Internet comic The Oatmeal has a great series of comics on his motivation to run–and not just run, but run ridiculous, ultra-marathon distances. According to him, the inspiration to run comes from a desire to beat The Blerch.
You know The Blerch. Basically, it’s the self-indulgent saboteur inside us all who keeps urging us to do things the easy way, avoid pain, and partake in immediate pleasures. Running is a way to extend a big ol’ middle finger to that saboteur. That can feel incredibly motivating. And it’s a good thing, because as The Oatmeal points out, running doesn’t always have the other positive benefits you might hope for.
Running does not magically make you a health nut. A lot of people, myself included, run in part to underwrite a love of beer and nachos. My favorite races offer pints at the finish line.
Running does not magically give you a “perfect” body. The Oatmeal’s depiction of his running body made me laugh because it’s true for those of us who weren’t born with the classic runner’s physique. Please feed my leg muscles.
The Oatmeal’s description of The Blerch must resonate with many more runners than just me, because when he organized a race to Beat the Blerch, including a full marathon, half marathon, and 10k option, it sold out in just 29 minutes. That, if you couldn’t guess, is ridiculously impressive.
I’ve been really interested in The Blerch not just as a runner, but also as a psychologist. I think we sometimes overemphasize positive motivation to people at the expense of avoidant motivators. Don’t people do good things to avoid bad outcomes?
I run because I don’t want to be like my grandmother, whose last years were troubled by crippling osteoporosis.
I run because I don’t want to be overweight, especially considering that I do really love eating and drinking.
I run because I don’t want to be plagued by a racing mind, and I find a racing body quiets that down.
Of course you can flip the conversation to highlight the positives here–the strength, the health, the peace of mind that I gain as opposed to the things that I avoid. But in my mind, when it’s time to put on my sneakers or not, it’s not the positive benefits that I think of. It’s the things I escape that get me out the door.
Is it so bad to focus on something negative if the result is a positive behavior? I think you know how I feel, but how about you? Are you motivated to do good by anything bad?