10 Tricks to Keep You Motivated as an Ultra Runner

10 Tricks to Keep You Motivated as an Ultra Runner // Ultra Run MD

As I run into the morning before the sun rises, the streets are empty like my own personal marathon. We run through the neighborhoods beneath the moon and the stars while sharing the road with late-night taxi riders, bread trucks, and nocturnal animals. They begin to disappear as the night transforms into a new day. The streets are both empty yet fulfilling, strange yet comforting, calm yet lively. The road ahead of me is filled with green traffic lights for miles. It’s a special moment in time, an early start where dreams are created and anything is possible. It reminds me of the many race-day mornings as we make our way to the pre-race meeting, excited for the day that lies ahead. In a strange way, this is our comfort zone. As I approach the fog-covered trail, the earth continues to spin on its axis while the sun peaks past the horizon. There’s something incredibly inspirational in running towards the morning sun.

The morning is an incredible time to run. The mind is fresh, the legs are light, and the body is strong. It’s a proactive relief from our nutritional, emotional, and lifestyle-related stressors. As a family of foxes pounce across the road, it’s a reminder of how even when we sleep, life continues to move on with or without us. Time is constantly changing, and each and every one us are continuously moving towards something. Our movement can be forwards or backwards but regardless of the direction, we are forever changing. Remember, we are dynamic creatures by nature but sometimes moving forward through our training programs can become difficult at times. As runners, how do we keep moving forward through our training programs and make it to the race day starting line? The foundation begins with MOTIVATION. Here are 10 tricks that I use to keep me motivated. Please enjoy the post and most importantly, above all, KEEP IT MOVING!

1) Variety Equals Growth

When we feel stuck, bored, or tired, it’s a good idea to interrupt our repetitious pattern of training by doing something completely unexpected. It puts new demands on our body and keeps running fresh in our minds. For example, during long runs you can sprint full speed every 15 minutes for 1 minute as if you were breaking your record for a quarter-mile time. Another technique is cross training or breaking your training day pattern. Variety can lead us to growth in that when we can catch ourselves off guard to work harder or differently we force our bodies to respond which in turn promotes growth. Isn’t it true that traveling outside of our comfort zone is how we ultimately become better at anything? Years ago I remember feeling uncomfortable running outside for the first time, and now I seldom run on a treadmill, if ever. Like I said in How I Conquered the Infamous IT Band Syndrome [Part 1], every time we step outside our comfort zone growth is guaranteed. We all need some variety in our lives so be creative and keep your body on its toes—literally.

2) Set Your Goals with Your Outcome in Mind

I always have my next race picked out prior to beginning a new training session. It’s useful to train for an ultra marathon with a race deadline. Did you ever notice how you perform with a deadline versus without one? Aren’t you much more productive with one? It’s been said that a goal is nothing more than a dream with a deadline. Furthermore, we can also consider what meeting that deadline means to us. Remember a time you overcame a difficult challenge and obtained your goal? How did that make you feel? There is much more reward in completing your training than relief from quitting halfway through. When we attempt and reach our goals, it provides us with genuine happiness. However, if you’re not achieving your desired goals, then you may want to consider changing your approach. For instance, if your knee hurts, then you may want to consider reevaluating your training schedule, technique, or shoes. The decisions we make and the goals that we set are what make us take action in running; they are what shape the future of our sport.

While running today, I saw a bird in the sky, flying as a morning storm set in and the wind gusts picked up intensely. The bird was flapping its wings with all its might but unfortunately it was not moving anywhere—that is, the bird was basically staying in the same place. No matter how much effort the bird gave, it could not fly forward. It even began to move backwards at one point. After trying and trying, failing and failing, over and over again, can you guess what happened? The bird decided to change its approach. It straightened its wings, becoming aerodynamic and instantly zipped forward effortlessly in the wind. Sometimes in running we force the issue and convince ourselves that more running will solve all issues but if we take a step back, adjust our techniques, and seek clarification, then our runs can provide more progress and motivation with less work. Essentially, running will then become more enjoyable, bringing us to each new starting line and increase the probability of longevity.

