explore anything else that comes my way. Welcome to the inside of my head!