How Do You Get Your Running Motivation Back?

running motivation

Photo: Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan Chandler/US Navy

As a runner, sometimes you can’t wait for motivation to strike, as I learned after a nearly month-long illness. Sometimes, you have to chase after lost running motivation until you wrestle it back.

It was a long, cold winter here in New York City and many northern swaths of the U.S. Then spring came, and it stayed cold. In the throes of all that chilliness, I had a cold that knocked me out for three full weeks. Plagued by a cough that I couldn’t shake and a debilitating level of tiredness, I took those three full weeks off from running.

But when I was finally healthy and ready to get back to it, I had a problem: my running motivation was completely lost.

Before I got sick, I’d been riding a winter high. I was two weeks into a 12-week half-marathon training program for the UnitedHealthcare Providence Half Marathon and feeling like I was just beginning to hit my stride. I’d started biking again as my cross training in anticipation of a summer triathlon, and was logging my fastest training rides ever. I was lifting weights again and feeling stronger in my legs than I have in recent memory. I was feeling good, feeling motivated, and feeling invigorated.

running motivation

Photo: Lance Cpl. Jason Hernandez/US Marine Corps

Three weeks later, I was at the opposite end of the motivation spectrum: feeling weak, feeling depleted and feeling demoralized.

Normally after an extended break, I’d be raring to go—my muscles twitching with anticipation. But the problem was, I knew that running would be difficult after three weeks away. That my previously cough-plagued lungs wouldn’t be used to such hard work, that my legs would likely be weak, and I’d finish the run more tired than I started. I knew that, even in the nascent days of spring, it was still cold outside. And I knew that I’d feel demoralized by the fitness I lost over those three weeks.

But thankfully, I also knew this: it would only take a run or two to work out the kinks before my body remembered what it’s supposed to do. I knew that if I felt bad after not running for three weeks, I’d feel even worse after not running for four. And I knew that I had my first half-marathon of the year in just under eight weeks.

A few years ago, I wrote about lost motivation when going through a similar bout of the blahs. I’d guessed that my motivation was like a lost dog—it had gone for a run without me and I had to go out and find it.

But this time, I knew my motivation wasn’t out running. It was lying in bed with all the shades drawn and the covers pulled up to its chin.

But motivation or no motivation, I decided to go for a run. Sometimes you can’t wait to be motivated. You can’t wait to be inspired. You have to jump-start the spark yourself.

running motivation

Photo: Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan Chandler/US Navy

So 24 days after my last run, I laced up my sneakers and hit the treadmill. I lasted 3.35 miles at an “easy” pace. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t enjoyable. Three days later, I pulled on my running tuque and tights and hit the road. This time I lasted 7 miles. My legs were sore and the run was as hard as I expected. I wanted to be able to run much faster than I had. But it was also sunny, if not warm, and it reminded me that working hard often feels good.

But the next time I ran, something magical happened. My legs locked into stride, my lungs hummed along, and running felt thrilling again. It felt easy. I felt like I could have run forever. I was back, and my motivation was running alongside me instead of lying in bed.

My experience had told me that the first two runs would be dreadful—and they were—but also that after that my body would remember what it was doing before long.

Amazingly, it did.

Every run since has felt like I was never away, like I never took those days off, like I was never sick at all. It’s a lesson I’m going to hold close to my heart.

The next time I’m suffering a crisis of motivation, I’m going to read this post and this one, and remember that while I might be feeling lackluster in the inspiration department, another invigorating workout is just a run or two away.

How do I get my running motivation back? I drag it out of bed and out for a run.

How do you get your running motivation back when it’s lost?

Karla Bruning is host of On The Run, New York Road Runners’ web show about running. She has completed six marathons, two triathlons and trains with the New York Harriers. Follow Karla’s “Notes From a Running Nerd” at, Facebook and Twitter@KBruning.

Karla Bruning


Karla Bruning is a regular contributor to, the host of NYRR's On The Run web + TV show, and a race announcer at events like the TCS New York City Marathon. She used to report for Newsweek but spent her free time squeezing in workouts. Now she freelances as a running reporter. She's run 7 marathons, 20 halves, 6 triathlons, sings in an '80s cover band, spoils her dog + travels compulsively.

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04 2013

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