Habits Beat Motivation

Motivation is over rated. You will do better putting effort into creating habits.


Motivation Is Limited


I’m not saying motivation isn’t any good. It is in fact quite powerful. Unfortunately it is finite. We all have so many times we don’t feel motivated. How do we keep working towards our goals when motivation has left us?


Motivation gets us started.

Habit keeps us going.


Inundating yourself with motivational memes can only do so much. Giving 110% each and every day just has me thinking exaggeration is the greatest thing in the whole universe since before forever.


Make running a habit


How Habits Work


Habits are actions which are triggered automatically in response to cues. An example would be putting on your seatbelt when you get into a car. Of note we use something to trigger an action. The trigger can initiate the action independent of conscious thought or even motivation.


There is evidence it takes only 4 days of repetition to begin to create this trigger. Further repetition solidifies the habit and improves the speed or efficiency of this association. Daily repetition has been shown to keep strengthening the automaticity of the habit for about 66 days. That’s right, keep working at it for over 2 months.


The take away is to use motivation to create a trigger and keep repeating it at the beginning. Then the process of habit formation takes over when motivation wears off.


Breaking Bad Habits


But I have other habits. Lazy habits that take over. What about those?


Those lazy habits may be strong. My personal approach is to identify what my triggers are for these habits. My own example is if I lay in bed when my alarm goes off I find my mind goes through a list of reasons about why it is okay to skip today’s training. It happens almost without fail. If I lie back for a few minutes then it becomes easy to justify not training. My solution is to insert an earlier trigger for a positive action. In this case, when my alarm goes off I immediately get up out of bed. That triggers the process of getting ready for training. It tends to eliminate the lazy thoughts that would otherwise go through my head.


Create New Habits


  1. Decide on the action (stretch)
  2. Select the trigger (turn on the tv in the evening)
  3. Use motivation to repeat it daily for beyond 4 days
  4. Keep repeating for 66 days to strengthen the habit (2-3 months)


References / Further Reading


Habits Beat Motivation

Ultra Marathon Training: Block 2 Weeks 5-8

There’s a reason we skip hard training. It is hard.


The past 4 weeks were a re-education for my body on hard training. I started to feel really good after the first couple of weeks. It was okay though, I soon got over it and struggled in the 4th week.



Lessons Learnt


I came out of that first training block with the following lessons:

  1. The more I do VO2max intervals the better they feel. They still don’t feel easier.
  2. Long runs are well off where I want them to be
  3. I skipped most of my strength training
  4. My headspace has a big influence on how my runs go.


The 2 main points of Block 2 are an extension of the same from Block 1:

  1. Increase VO2max
  2. Increase distance of long run

These two will be over laid with a 3rd concept:

Increase over all work capacity


Training Structure


I’ve moved from 8 out to 9 day cycles for training. Mainly because I’m on a different roster cycle for work. It also does work in quite well with what I am trying to achieve. It makes for a simple structure of 1 day hard followed by 2 easy days.

  1. Easy
  2. Easy
  3. VO2max Intervals
  4. Easy
  5. Easy
  6. Long Run
  7. Easy
  8. Easy
  9. Hill Repeats


feet on the track


1. VO2max Intervals


I’ll continue with 1000m intervals at something heading towards 3000m race pace. Starting this block with 6 repeats, I’ll try to add one repeat every 9 days. There is enjoyment in the exactness and repeatability of intervals on the track.


As part of increasing and supporting my VO2max I will continue with the hill repeats. Mixing it up with a different hill each week. There are plenty of options around me.  The outline will be about 2-3 minutes per repeat at a similar effort to the track intervals.


2. Long Runs


While I want to get the speed up, it is more important to build volume at this stage. I’ll throw out set paces. A lot less watch watching. Instead I’ll focus on keeping my running form in check. Something well above the ultra shuffle. I’m hoping if I get the process right the speed will creep in naturally.


3. Strength Training


Instead of skipping most of what I thought were well planned strength sessions, it would be best to at least do something. Out the window is a strict plan. In is a commitment to do 15-30 minutes of strength work most days. It should lead to more work than trying to save it all for a bigger workouts. Most will be at the end of my easy runs.


4. Headspace


Thinking has been getting in the way on my hard runs. Especially the long runs. While great for the planning, too much going on in the head has my brain explain to my body why it shouldn’t keep going. My brain can be very convincing.


When I’m at my best I tend to hit flow state reasonably often. Time to rebuild my skills and practice to better tap into that. A mixture of mind training is now back in the training mix.


Training Balance: Going Fast and Far

I can shuffle out some long distances. The pace won’t get me anywhere near my goals. This brings me to the classic dilemma of most runners:

How do you balance going fast with going far?


Going Fast


My first attempt at 3 x 1000m repeats was a struggle. There wasn’t snap in my stride that I look for at the faster paces. It had been a long time since I really tried to run this fast. The running felt forced. I managed to just get within the pace range I was aiming for. It was the start I should expect.


The next week I wanted to add an extra repeat. As if 1000m repeats at between 3-5km race pace aren’t hard enough, the heat was on this day. 35 degrees Celsius was the highlight of the day. I thought I could handle it by taking the recoveries extra easy.


I couldn’t handle it.


The heat and intensity was overwhelming. All energy seemed to suck out of my body. I was disappointed. Deep down I knew it was a big ask. I struggled through 3 repeats. Each one slower than the previous. The 4th just wasn’t going to happen. To salvage some ego and get a better training stimulus I took a good rest in the shade, poured plenty of water over myself and ran a few angry 200m efforts.

In the 3rd week I felt redeemed. Not being able to finish 4 repeats last time,  why not try for 5?


Five it was. All on target. It is a good feeling being able to do more. Improvement in running is never a straight line.


