We’ve all had those days when we’d rather not lace up our running shoes and head out the door. Here’s how three runners stay at the top of their motivation games when life—at every stage—threatens
to get in the way.
22, Costa Mesa, Calif.
Jessica Sams’ running career began in middle school in preparation for soccer season. “Once I started running, it became apparent that I was a lot better at running than I was at soccer!” she says. She went on to join the track-and-field and cross-country teams at the University of Utah.
How She Stays Motivated
“When I was in college, it was easier to prioritize running because it essentially was my job,” Sams says. “But being a runner turned into so much more than running.” College athletics motivated her to eat better and train smarter.
That same drive to maintain healthy habits is what keeps Sams running without a coach’s reminders. Her college training schedule was demanding, so after graduating she realized that she can cut runs short, change plans or choose to rest rather than push past her limits.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love to run—love, love, love it,” Sams says. “But I’m in a new era of running in my life where I am not running to chase a time or a goal. I am just running for me.”
Sams says the hardest thing about running after college is not having teammates to train alongside. “I loved the social aspect that running provided,” she says. “For now, I am enjoying not being set to a running schedule or group. When I am ready to amp up my training again, then I will find a local running group to join.”
31, Arlington, Va.
Heather Caplan ran her first half marathon as a senior in college. When she moved to Washington, D.C., after graduation, “running quickly became a way to form my community and challenge myself to succeed on my own terms outside of work and other expected life milestones,” she says.
How She Prioritizes Running
“I do it first thing in the morning, which is how I know I’ll get it in,” Caplan, who is also a new mom, says. She works with a running coach, which she says helps take the “mental energy” out of getting out the door and ensures she stays safe postpartum. “Having someone else provide a schedule for me is helpful both so I reduce my risk of injury getting back into the sport after delivering my first kid, but also so that I wake up and know what’s on deck for the day.”
Caplan often sets goals for her running so she has something to work toward. “That said, I’ve had a lot of phases where I don’t feel like training for a goal and, rather, enjoy tuning in to how running feels and letting it be an outlet for stress and a conduit for creativity,” she adds.
Adjusting to life as a mom is important for Caplan’s current routine. “I know that running in the morning before my partner goes to work is my prime window,” she says. “At the end of the day, I’m usually trying to fit in some work—as a freelancer, my hours aren’t ‘normal’—and I also look forward to that time that we’re together as a family.”
44, Choctaw, Okla.
Marie Wreath started running when a family member convinced her to train for a triathlon. “I couldn’t believe how fun it was and ran a Zombie 5K almost immediately, my first half marathon the next spring, then my first full marathon at age 40,” she says. “I was hooked!”
How She Prioritizes Running
Wreath says that early on, running provided an emotional release and helped her connect with her daughter, who ran on her high school cross-country team. Over time, the routine has helped her grow stronger and healthier—she owns a farm in Oklahoma, which can be physically and mentally demanding.
“Running gives me more energy to do my farm chores and housework,” she says. “I always felt sluggish and a bit aimless before. Now I can stay on my feet all day and all evening.”
Wreath runs between 35 and 50 miles a week, usually in the morning. She says the way she thinks and feels after a run keeps her committed to her routine. Marathon training also helps her stay motivated to reach a goal. She and her husband have mutually agreed on a training schedule that fits with their lifestyle.
“I just do it every morning like clockwork,” she says. “It’s how I feel my best, simple as that. The rest of our life is much better when I run.”
Tips To Find (And Keep) Your Motivation
- Be prepared. Wreath recommends keeping extra gear on hand so dirty laundry or wet shoes don’t prevent you from getting your run in.
- Set a goal. Sams believes having a race or event on the calendar helps hold runners accountable. “It helps so much on those days where it is really hard to wake yourself up and get out the door,” she says.
- Join a group. In addition to accountability, a group “makes those long runs more enjoyable, having people to chat with,” Sams says. Try local running clubs or look for runners near you on Strava or RunKeeper.
- Find training partners who can relate. Caplan attends a baby-friendly workout group twice a week. “I don’t have to worry about childcare!” she says.
- Coordinate schedules. If you have a significant other and/or kids, getting out the door can feel impossible. “Decide how many days per week it’s realistic for you to run, and come up with a plan that you and your partner agree on,” Caplan says.
- Choose your words carefully. “Talk about running as a casual, assumed and easy part of life,” Wreath says. “Never say, ‘I have to run.’”
- Be patient. Especially for new moms, Caplan notes it’s important to manage expectations. “I’m not as ‘fast’ as I used to be, but I feel like I’m getting there,” she says. “I’m noticing progress, and that feels good.”
- Don’t take it so seriously. “If you want to cut out the miles, cut out the miles,” Sams says. “If you want to take an unexpected off day, take that off day. As long as you still love running, then you’re doing it right.”