We all had at least one compelling reason to begin our trail running journey. Perhaps it was the finisher’s belt buckle or t-shirt, the inherent challenge of ultramarathon events, or health benefits. For most people, motivation evolves over time. Some original motivations may become more intense, or initial motives may fade and be replaced with new reasons for training. Whatever initiated your first steps toward becoming a trail runner, motivations change, ebb, and flow over time. Training motivation is not constant. Even professional athletes experience periods when they are less motivated to train. There are many ways to work through periods of low motivation. In my coaching experience, curiosity is one of the most effective.
Stay motivated to train with curiosity
Curiosity is a powerful characteristic that helps you develop a greater understanding of yourself and your surroundings. In turn, enhanced awareness can increase your desire to continue participating in sport. What initially drew you to try trail running or enter you first race? Some level of curiosity likely played a significant role in that decision.
Recognize the role curiosity played when you began running and then examine how it has changed since then. Becoming aware of your relationship with curiosity is key to learning to use it to keep moving forward. Once you generally understand how you’ve relied upon curiosity in the past, you can develop specific tactics that can allow you to continue to leverage it.
Be curious about your physical space
Routines can serve us well. Many of us have quite busy lives and we’re lucky to squeeze in a 60– to 90–minute trail run most weekdays. These runs are often on familiar routes we can efficiently cruise over with little conscious thought. As useful as this approach is, it can also lead to boredom and make it hard to stay motivated to train.
To overcome or prevent monotony, try running a common loop in the opposite direction or altering the route slightly. You might try challenging yourself to become more aware of certain things, like what type of rock you usually see, what birds may be chirping or how many new faces you cross paths with during your run. You can turn a predictable route into a new experience with a curious approach.
This same physical curiosity can be applied to races as well. Many runners have favorite events that we participate in annually. Although that’s perfectly acceptable, you can add newness by competing in a an unfamiliar environment or signing up for an international race and combining it with a chance to sightsee.
The more you enhance your awareness of your environment, the more you’ll realize this practice builds on itself. It becomes easier to discover new sights, sounds, and other sensations you didn’t previously notice.
What are your performance limits?
How about satisfying your curiosity about the limits of your performance potential? Some ideas to consider include the amount of vertical you can climb in a given time period or distance. Or, you may try testing yourself on a frequently used course in different weather conditions to see how this affects speed and performance. When your ultrarunning goal events are far in the future, try focusing on short distance running by improving your mile or 5k time.
Arguably, with the right amount of planning and vision, these personal performance curiosities could meld into an ultrarunning training plan. Indulge your curiosity about what you may be able to accomplish using a slightly different approach to your traditional one.
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Be curious about events and your local running community
There is no shortage of opportunities to contribute to the trail and ultrarunning communities. Ultrarunning events rely heavily on volunteers. As a result, it’s relatively easy to cultivate curiosity by contributing to a race organization. Understanding more of what happens behind the scenes may motivate you to become more engaged with events and running groups.
Generally, there are organized trail workdays in many areas, too. You could learn how trails are built and what the maintenance process entails. Not only is this a good chance to enhance your understanding of your local trail network, but it can also be an opportunity to meet others who share your enthusiasm for the outdoor and the sport of trail running.
Curiosity enhances mental awareness
Becoming more curious about the outside world is advantageous, and so is curiosity about internal experiences. Take the time to explore your self-talk and emotional states. As you become more aware of your thoughts and emotions you can also utilize them to your advantage.
It’s not uncommon to have self-doubt and tell ourselves negative thoughts. Athletes are often surprised by how little of this interval dialogue they truly ‘hear’. In truth, we rarely fully tune in to what our brains are telling us. However, by using curiosity to explore our self-talk, we can enhance our awareness, which is a critical first step to improving our internal discussions.
If we need to improve what we tell ourselves, curiosity is a key platform for exploring our mental space. You can learn to lean on positivity to enhance the mental and emotional aspects of our athleticism. Try slowing down and listening to that inner voice and looking for opportunities to improve your internal conversations.
Stay curious to stay motivated to train
When you open the door to greater curiosity, you may discover you are flooded with even greater levels of wonder. As with most things, the more we invest in a practice, the easier it gets. This is usually the case with expanding our awareness and interests, too. And when you begin to be more aware of certain parts of your environment, meet new trail comrades and realize the potential you have as an athlete, that desire to learn and experience more will probably grow.
Pursuing curiosity can become a self-perpetuating cycle, and it can directly counteract waning motivation. Again, a lack of drive occasionally is natural. There’s not anything wrong with feeling less interested in training sometimes. But, by examining the possible causes of your motivational dip, with a curious and open mind, you can likely reinvigorate your desire to get out the door.
By Darcie Murphy,
CTS Ultrarunning Senior Coach