3) Sign up for the Race

Years ago, I remember signing up for my first regular marathon. It actually took a lot of courage. I remember the hesitation I experienced to just put my name on the list. At the time, my longest run was 14 miles in length. Before I signed up, I went to a nearby track and ran 20 miles. Wow, do I remember how my legs hurt afterwards! When I signed up for my first ultra marathon it was 50 miles in length. There was really no rhyme or reason to when I was ready, it was near arbitrary, but I did run 31 miles beforehand. When I think back, there was no real level of comfort before signing up. I just ripped the Band-Aid off, entered my name, and decided on race day I’d just keep moving forward and hold on for dear life. Signing up for a race puts the goal in concrete, it makes it real in our minds, and we then turn our thoughts into things, real things, and begin to do what’s necessary on our quest to the race day starting line. Also, you may want to find another race in the same time frame in case plans change. Anything can come up during race day weekend and with a backup race in mind there’s no excuses.

4) Leverage Your Motivation

Find out what motivates you and use it to your advantage. Love new clothes? Buy a new running outfit. Does time motivate you? Increase your pace. Are you a social butterfly? Run with other people. My prime time for running is early in the morning, that is, when I feel and move in an effortless motion. If I feel myself stuck in a rut during a morning run, I’ll then run a late night long run. This way, my next morning long run feels fresh and I move much faster. For example, the last hundo I trained for I ran a 33-mile training run in the morning but felt heavy and my head was completely out of it. So the next week I ran a 37-miler through the night. I was tired, tired, and oh yeah, did I mention tired? Not to mention I couldn’t find an open store for miles so I found myself standing in the movie theatre line shirtless to buy a bottle of water. Anyway, the next weekend I ran a 42-mile training run in the morning and felt so much more fresh and light compared to my Saturday night movie run. Sometimes things need to become a little worse before they can become better again, and they always become better with time.

"Sometimes things need to become a little worse before they can become better again, and they always become better with time." // Ultra Run MD

5) Motivation is Everywhere

There are various motivational tales of individuals taking on astounding challenges, like swimming across oceans and running across deserts. There are movies about space explorations, athletic achievements, and fighting racial oppression; readings from activists, poets, and philosophers that provide inspiration in such abundance that it just oozes out of this world. Or…you can read an Ultra Run MD post! We can instantly change our state of mind to get moving out the door and towards our next starting line when we become inspired.

A few years back, I was watching ESPN while they were headlining a woman who swam across the Atlantic Ocean. At the time, I was not training for anything in particular. After viewing the many video clips of this woman’s adventure, I was instantly inspired as she spoke with her worn body and swollen face. That day after work, I went home and spontaneously ran 31 miles. It was sparked solely from the inspiration I developed that day. Inspiration is contagious in our quest to do great things in our lives. Keep your ears and eyes open for anything that will inspire you during training and naturally move forward to your next training run with a newfound energy, a natural energy, an energy you created.

6) Skip a Training Run

If you miss a training run, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed and must stop. Ask any seasoned ultra runner and I’m sure they’d tell you they’ve missed a training run in the past and still continued to race day. Not even a few weeks ago, I missed my weekend long run and just moved on. I missed a planned long run of 34 miles and this weekend I decided to do a 37-mile run. If a training run is missed, you can adapt to the change and just keep moving forward. Over and over again, I see people want to run their first standard marathon, pick a training schedule where they run 6 days a week, and quit partway through thinking the more they run the better. But running 6 days a week as a newbie will most likely lead to burnout or injury, which commonly causes missed training runs leading to a failed attempt. Personally, my first ultra marathon was about getting across the finish line and my training reflected that.

7) Be Conscious of the Benefits

Ok, so running 100 miles isn’t always the healthiest form of physical activity for the body but here’s what I can tell you from personal experience: The lifestyle changes I’ve made to be able to obtain this distance have been phenomenally altered. Ultra running has changed my life in so many beneficial ways, far past the harm of what any distance could possibly do. For example, eating all natural, not drinking alcohol or going out late, along with avoiding everything that tags along with bad habits and poor choices have affected me in the most beneficial ways that it’s hard put into words. Not to mention the reduction in stress or how you deal with it. To do what you love alone can change your life forever. Focus on the benefits, monitor your progress, and acknowledge your outcomes. Every day is a good day when you run.

