How to stay motivated when everything is terrible

six photos of runners with title "How do you stay motivated?"

In an ordinary year, September would find many of us well into our fall training, meeting for group runs and looking forward to races that give us something concrete to strive for. Every runner struggles to find motivation sometimes. It's on these occasions that those external motivators—plans with a running group, or a looming race date--are vital to getting us up and running. These days, of course, everything is different. Group runs, if they happen at all, have to be small and safely distanced; races are almost all virtual, if not canceled outright, and somehow a virtual race just doesn't elicit the same urgency to train. So now, with our most reliable external motivators unavailable and stress at an all-time high, where do we find the drive to keep running?

We asked the coaches of our virtual training program, Fleet Feet Academy, what's motivating them right now. Here’s what they had to say:


Coach Andrew

As an introvert and stay-at-home dad, running has taken on even more importance to me in this time of virtual learning. It's the one time of day when I know I can be alone with my thoughts without needing to be ready for a request for help finding a Google Meet code, a snack, or one of the many other little things that pop up during the day. I'm not an early morning person, much less an early morning runner, but getting my daily fix of exercise and time to myself is important enough that I have changed that about myself for the time being. It's hard to get out of bed at 5:30, but I've learned to appreciate the early morning sounds of bugs and frogs, the slightly-less-oppressive humidity, and the sense of accomplishment that comes with having my workout done by 6:30. It's always easier if you focus on the positives instead of the negatives.

The other source of joy I've had in running this summer is doing a summer streak of running at least a mile every day with my middle son, Zach. It's always one of the best parts of my day, because he almost always says the same thing at the end of each run: "That was fun, Dad." We'll probably stop after we get to Labor Day to focus more on school, but it's been a big part of getting us through this strange summer.


Coach Tedrick

For myself, I think it’s combination of things. First off, I want to avoid the quarantine 15. Being home pretty much all the time makes it easy to snack and before you know it... you have gained weight. I try to watch what I eat but I make myself continue to run in case I have any slip ups. 

Secondly, I want to maintain my fitness level. You spend months getting yourself into race shape and last thing you want to do is relax and lose your edge. It’s also a mindset, I am taking the approach of using 2020 to prepare for awesome race results in 2021. 

Lastly, my health is the ultimate motivator. Covid-19 affects breathing, so it motivates me to keep running to ensure my lungs are strong. 


Coach Stacy

There's no doubt that it's harder to stay motivated to run when we can't run with our regular group of running friends. Here are just a few things that I've done to stay motivated lately:

  1. Set a long term goal. When we officially started virtual fall training through the Fleet Feet Academy I set a goal of a new PR for the half a marathon distance. 
  2. Run for fun! Find a new location to run, take in the views and don't focus on your stats! 
  3. Treat yourself! Set a running goal for yourself and treat yourself once you've reached it. my treats are as simple as coffee from Starbucks if I've reached my intended mileage for the week or a new piece of clothing if I've reached a higher goal related to consistent pacing. 
  4. Find an accountability partner. Even though we can't run in large groups, find a partner that holds you accountable virtually or a small group of one or two partners to run with.


Coach Rachel

I had knee surgery in June and that is a primary motivator for me to be active in doing recovery exercises. I hope to come back stronger and run a marathon and I can't do that if I lose sight of my goals now! I'm also staying active to relieve myself of some stress. We've all got added stressors due to the pandemic from having to work with children at home and help them with school work, having to learn a new way to teach students, the social unrest taking place across the country, and of course a pandemic causing us to stay home in isolation. Cabin fever is so real and is rearing its ugly head! I am trying to consciously make the choice to move, to celebrate my body and what it can do. And while I can't do a lot, I will remind myself that it is capable of so much more than I give it credit and that there are so many who would gladly make the choice to move, if only they could.


Coach Angel

For me running has been the one thing keeping me sane in an otherwise insane world. Until the NC summer kicked into high gear I ran during my lunch hour each day just to get out of my office. It felt absolutely necessary as the only normal thing left during lockdown. And I was so tired. Which shouldn’t have been shocking because I was absolutely overtraining during an already stressful period. 

As much as lack of motivation is a problem, so is over enthusiasm (or was that desperation?). With gyms closed there is the danger of turning to running and really overdoing it. Add mileage methodically. Give yourself some grace during these hottest months of the year, especially if you took some time off. And don’t forget to take time to enjoy the scenery.


Coach Jessica

Staying motivated with no races on the horizon can be tough! Setting small, personal goals has been a huge motivator for me.  Whether it’s running a certain number of miles per month, working to increase my speed, or doing a virtual race, having a goal each month has helped me focus. It has pushed me to lace up my running shoes on days when I might not want to, and I’ve even found myself happily running an extra mile or two on my shorter runs. I know that these small goals are going to help me reach my bigger goals once racing returns, and when it does, I’ll be ready!

If you’re struggling with running alone, I suggest creating a fun playlist that will get you pumped. Music is a must-have when I’m running solo! Try out a new route, and let yourself really enjoy the scenery. Stop for a selfie, and don’t forget to share it on social media! I have been so inspired by the beautiful sunrises, murals, and scenery that other runners have shared. We want to cheer you on (even from afar), and you are motivating us, too!


Coach Stacia

My goal for the new year back in January was to train for a faster half marathon. I spent January, February, and the first weeks of March training hard, and training was going well! I had a lot going on, but I was still making my workouts a priority. I was coaching at Fleet Feet, getting my own runs done in addition, and I was taking a strength class that I could feel was making a positive impact on my running. My goal race was the Tobacco Road Half Marathon on March 15, 2020.

We all know what happened on Thursday, March 12: the world began to shut down and things were cancelling left and right. Including my race.

I still got up and went out to the Tobacco Road race course that Sunday morning. I ran by myself on the course, and I ran it like a race, full out, no stopping, heart pounding, all of that.  I achieved the PR and surpassed my ‘A goal’ time by thirty seconds. I realized that day that I did not need the adrenaline of racers and spectators around me to reach a goal. I realized that it’s the mental game that makes the difference. 

That has stuck with me for the past six months. While races are all on hold as well as our group training programs at Fleet Feet, while gyms remain closed, I keep focusing on the fact that it’s like someone decided to put a pause on all the hecticness of our normal lives. And that during this pause, we can choose to build a stronger version of ourselves for when things get back to a more normal state. Stronger running form, a stronger body that cross trains to become stronger in new ways and different planes, a better diet making us stronger from the inside, and (most importantly, I think) a stronger mental game.


Still not feeling it? Try these 5 mental tricks to keep you motivated!

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