For those of you who don’t know, Ed Whitlock was one of the most impressive runners in the past few decades. Despite finishing far back in the pack, he obliterated age-group records by running under three hours in the marathon at age 73 with a phenomenal 2:54:49, and still ran under four hours at age 85. Sadly, he passed away yesterday after fighting prostate cancer.

There are many, many memorials that are written about him, and since I never met him, I can only urge you to read what other people have said if you are interested. But in reading The Morning Shakeout by esteemed coach Mario Fraioli this morning, I came across some very interesting quotes from Ed that really appealed to me.

I like racing and setting world records, but I find training is a bit of a drudge, from this interview after his 3:56 marathon at age 85.

If somehow or other, I could race well without doing any training, that would be ideal. I find this training a bit of a drudge really. I don’t suffer from runner’s highs in training and that kind of thing. It’s all a bit of a chore, really, but I have to [put in a lot of time running] if I want to run well. He said this to Runner’s World after his 1:50:47 half marathon, again at age 85.

 I don’t particularly enjoy this daily drudge, it’s something that has to be done if you want to run well. I suppose it’s the sense of satisfaction to be able to keep going for one thing. And to run well, for another (reason). I suppose I’m results-oriented, I’m mainly running for certain times in races, setting records, that sort of thing is what gives me my satisfaction I guess. And I find for me the more running I do the better I’ll race. That’s the incentive. Ed admitted this several years ago.

To me, these quotes describe the very essence of distance running, or really any endeavor that requires lots of time and effort. Very few competitive runners enjoy every moment of training. Of course, most of us run because we enjoy it, but once you set a goal and start a plan, your training no longer depends on your mood. If it’s cold and rainy and miserable outside, but you have a 20-mile long run scheduled, even the most motivated and dedicated racers will entertain the idea of not running. 

The difference is that the truly successful runners banish those thoughts and put in the work, despite the weather, or their mood, or an invitation to a happy hour the night before. I will be the first to admit, that many times, I do not enjoy putting in the miles, especially in the thick of marathon training where everything is layered under a haze of chronic fatigue. But I still go out there and put in the work, because I want to achieve my goals more than I want to take a day off. The end result is more important to me than the day-to-day ebbs and flows of motivation. The trick is to keep that goal in mind and remind yourself of how bad you want it. 

As you progress through your training, you too will undoubtedly encounter periods of low motivation, or fatigue, or ask yourself if it’s really worth it. It’s just another aspect of training that many people fail to recognize. Convincing yourself that the daily grind is worth it, and that the end result is more important, is a key component of training.

There are various tricks and methods you can employ to keep yourself motivated during these times, such as making a training goal. For instance, your performance goal could be to qualify for Boston. In order to keep yourself on track, you could then have a weekly mileage goal, or to run at least 5 days a week. Hitting these little, interim goals will give you a confidence boost and help you stay motivated. Realizing that the mental aspect of training and the persistence needed to perform at a high level will do wonders for your performances. As Ed Whitlock demonstrated, running around a cemetery for hours every day, while not exciting, resulted in his incredible performances. We can learn a lot from him.

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