"Every day is a good day when you run." // Ultra Run MD

8) The Power of Music and Friends

Before every new long run, I typically download a new playlist. I like to use the app Shazam so I can find out who sings a song anywhere at anytime, and then I screen shot the Shazam results on my iPhone. I’ve used it at department stores, in the car, while watching movies, etc. Music is a great way to empower your run, sort of like running with a group; it provides more power and drive. Did you ever notice the first thing you want to do when something exciting happens in your life? Immediately you want to share it with someone. Sharing our experiences helps us experience them again, and running with people can add the same type of benefit. Music and friends can provide that extra motivation you need to keep your legs moving through your next training program.

Growing up, I did not listen to country music. Never had an interest for it and never thought I would. One day at work, I was on the phone sitting on hold listening to a song playing on the other end of the phone. I typed the lyrics into Google, and it was a new country song. Not thinking anything of it, I added the song to my playlist for my first upcoming 100k. Well, on race day the song came on while I was at a peak state of mind and it caught my ear at the right time. The song went on repeat and it stayed on a repetitive loop for the next 30 miles straight! Since then, country music has filled my playlist along with many other genres. Music is energy, music is fuel, music is motivation.

"Music is energy, music is fuel, and music is motivation." // Ultra Run MD

9) Gain Mental Strength

Our mental strength for running ultra distances is built in congruence with our physical strength. Can’t imagine running 50 miles? Don’t. Imaging running 5 miles, then imagine running 10 miles, then imagine running 20 miles, and so on. Think about it, if you just started lifting weights and attempted to bench press 300lbs., chances are you’d quickly find yourself trapped under the bar. It works in both directions. Our psychological strength will build just as our physical strength will build. In the ultra world, I’d say your mental strength is most important. This is advantageous because your physical muscles are only really working out as long as you run; however, your mental strength never shuts off. Our minds are working 24/7 even when we are sleeping. It’s most important to keep polishing your mental strength through visualization and positive affirmations of achieving something great in your running. Here’s a thought—close your eyes if you must: How do you feel when you HOPE to finish a race? Now, how do you feel when you EXPECT to finish a race? Feel the difference? Our own personal mentality will drive our motivation, leading to success on race day.

10) A Boost from the Sun

The best for last, using the sunrise for motivation. Looking for an extra boost while running? Get out for your run while it’s still dark and catch that sunrise bright and early. It shifts your internal clock forward as your body realizes the new day has come. If you’ve ever run 100 miles, you have probably experienced this phenomenon. I’ve been to the point of nearly falling asleep while running, but when that sunrise awakens in the distance and your internal clock turns to a new day, the boost of energy received is copious. It’s motivational and it’s inspirational and it can give us just enough energy to keep us moving forward to the completion of our run.

Final Thoughts

Running can take us to places we’ve only imagined in our dreams: new heights, new discoveries, and new adventures as we reach inconceivable distances once only illuminated in our minds. As we turn them into something physical, we are able to reach for the stars and develop as endurance athletes in the search for something greater. And as people and as athletes are we in the search for something more? Of course we are. As a species, we went from spending our days in the wild fighting for our survival to spending our days in a square home eating a boxed lunch. I’m writing these final thoughts from a recorder running down the road. I started today at 4:00 in the morning and I’m only 15 miles into a 37-mile training run. As the sun rises and the morning thunderstorm sets in with clouds whooping across the sky like the waves off the ocean shore, I imagine as human beings we are capable of so much more but we restrict ourselves in various ways, creating even more obstacles than the one we wished to tackle in the first place. We literally move backwards before even attempting to move forward! By running and consistently pushing myself to new levels I can only hope it inspires others to move farther in their own running, the same way I was inspired a few years back when I first got into distance running. It wasn’t from someone running behind me screaming, “You can do it!” In this we could obtain motivation but would never sustain it. No, it was from the inspiration that naturally grew inside me from watching a man push past inconceivable levels of health and fitness that got me moving, and from there I kept the momentum alive in myself to continue well past what I ever could have possibly fathomed. And you know what the best part is? If we choose to keep growing then we are only at the start of our journey. Motivation is what keeps us moving but the key to long-term motivation is INSPIRATION because inspiration is contagious and in that sense I hope you caught some from my post. Thank you very much for reading and of course I wish you all the luck in the world as you trek down the path in your own personal running journey. So please stay healthy, be strong, and most importantly, above all…keep it moving!!!

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8 thoughts on “10 Tricks to Keep You Motivated as an Ultra Runner

  1. Wow! I save your posts for my read on morning train ride knowing that your words will inspire me through my work day. It’s 6:15 am and I’m looking forward to a sunrise and new day already. Thanks!

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