by Garrett Peltonen
For the ultra-running community the winter months are filled with a bit of rest, relaxation, and overindulgence after a summer of running and racing. However, between the months of December and February this relaxation is replaced anxiousness and excitement as entrant lotteries for several of the most prestigious ultra-running events including Western States 100, Hardrock 100, and Ultra Trail Mont Blanc (UTMB) are held. This year, I put my name in the lottery for all three of the aforementioned races, assuming that I would be denied entrance into all. According to plan, my name was not pulled from the proverbial Western States 100 or Hardrock 100 hat. Pleasantly, I was surprised to find out that my name had been selected in the UTMB lottery!
In short order after learning about my selection for UTMB, I sat down with a calendar found three additional races that would serve as a good lead up program to UTMB. The races and dates that I selected are as follows: Gnaw Bone 50-mile (May 10th), Big Horn 100-mile (June 20th), and Voyageur 50-mile (July 26th). Avoiding injury, the dates and distances of these events seem like a good set up to put in a solid UTMB performance at the end of August.
Spectacular, now I can just hang out, eat Cheetos and Junior mints, run these races, and cruise at UTMB…right?! If only it could be that easy! Well, if it were that easy I would probably not run these races as most of the enjoyment comes from the preparation to compete. At the end of the day I love running, it is part of who I am and the races are secondary to being physically active and healthy. Fortunately, on a day to day basis the motivation to get out and run comes quite easily. Anyone familiar with me knows that two-hours of daily running seems to be the magic number that keeps me sane and others in close proximity from wanting to kill me.
Like everything in life however, training desire (getting out the door) tends to ebb and flow for known and unknown reasons. A few years back when I was living in Boulder, Colorado running motivation was never an issue. I could run from my doorstep to the summit of various peaks via spectacular mountain trails on a daily basis. Since then, I have relocated to Madison, Wisconsin which upon close examination of a topographical map lacks any sort of mountains and thus the spectacular, mountain trails for running. Do not get me wrong, running around Madison is a great experience as the city has a multitude of parks and green space with paths and trails. However, there are only so many combinations of creative city loops and cornfields an individual can run through before monotony sets in.
This got me thinking – which I can do a lot of while running through the barren, frigid, wind-blown fields of Southern Wisconsin – how can I run the same trails on a daily basis up a mountain in Boulder, Colorado and be consistently motivated while here on the flatlands in Madison, Wisconsin running the same loops only a handful of times leads to boredom and lack of motivation?
The answer to this question appears to be purpose. According to Dr. William Morgan, a pioneer in the field of exercise psychology, “Factor P” is crucial to exercise adherence. What is “Factor P” you may ask? “Factor P” stands for purpose, it is a simple yet ingenious concept. Dr. Morgan suggests that motivation to exercise and thus adhere requires purposeful exercise. Take for example, the bike commuter. A bike commuter does not consider their commute to work as exercise; it is a mode of transportation in which they take part in everyday without question. Their exercise ultimately fulfills a purpose – “Factor P” – in that it gets them to and from work. When running in Boulder I had the purpose of attaining a mountain summit, whereas this purpose is noticeably absent with a lack of mountains in the Midwest and explains the aforementioned monotony.
Keeping this in mind, I would like to expand on Dr. Morgan’s idea and propose that there is both big “Factor P” and small “factor p” required for the successful athlete. For most competitive athletes the events that they are training for serve as a source of big “Factor P.” These are grand, long-term goals that get us out the door for training sessions on most occasions. Is this enough? I do not think so. In addition to the big “Factor P” it is also critically important to maintain the small “factor p.” Small “factor p” serves the function of filling in for those times when our larger goals do not serve as an adequate source of exercise motivation. Small “factor p” can include exercise incorporated into various tasks of daily living such as bike or run commuting, “running errands,” or finding purpose in daily goals such as making it to the summit of a peak.
This coming summer I feel that I have adequate big “Factor P” including four ultra-running races that culminates with UTMB. For the most part, this will and has motivated me to get out the door in the frigid “Polar Vortex” induced cold temperatures of the Wisconsin winter. However, it is important that these larger goals are supplemented with small “factor p.” For me this is accomplished by run-commuting to and from work on a daily basis. Additionally, I decided to start running Ice Age Trail National Scenic Trail (~1,200 entirely within the state of Wisconsin) in sections over the weekends. Although there may not be mountain peaks nearby, with a little creativity one can find large “Factor P” and small “factor p” anywhere. What is your big “Factor P” and small “factor p” and is it enough?
Garrett Peltonen is earning his PhD it's Sports Exercise and Physiology at The University of Wisconsin - Madison. He's also an epic ultra runner, and former professional cyclists who rode on teams like Bissell and HealthNet.