If you’re a runner looking to satisfy your racing fix, there’s no shortage of sound reasons. Maybe you run for the personal challenge, for a good cause or to have fun with friends. All are great motivators. Once you get past the rush of registering for a race though, training and real life kick in, meaning sometimes you make it to race day ready to charge, while other times training may have fallen short, your schedule changed or something else has dampened your race-day stoke.
In March, I registered for the late-September GoldenLeaf Half Marathon in Aspen, Colorado. It’s challenging in a fun way: a moderately difficult and very scenic course mostly on singletrack trails, plus it finishes four blocks from my house. Kind of silly not to do it, right? However, it’s also been canceled twice due to wintry weather in recent years, and, as the time got closer, I have to admit I was seriously hoping for another snow cancellation. Not very sporting of me, I know. I wasn’t injured, I wasn’t sick, and by running it I wouldn’t be missing any mandatory family functions. I simply didn’t feel like it and was doubting myself.
My oldest daughter, who evidently was listening during all of my rah-rah-you-can-do-it lectures, told me to suck it up. My youngest said it wouldn’t be fair to her if I backed out because she wanted to watch me finish. Not an easy crowd. Plus the money was spent and I hate wasting money. I tried to convince myself using my go-to tactics: racing is a privilege, this is supposed to be fun and I’m probably in better shape than I think. But I still wasn’t swayed.
Then I thought about something I could treat myself to if I ran the race, and I settled on a slice of chocolate cake from the farmer’s market—which I knew could found about three blocks from the finish line of the race. Yes, I was bribing myself! So, with that in mind, I announced I would race as long as my youngest daughter met me at the finish with a slice of cake as a celebratory treat. She was game as long as she got a piece, too. Deal! Am I proud to admit the only reason I posted was because of cake? No, but I’m not ashamed either. Motivation is a curious thing.
The race begins with a hefty uphill slog and by mile one I had settled into the suffering. By mile two, I was even glad I was running. What began as a partly cloudy day turned to groppel, chilly temperatures, rain and slick trails. But it was gorgeous too, with golden aspen trees, rust-colored underbrush and snow-capped mountains. People were also having a blast, whooping and hollering at how beautiful it was. With no expectations, my ego got a break for the day. I had no desire to chase down runners wearing tutus or designer jogging pants. I smiled when someone told me I had good footwork and had a delightful conversation with a couple from Atlanta who was running to celebrate their anniversary.
As I made it through the most challenging terrain, I realized I was running stronger than expected. And that’s when it dawned on me, or, perhaps, it was the jolting smack from a wet tree branch, that I was running for me, for my own sense of accomplishment. I would be appreciative of the chocolate cake, but the pride I had in myself for running the race was so much sweeter.
And that’s a good thing. Because, not only was the farmer’s market out of cake, my daughter didn’t make it to see me finish. But that was OK because I did this for me, and that was motivation enough. When the last thing you want to do is run, it’s often just what you need.