When Apathy Strikes

While training for a marathon, there is little doubt that you will encounter a few obstacles. Injury, schedule, weather, family issues, work … the list seems endless. However, there is one obstacle that stands out as the worst – apathy. Not only can it be incredibly hard to overcome, it is also very subversive and often creeps out of other issues.

Here is how apathy can happen. You are training like a beast for several weeks. You have yourself in the habit of waking up early every day and knocking out your workout. Everything is going great. Suddenly, you incur an injury that causes you to lay low for a week. While you are not running, you are reminded about how nice it feels stay up later and sleep in. You do not check your running schedule and stop thinking about what you were supposed to do tomorrow. You stop thinking as much about running in general. After a few days, your injury starts to feel better and by the end of the week it is healed. However, by this time you have had a taste of how nice ‘normal’ life actually was. You ask yourself why the race was even important. Who really cares about it? Why did I even sign up for it? Maybe I should just go back to running when I feel like it and enjoying a normal life again. I could always just sign up for another race later on. At this point, your passion is gone and your race is in jeopardy.

Not only is apathy hard to avoid, once it hits, it is extremely hard to overcome. I would not be surprised at all if it was the most common reason why the letters ‘DNS’ (Did Not Start) appear in the results of races.

How do you regain your motivation when reminding yourself of why you are doing the race is not be enough? What I have found is that I need a ‘spark’ to reignite the fire. This spark can actually come from a variety of sources. It might be a certain movie, book or even a song. It could be a personal challenge. Going out for a run might even do the trick. Whatever it might be, the key is to find it as soon as possible.

I was recently bit by the apathy bug while marathon training. I had completed the first nine weeks without missing a single workout and was easily running all of the paces faster than suggested. My confidence was soaring and I was even having fun. Then, just as I approached the peak of the schedule, a loss in my wife’s family required me to leave town for several days. While away, my family and I were staying up late and I was preoccupied during the day. I had packed my running gear but had trouble finding any safe places to run. Instead, I just opted to put training aside for a few days. I ended up missing three workouts. I actually did run one day but it was only half the planned distance.

When I returned home, the importance of the race had diminished. I still managed to pickup where I left off although it was no longer fun. Each workout felt more like daily chore but I kept waking up early and doing the workouts. After a few days, it felt like my mojo was slowly returning.

Two weeks later, my family and I went to Colorado for five days. The drive was over 14 hours so running on travel days was simply out of the question. This left only three days in which I could run. The first morning, I managed to squeeze in an out-and-back 6 mile run which was supposed to be 12 but I simply did not have enough time. The next two days was a whirlwind of activities but I was able to get in a 3 mile run in the dark the night before we drove back home. This was supposed to be the first peak week of training but I only did half of the workouts.

We drove home on Sunday and arrived back in Minneapolis late in the evening. I was exhausted so I slept in and skipped the Monday workout. By Tuesday, my interest in the race was almost entirely gone. I thought to myself that the sole reason for doing this race was to qualify for Boston again. Why? I had already finished Boston and had a great experience. What is the point of doing it again? There was a long list of things that I could be doing which seemed more interesting like bike racing at the velodrome or joining Masters Swimming or simply riding bike to work. All of these had been put aside because of training. I was seriously thinking about just saying the hell with it.

I tried to remind myself of my primary motivation. Animals. Completing Boston twice would be an example of what you can do without consuming animal products. Unfortunately, I can also do this through other activities like cycling or swimming. I needed to find motivation that was specific to running.

Then, out of nowhere, I found a spark. I noticed on my Strava profile that I was ahead of schedule for running 2000 miles this year. Just for kicks, I whipped up an Excel spreadsheet which calculated how many miles I would need to run each day for the rest of the year to hit 2000. Seeing this number suddenly made me want to get out and run. I really wanted to see this number go down and the only way was to rack up miles. Just like that, I had a new personal challenge and my motivation was back.

It was a close call but, fortunately, luck was on my side. I am back to training with even more zeal than before and I now have TWO running goals: complete the Dick Beardsley Marathon AND rack up 2000 miles of running in 2017.