These are great motivation pieces written by a great runner, Eric Grossman. I had to copy these from Running Times just for my own record in case this is ever removed from the site. LOVE IT! You can find it by clicking here or just read below.
On a warm spring afternoon in 1987, Sue and I were splayed across the bed in her dorm room, listening to The Eagles' greatest hits. She was trying to work. She gripped her pencil tightly, annotating the margins of her book, fighting to keep her attention fixed. I lay on my back, one leg crossed over the other, thumbing through the pages of my book. I was more interested in Sue than in my work. When I had gleaned what I needed from my reading I put the book down and pestered her. It didn't take long to distract her away from her toils. Her study sessions looked to me like open combat — an effort to willfully execute a despised command. I knew she would be up late, feeling guilty for having procrastinated, forcing herself to stay awake to continue her work. She was in difficult pre-med courses, but wondered aloud why I wasn't, considering that the work seemed to come so easily to me.
Sue ran track with the same intensity. It was always a struggle. She literally gritted her teeth through hard intervals. After practice, she'd be worn out. It'd be 5:30 p.m. and time to eat and she'd crash for a short nap. I warned her to no avail that napping would keep her from falling asleep at bedtime. Sue beat herself up for a lot of things. She'd eat tiny portions at mealtime, wanting to keep her weight down, and then scarf a pint of Ben & Jerry's before bed. She occasionally raged at me for making everything look easy. I don't remember if I understood this then, but I've gradually realized that I make things look easy because I've made a science of anticipating what I can and can't do.
Dan Challener, the men's distance coach, told us to run 20 minutes and meet him at the track. Brown's stadium is a 10-minute jog from campus, so we looped through the affluent neighborhoods on the hill just north of downtown Providence. We knew the workout would be different. We were left wondering what we were in for.
Head coach Bob Rothenberg (Berg) was there, along with Dan. He told us we would run the measured two-mile course on the road, finishing at the stadium, and, without pausing, we were to run a mile hard on the track. He told me, along with some teammates including our captain, Fergal Mullen, to run the two miles at 5:40 per mile pace and then the track mile at 4:45. We were to repeat this twice more, without pausing in between.
I told our coaches that I wasn't sure we could do that. Berg looked at the ground and gave me a well-worn shake of the head. Dan stared at me, his agitation visible. I knew what they wanted, and Fergal was quick to give it to them. "Ah, we can do that! Come on, guys, let's be positive!"
We hadn't done a workout like that before. We'd certainly done mile repeats, though, and doing a set of 4:45 miles was a tough effort. We'd also done plenty of tempo runs, and 5:40 pace was close to threshold. We were getting pretty fit, but I was apprehensive. The guys were starting to bounce, stretch or do strides. They may actually have thought that believing they could do it was enough. Or maybe they thought that whatever coach said they could do, they could do. Or maybe they just didn't think deeply about it. Most likely, I suppose, they had learned that expressing a "can do" attitude worked in getting along with other people. I took the task at face value and tried to get my head around it. It made my heart beat harder and my hands turn clammy.
I wanted to nail that tempo pace and maximize my running economy. It would devastate our chances to finish if we got carried away from the beginning. When we started, we stayed bunched together. When I stuck behind one of the guys, I could lower my arm just a bit so that it would swing just under his. My gait was low and quiet. We hummed through the splits right on pace. When we transitioned to the track, I kept in mind that the acceleration wouldn't feel so abrupt coming off the 5:40 pace. Starting an interval from a standstill gives the body a jolt that takes a little while to accommodate. Shifting gears, as we did in this workout, actually made the first mile interval feel comparatively easy.
We were doing the work, though, and it started to show on the second two miles on the road. The guys were having some trouble keeping pace. I clocked off the splits like a metronome, barely deviating even for the slight inclines. By the time we were back on the track the guys were starting to string out behind me. I nailed the second one-mile interval on the track. I transitioned slowly to try and let the other guys catch up for the final two miles on the road. They were coming apart. I went on to complete the workout as prescribed.
The surest path to a struggle, and an apparent lack of willpower, is to be either thoughtless or wrong about what you can do. I remember a runner named Mike Haggerty from Saint Xavier High School in Louisville. He was two years ahead of me, and I knew he was a fast half-miler, so I watched him during cross country season. He'd bolt to the lead in every race, stay there for up to a mile, and then fade and get passed by any decent runner who went out at a sustainable pace. In some important sense, he just never figured out that he could have run better over 5K if he went out slower. While it may have looked like a lack of motivation (to sustain that early pace), it really was Mike's inaccuracy about his abilities. Conversely, we look like iron-willed heroes when we "talk smack" and get it right. We may fool others, and even ourselves, when we decide to achieve a goal — say a sub-2:30 marathon — and then we just "make it happen." More likely, we accurately predicted that, with proper preparation, we would meet that goal. And we were right.
Motivation doesn't start with an ambitious goal. Once our minds are clear of distractions, the key step is an accurate appraisal of what we can do. I called my own attempt to know myself a science because, like science, this requires objective observation and data. Fortunately for us, every run, workout and race yields plenty of data. Use that data — not your perceptions of what you "could have" done — to guide your goal setting. You'll find it a lot easier to exert your will, meet your goals and stay motivated.
Eric Grossman is a member of the Montrail ultrarunning team. At age 40, Grossman won the 2008 USATF 50-mile national championship. Check back next week for more of Grossman's motivational tips.