Going Far


That’s only one part of the going faster challenge. Pushing up my VO2max pace is needed, but it certainly isn’t enough to reach my goals. I need to be able to run long. After all, that is basic concept of ultra marathons. The problem is I’ve given myself the goal of running ultra marathons on the fast side. This is where I am struggling.


What pace should the long run be?


Search the internet and you can find plenty of different guides and formulae to tell you how fast to run the long run. Unfortunately they are often gross generalisations or don’t take your fitness and goals into account. Is there an exact answer?


For myself there isn’t. I see the long run as an ever evolving tool to use. There are many different ways to approach it. It isn’t always just about time on your feet. I can do time on feet at very slow paces for ages. That may work for some goals, but it certainly won’t get me down to 4:27/km or faster for an ultra marathon.


Super slow is also very different to fast running. Slow running takes out the glutes and hamstrings a lot. That leaves those muscles under trained for when you try to race long at faster speeds. The solution appears to be simple. Run faster on the long runs. I wish it was that easy.


Training Balance


How much faster? How far? What’s the cost versus benefit?


To find a starting I point I plugged in some numbers through a variety of resources. Taking in some race times, looking through my Strava history and plugging the numbers into some pace predictors. Shooting back at me was the suggestion my long run pace should be about 5:30/km. It didn’t sound unreasonable. Let’s see if I can hold it for 30km.


Turns out I couldn’t. Not even close. I finished with my tail between my legs at under 27km


Trying for a slower 30km the next week worked a bit better.  I fell right off the pace beyond 27km. A lesson my faster long run pace was a lot slower than I wanted.


This wasn’t working for getting the length of the long run up. Third time around my approach was to focus more on kilometres rather than pace. In fact I ignored my pace. I made sure my stride felt like running and was removed from the slow, ultra marathon shuffle. As an added bonus I go to follow the coast line along the George Bass Coastal Trail for this run. Some slightly tougher terrain than my recent runs, but an awesome location to run. It helped get me through.



The balance point is moving in the right direction. I am getting a little faster. Just small gains over the weeks should add up to some substantial improvement. The difficulty will be in handling sustaining the speeds I want over long distances. When I first set the goal of running further than a marathon at the Wings For Life World Run, I knew it was going to be very challenging. I didn’t appreciate how far away I was when I set the goal.

Let’s see if I can reach it.


Training Balance going far and fast


Ultra Marathon Training: Block 1 Weeks 1-4

It has felt like years since I really trained fast. With ultra marathon training I’d become pretty good at shuffling my way over long distances. I get a lot out of this, but miss the faster running of my earlier years. So I’ve set a goal that should help me find some of that speed again. Some extra detail is in 2018 Running Goals.


Different and bigger goals require a change in approach. The main difference is a regular inclusion of faster running. The fast running won’t work on it’s own. It is only part of a bigger picture. Let’s break it down.


Block 1 is the first of 5 blocks, each of 4 weeks in my lead up to the Wings For Life World Run. An overview can be found in Training Plan Overview 2018: 7 Steps To Setup Your Running.


There are main 2 points in Block 1:

  1. Increase VO2max
  2. Increase distance of long run

Both these points will extend into Block 2. They should set the base for more specific training in the remaining 3 blocks.

keep on running ultra marathon training

1. Increase VO2max


This is the gold standard of aerobic fitness. A higher VO2max means you can do more work or run faster while using oxygen. It filters down to all intensities below it. Heavily determined by which parents you chose, there is still a substantial influence training can make.


There are a multitude of different ways to train to increase your VO2max. These have different effects on other areas of fitness. I will stick to what has been well supported in research and has worked for me in the past. It is a throwback to my university days when I was a lab rat in many exercise studies.


My go to VO2max training session is 4-8 repeats of 3-5 minutes with 3-5 minutes of easy recovery in between each repeat. The intensity of each repeat should be very close to my VO2 max, which will be about 3000m race pace.



2. Increase Distance Of Long Run


To make the Wings For Life World Run an ultra marathon I need to be able to handle running a long way. That calls for some long runs.


I know I can shuffle out some very long distances. However, the pace won’t get me anywhere near my goal. There is a big difference between 7:00/km and under 4:27/km. This means my long run needs to shift up a gear or two.

The struggle will be to find that balance in going faster versus adding distance.


Training Plan


Over the 4 weeks I was working in 8 training cycles. I know this doesn’t fit neatly, but it works for me. My work roster has a lot to do with it. The planned training for each of the 8 days is:Ultra marathon trining week 1 to 4

  1. Easy – likely a run commute to and from work. Anywhere between 4-10km each run at a pace that is comfortable.
  2. Easy – run commute. As per yesterday, but if feeling okay I’ll throw in some short hill repeats in the morning run.
  3. Easy – again likely a run commute between 4-10km. These first three days are about regeneration from the previous week/cycle of training. I want to come out of these three days feeling ready for some hard sessions.
  4. VO2max Intervals – this is my key “get faster” run. Starting with 3 x 1000m repeats with an easy 600m jog in between, I’ll add a repeat each week. The rest of may day is lazy as I will be following up with a night shift at work.
  5. Regeneration – this day is mostly written off as a nothing day. I’ll be sleeping for most of it after a 14 hour night shift. I hope to force myself to get in a few very easy kilometres of running. Sleep is definitely the priority.
  6. Long Run – Starting with 30km I want to add 2km each week. I expect to carry over some fatigue from the VO2max intervals, but I hope I can get this right.
  7. Easy – just a simple 6-14km to keep the legs moving.
  8. Hill Repeats – I will pick hills that take 2-3 minutes to run at a bit below VO2max pace, with a very easy jog back down. It is a mixture of specific strength and support for VO2max development.

The total kilometres in each period are not a goal. That total will take care of itself if I focus on getting each session right