Running From The Inside Out

AJW's TaproomOver the past few weeks, I have had dozens of conversations with runners about their plans for the year. This annual winter ritual always succeeds in getting me excited for the coming year as it is a time filled with dreams and hope. This particular year, however, I have been struck by how many people with whom I’ve spoken seem to be focused on external rewards. Whether having been selected in a highly competitive lottery or taking the plunge to a first 100 miler, it seems that more than a few of the people I’ve spoken with are focused on that which is outside.

This is, of course, quite fine with me and something that I can completely understand. The lure of the silver belt buckle and the first 100-mile finisher’s medal has been a part of the sport for decades. However, for me, especially as I have spent more and more time in the sport, I find increasing motivation in intrinsic rewards. I increasingly find myself more driven by those parts of running that are on the inside and only visible to me. In fact, the more I evolve as a runner, this notion of running from the inside out resonates with me.

I initially came to this sport as many others have. I wanted to lose a little weight, stay fit, and get outside. After a little while, I learned about proper training and ultimately racing. And for me, along this journey, I learned that the longer the race, the better. The process and the product in those early years were inseparable to me as each year built on the last and my desire for self-improvement became almost an addiction. After a decade or so, however, I came to realize that running gave me so much more. In addition to satisfaction and confidence, running also built up in me something on the inside that deserved tending, that inner peace that only comes from running from the inside out.

Along with many others, I too have assembled a plan for my year. It is full of fun events, long training weekends, and occasional road trips. It has me heading to places where I’ve never been and facing a challenge or two I have never faced. Yet, in contrast to those years gone by, this year I am motivated by what’s on the inside. This year I am inspired by what I feel in my body, heart, and possibly  my soul. And, while I don’t exactly know what that means, I do know that in these early days of the year, when I am slowly accruing the miles and the frequency to become fit again, each time I head out for a run the dialogue with myself gets louder, more complex, and even deeper.

And so, friends, in these early dawn days of the new year, whether your goals are external for all to see or inside and yours alone, I urge you to take the time and make the space to listen hard to your insides. Feel those voices that rise up as you pound out the miles and maybe, just maybe, along with the essential satisfaction of being a runner, you may also find that something more that not only makes running what we do but also who we are.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

DuClaw Brewing Company Dirty Little Freak Coconut Caramel Chocolate AleThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from DuClaw Brewing Company in Baltimore, Maryland. A friend of mine tipped me off to their Dirty Little Freak Coconut Caramel Chocolate Ale, which is an amazing new take on a classic American Brown Ale. Its warm toasty flavors are tempered with just the right amount of hops. So rich, in fact, that I was tempted to drink it with a spoon!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What are your major motivations for running and/or racing?
  • From where do those motivations originate? Do external drivers compel you forward? Internal goals? A combination of both?

There are 11 comments

  1. Rich

    To be fair, your experience of what you hear may be related to the difference between extroverts and introverts, and it is the voices of extroverts with external motivations that you are likely to disproportionately encounter. It might be that those of us driven mainly by intrinsic factors, where you now find yourself, are simply quiet about our motivations and goals because these are inherently personal.

  2. Markus

    “The lure of the silver belt buckle and the first 100-mile finisher’s medal has been a part of the sport for decades.”

    I doubt that. This seems to be more a new thing on social media in the last couple of years.

    “I have been struck by how many people with whom I’ve spoken seem to be focused on external rewards.”
    That makes sense too, because the runners who just run for themselves don’t make a big fuss about it.

  3. Luke

    Can intrinsic rewards include setting tangible, measureable and necessarily external goals? Surely there’s a difference between wanted to push yourself to a silver buckle because of what it means to you and wanting a silver buckle so you can get strava kudos and instagram followers.

    1. Cary

      I was thinking the same thing. Internal and external motivation is not black and white. My desire to improve at this sport is important to me not because I receive external validation but rather because I want to be the best I can be. Still, performance is measurable by time, place and sense of accomplishment.

  4. Andy M

    Beautiful and timely piece, Andy.

    The commenters above seem to interpret your reference to “external rewards” as being extrinsic or socially driven, whereas I see them as still very personal, just more goal-oriented and measureable.

    The distinction, to me, seems to be more about process vs. outcome. The PRs and buckles are nice but, for many of us (especially as we age and PRs are highly unlikely!), it’s the heart and soul (and joy) of “heading to places where I’ve never been and facing a challenge or two I have never faced” that motivates us. Hell, I don’t even have anything beyond a 50k — in a place I’ve never been — on my schedule right now! But as the season evolves I will surely seek out running experiences that, like yours, are driven more from the inside than out.

    1. Rich

      Intrinsic rewards can still be very much goal-oriented and measurable, otherwise there would be little reason taking part in a race. Being introverted and intrinsically motivated does not necessarily mean not wanting to be competitive :) Besides the excuse to be in the mountains, I love the pure focus that a hard race requires both in terms of all of the training and the race itself, and though I am a 50+ yr old athlete I am still aiming for top 5%. Success for me is if I felt I hit the flow, and that is very much an intrinsic reward.

      Good to luck to all in your goals for 2017!

  5. John Vanderpot

    Wait, you’re supposed to care about the buckles? Now you tell me! I knew I was doing something wrong, no wonder all my friends always laugh at me!

    Happy New Year,


  6. buddy teaster

    I look forward every week to this column. I write a weekly post for Soles4Souls and it makes reflect, assess and think in ways that only come from actually putting the sentences on the page. I wish I could do it as well as AJW. hell, i wish i could run like he does as well!

  7. CR Cook

    “The bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain…to see what he could see…”

    What drives me is to see what I can see once I get over to “the other side of the mountain.” Sometimes, it IS just the other side, but more often, it is so, so much more.

    Best wishes and good health to all in 2017!! “Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars…” (C. Kasem).

  8. Camas

    Maybe its just that “intrinsic” rewards or goals are strictly personal and its easier to talk about “extrinsic” or external motivations in a social setting.

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