As an engineer, I spend a lot of time each day figuring out what's correct in everything from the big picture down to the smallest details. Usually that perfectionist mindset overlaps into other parts of life, and I often find myself going out for my evening run trying to pick out exactly what I should be doing. More climbing or fireroad or maybe more singletrack? What race do I want to do next? Each choice gives and takes a certain amount of effort and rewards (both ways for each). If I signup for a certain race, do I run the singletrack for my love of technical terrain, or do I get on the fireroad to up my turnover a bit, or do I hammer a climb a few times over to put some power in my stride and exhaust my craving for accomplishment. As varied as these detailed questions are, just like in engineering, they have an answer that flows from a basic theory.
I’m going to speak to a running group tonight (Thursday night) about what has worked for me in ultra running, and after thinking about it and weighing various opinions I’ve come to a basic theory:
Maintaining the balance between competition, intrinsic motivation and hard work is paramount.
When a runner hits their first 100 mile week in training, they’re working harder than they’ve ever worked in their career, however there’s also a strong level of intrinsic motivation present to achieve their goal of hitting triple digits. As they run their body ragged, their intrinsic motivation is fueled by competition and pride in themselves. So a cycle perpetuates: competition and goals turning intrinsic motivation into hard work, and the accomplishments of the hard work becoming a point of pride and fueling intrinsic motivation along side with competition. Why does this specific idea work for me though?
Competition is a catalyst for me, that enables a strong internal motivation that keeps my mind engaged on the goal regardless of the setbacks on the day. It enables me to put out the hard work necessary to compete at my highest level. When I really want to be the best, it doesn't matter if every plan is shot (or how many times I puke in the first miles, note: AC '11), I keep moving through the challenge and work hard with little inhibition. When I really want to run with the best, the creativity necessary to achieve flows naturally, and I don't even realize how hard I'm working.
-Competing with myself, Climbing Plummer Meadows
I've had times that competition has overwhelmed me, but I've come to learn as with most everything in life, you practice like you race (practice becomes habit which becomes nature). My training has come full circle with this, and this year I got better and better at pulling out harder weeks that made me stronger and faster.
My definition of hard work is doing what I'm weak at until I excel at it. This January I probably wasn't even half the climber I am today. But I was resolute in my training that I had to improve because I wanted to be a better competitor. I woke up many times feeling every ache and pain and wondering if it was really necessary to get in another 2k climbing, but my goals were well set, and my pride in my running was fueled by a competitive drive to be my best. Nothing was easy, but it happened week in week out for months.
Could I have enjoyed the year ignoring competition and just running for social or recreational reasons? Yes. Could I have performed pretty well? Yes. But, those that know me, know that I prefer to strongly engage life's challenges, and running is no different. Competition is the engagement of the activity and the adventure of development. We can side step the issue for as long as we want, but the said relationship remains. Our response is our definition.
-The strong intrinsic motivation in trail running, Vivian Creek Trail
Intrinsic motivation to me is wanting to be no where else in the world, but where I am, running hard. When things hurt the most and my mind wanders towards thoughts of comfy restraunts with cold cokes and juicy burgers, I re-evaluate why I do things. Is it for fun? Is it for pride? Is it for others? Ultimately it's for myself and who I want to be at the end of the day.
In preparing for races I pick out points that I know on the course when I'm going to be in a lot of pain, and focus on that moment as defining. I think for awhile about who I really am, and what qualities I really do have. The defining moment in a race always answers that question clearly and resolutely. Chicken or Hero? What's it going to be? The answer is always personal: my intrinsic motivation fuels my competition and hard work puts me where I want to be in life, and helps me achieve my own unique personal happiness.
So to tie it all together, each idea of hard work, competition, and intrinsic motivation relies on and serves each other. When you find your own personal balance of these, you can reach your very limits of your potential.. Which they say is 20 times what you think you can do right now..
Recap Aug 15-21
I was a bit sick, still recovering from a sore throat and cough, but got in a few miles and climbed a bit, a ton of fun on Saturday at Gorgonio and a PR Sunday at Eaton Cyn. After Bulldog on Saturday and Mt. Baldy next monday I'll up my mileage a bit more to the 100 mpw range hopefully
6mi, 700ft, :48 - Deer Canyon, sidewinder
5mi, 1250ft, :42 - Treadmill .5mi @ 5%, 2 mi @ 11% 9:40, 2.5 mi CD
6mi, 800ft, :60 - Deer Park and Sidewinder ST
9mi, 2100ft, :82 - Temescal Singletrack coyotes
5mi, 1000ft, :45 - Good 9:40-9:00 2mi on treadmill at 11-15%
24mi, 6900ft, 9:30 - San Gorgonio. Hiked a bit, ran a bit, re-acclimated, took lots of pics, pretty technical terrain, feet got sore
9mi, 2200ft, :84 - Eaton-Henninger in new PR 35:10 for 3.6 mi, 1600ft
Also, the biggest mountain 100 ever is going down in a few hours in France/Italy/Switzerland UTMB!!!. Check out this preview, it's pretty spot on, but there's some more wild cards it forgot..
Owen - I believe
Great write-up Dom! Very inspirational/motivational. Makes me want to focus on climbing so next year I can conquer Pikes Peak. Keep up the great work--even in your recovery/sick weeks.
Thanks Jack, I have a hard time effectively conveying these ideas, but I hope it inspired a little at the very least. I swear I'm a normal guy :)
I do not keep any written record of mileage or anything like that but when I am healthy my goal is just to get in at least 25-35 thousand feet of gain a week. Usually that is done around 80-110 miles per week. It is easy to get that much climbing when running 130+ miles a week but the goals for me is to get as much gain in as little mileage as possible (I have a family and a job afterall).
I would also like to add that I suck at running so really I do not think anyone cares about what I do.
Dominic... Bulldog this year was my first 50k. I was pretty excited when I saw a runner of your caliber there at the start (and Jorge as well). It was great to read your thoughts leading up to the race, and know that even a 100-mile winner viewed the course as a challenge. Since I am trying to work my way up in speed and mileage and I train in a lot of the same places as you, I will be paying attention to your blog and maybe it'll help me out some along the way. I'll likely never win one of these things, but I'm hoping to be somewhat competitive at the masters level when I reach it in two years.
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