Reluctant Runners Series #4: Gold Medals and Blue Ribbons


Published on July 23rd, 2013

Motivation is a funny thing. Obviously there are some clear motivators for running such as being chased by an angry dog, dodging the undead during the imminent zombie apocalypse, or making it up to the bar right before last call, but since those situations don’t come up every day, finding other sources of motivation as a runner can be a bit more challenging.

For years, I’ve identified myself as a non-competitive person, running only for personal fitness rather than comparing myself against others. Very zen of me, right? In fact, I’ll admit (rather sheepishly now) that I viewed my lack of competitiveness with a certain smug sense of satisfaction. I saw myself as slightly above all of the crazed masses who would sell their souls for a gold medal. Well, I recently started running 5Ks, and came to the shocking conclusion after my second race that I am highly motivated by competition, comparison, and external recognition- and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

As a new runner, and not a very good one yet, my biggest concern registering for this 5K was not finishing last. There were hundreds of runners, and judging by their top of the line running clothes, their official looking stretching sessions, and their “been there, done that” attitudes during registration, I figured that I had no chance of achieving much more than a pat on the back for crossing the finish line, or maybe the satisfaction of beating out some of the moms pushing strollers (btw- do NOT underestimate these ladies- they are pretty impressive and will cruise right by you-baby and all without breaking a sweat!). So when the horn sounded to begin the race, I was in no particular hurry and didn’t think twice about how I’d done.

And then… the race results came out. And I realized that I had actually done pretty well in my book, beating out over half of the racers. I felt a small sense of glee as I looked (various times) at all the names of people who had finished after me. Over the next week I made sure all my family and friends knew too (dropping the information nonchalantly of course!). It’s funny that when I thought I would come in last, I convinced myself that results didn’t matter to me, but when I saw that I hadn’t done half bad, I discovered that suddenly they did.

Then, something interesting happened- my motivation to improve as a runner doubled. I started thinking about the next race, and how I could improve my time, which led to increasing the number of practice runs I did a week. I started paying attention to my pace and tried to improve it. I felt a greater sense of satisfaction at the end of my runs. Turns out that striving for something and competing for something is a phenomenal motivator. So get out there and run, go for the gold with pride, and see where it takes you!

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Sharon M

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