How I Found Motivation in Unexpected Places
You are at mile 10 of your half-marathon and as you see the mile marker flash (or slowly crawl) by you think to yourself, “only a 5k to go!” followed closely by memories of your last 5k race and the thought “I have an entire 5k to go!” What happens next can often define how we think and talk about our race for weeks, months, even years to come, and it happens in an instant or so it seems. A decision is made to either take that next step and maintain your strategy, or to let your goal slip away.
The Decision Point
If you are anything like me, there are a myriad of things that are all rolled up into that one “decision point” on race day. Everything from the weather, how many runners are around, crowd support, proximity to the next water station, what I know the remainder of the course to be like (or whether I’m familiar with it at all), my current pace, or who is waiting for me at the finish line – the list goes on and on. I’d like to think that here in my “2nd life” as a runner (I ran from June to Oct of 2013 before basically taking 2.5 years off) I’ve gathered some valuable insight into what has kept me driven this time around.
My first foray into the “running life” began in June of 2013. I was working at a local fitness center (if you can call supervising pickup basketball working) in the morning and working on a graduate degree; I had a fairly flexible schedule. It was also summertime, and my wife (who was working way harder than me) was pregnant. The thought of impending fatherhood and the impact running had made on my wife’s boss (and my good friend), led me to consider that maybe “middle school Seth” was all wrong and that running was okay. I gave it a shot. I didn’t follow a training plan at all. I ran the streets of Richfield and Edina, and later the Chain of Lakes, as fast as I possibly could.
I ran what I considered an obscene amount – 259 miles (!!!) from late June through late October when I ran my first ever half marathon, the Monster Dash. I was hoping to complete the half with a pace of 8:30/mile, so naturally, I started the race running the first 5 miles at a sub-8:00/mile pace. I actually ended up finishing with a respectable pace, but I went about it in such a foolhardy way. By the 10k mark my calves were threatening to mutiny, and since I had zero notion of fueling, I had no hope of a second wind. By mile 10 my goal had shifted to survival. Long story short, after I crossed the finish line, I took a 2.5-year break from running.
Looking back, that first season of running was something I did for others. I did it as a project in perception creation. It was for the Facebook me. The Twitter me. It was done so that others could see my runs – the distance, the paces, the descriptions – and think, “Wow, Seth is super fit, I wish I could be like Seth! Seth is amazing!” But the thing about those sorts of projects is that the veneer of motivation that acts as the engine…it’s a lemon. It may work for a bit, but once the first challenge comes along, the motivation typically goes caput. That was me in October of 2013 as a runner. It wasn’t until I experienced the draining, exhilarating, and fundamentally life-transforming season of keeping a child alive that I fully realized what motivation was – and while I initially was satisfied to just “work up a bit of a sweat” a couple times a week – eventually a moment came that convinced me that I was ready to put in the work to make running a lifelong pursuit.
Real Life Running Motivation
In February of 2016, I got a call saying that my cousin Heather may not survive the weekend. I booked a flight, got work off, and flew straight to Seattle, where I spent my time with nearly my entire extended family in the University of Washington ICU waiting room. A few years earlier, Heather had developed a rare lung ailment that made a double lung transplant necessary. She eventually got her new lungs, but unfortunately, the relief was short-lived. After a few years of struggling with organ transplant rejection, we were here together as a family in the ICU.
I spent a lot of time thinking of Heather on walks along Lake Union. I also thought about her brother (and my cousin), Justin. My best friend during my high school years, Justin passed away on New Year’s Eve 2003 after not regaining brain function after his double lung transplant procedure (he had the same ultra-rare condition that his sister would later develop.) Heather ended up surviving her scare that February, but after 5 more miraculous months, she finally succumbed and passed away last summer. It felt like a gut punch that our family would never recover from.
I started running in earnest again last March, but with a newfound resolve and motivation that informs me during those “decision-point” moments on a run. For me now, the simple act of breathing deeply feels like one small way I can honor Heather and Justin’s memory and keep them fresh in my mind. On my long training runs, I think of their laughter, I come up with memories I have with them, I think of ways I could keep them fresh in the memories of others, or how I could introduce them to people who never even had the chance to know them. I know they’d appreciate that during my runs, when I’m breathing my hardest, I often nurture my biggest ideas, entertain my grandest thoughts, and consider my most audacious goals. Heather and Justin are my motivation for running; I am the runner I am today because of them.
What Motivated You to Start Running?
How does it continue to drive you in those “decision-point” moments on your runs? Do you have a mantra that keeps you focused as the miles roll on?