Discipline And Accountability: The Ultrarunner’s Conundrum

AJWs TaproomAs I begin my preparations for the Hardrock 100 next July, I am spending quite a bit of time taking stock of my approach and my goals. As I have done for years, I often use this time of year to look back and forward with both a sense of nostalgia and hope. This year, in particular, I find myself focusing in on discipline and accountability–that which I call the ultrarunner’s conundrum.

Ultrarunners the world over know the importance of discipline. In order to succeed in this endeavor, it is essential to take a disciplined approach in just about everything we do. Our training, diet, sleep, and mindset all require tremendous rigor and focus that may not be necessary in the rest of our daily lives. At times that discipline can be exhausting, at other times invigorating. Often, the delicate balance between the two is what keeps us sane.

Of course, we are human after all and at times motivation wanes, perhaps we fall off the wagon or even descend into a bit of despair over our lack of discipline. It is in those moments, those times of doubt or fear, that we ultrarunners who are so often internally focused need help and support from external forces. In essence, in those times of challenge, we benefit most desperately from external accountability.

For some of us we can get that from a friend or spouse. Perhaps a coach, personal trainer, or running-store clerk can give us the nudge we really need. In the end it really doesn’t matter who but what. So many people unfamiliar with our sport often see us as rugged, stoic individuals. Toughened up by years on the trail, confident on ourselves and our abilities, and literally brimming with hope and life. And indeed, it’s often true, many of us are such people.

But years of focused discipline and rigor can also wear us down and make us long for something or someone else to keep us in line. Someone or something else to give us support. Someone or something else to, quite literally, keep us whole. For those of us who juggle the ultrarunner’s conundrum, it is important that we always know the difference between wanting and needing. The best of us are willing to accept both.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Stone Brewing Company Enjoy By 12.25.15This week’s Beer of the Week is another winner from Stone Brewing Company in San Diego, California. Long a Taproom favorite, the Enjoy By series rarely disappoints. This season’s Enjoy By 12.25.15 is particularly good. Strong enough to leave a mark and yet mellow enough to savor after a nice long workout, this year’s Christmas Enjoy By is well worth the price!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Does your discipline and internal accountability sometimes wane, requiring someone or something external to keep you going? If so, when was the last time this happened and do you remember why?
  • When you feel unable to discipline yourself into a particular run or routine, do you find the causes to be warranted–as in a break is needed for mental and/or physical restoration–or do you find it based in something less rational?

There are 11 comments

  1. Carsonaceae

    So then how do you drink all that beer and still manage to wake up in the morning? How much beer do you really drink, and do you think it affects your training and overall accountability and discipline?

    Just something I've always wondered, and the topic of the post let me ask it finally.

    1. soonerred

      Agree. Am I the only one who experiences only the negative effects of beer? Can't drink it and train hard. Even after a long run it just doesn't sit well with me. I love beer but feel like I'm the only one that honestly can't have it as part of any sort of training.

      1. Carsonaceae

        You're definitely not the only one. Just one beer at night can be enough to cause me to sleep in, wake up in a fog, or feel off. I love beer though but find it hard to enjoy it while focusing on a long term goal related to running.

      2. soonerred

        Not to mention, what is the odd fascination with runners and craft beer? Why not craft coffee? To me beer is the last beverage I could see enjoying after a long run. I just notice that there is a lot of this going on. I enjoy craft beer but the ultra community has a strange engagement with beer. If it's for you then hell yes more power to ya.

    2. ajoneswilkins

      Carsonaceae, With respect to my own beer consumption I mainly stay disciplined by counting calories. I try to limit myself to 600 calories a day of beer, as an average, some days a little more some days a little less. When I am in the final stages of training for a big race I tend to drink less and times like the holidays perhaps a little more but 600 calories is typically my goal and that is out of a 2300 calories daily diet.

      1. Carsonaceae

        Well that makes more sense! after watching your videos it always seems like throwing back a sixer of Sierra pale is a pretty regular routine.

        I'm not surprised that you have to maintain that discipline. I do wonder how you fuel yourself with only about 1700 calories (minus the 600 for beer) per day. I live in Wisconsin and eat a lot of cheese unfortunately.

  2. dietermindt

    Having had that lucky ticket for Silverton pulled as well, the inspiration to begin the hard work comes, for me, from watching my 13 year old daughter prepare to dance the Nutcracker for her 8th time. The long hours in the studio, pilates and yoga classes, working on the minutia of technique, a well-ordered diet; all culminating in the celebration of being on a big stage performing, struggling through difficult choreography with a smile on her face, seeing the pride in her success whether she hits the steps or not. It is easy to extract the determination I will need from her pursuits and I hope she will be in the audience in Silverton just as I will be the first to give her that standing ovation tonight in her theatre!

  3. @Strongerrunner

    Everyone is definitely different as far as whether they are intrinsically or extrinsically motivated. I have always felt that discipline and accountability are part of the game. When my discipline is lacking it usually is linked to needing to cut it back a bit. Loving to run helps. Great post, keep up the good work. GO Hardrock!

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