How I impulsively signed up to race a 5K

Running for intrinsic motivation might not be the worst thing

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Pauline Povitsky is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. 

Emma Klein | Cavalier Daily

In early September, I received an email of scheduled races from the University’s running club. As I scanned the list, I was struck by one race in particular that was only 50 minutes from where one of my best friends attended college in North Carolina. This was my aha moment — this 5K was my ticket to seeing him. It was a win-win situation — I could burn some calories, and as a reward, do some old-fashioned catching up. Without much other thought, I confidently added my name to the racing roster. It was clear to me: not only was I “best friend goals,” but I was also a master schemer. 

After I signed up for the race, I eagerly texted him about visiting over the weekend. Then I was hit with the unfortunate truth — he wouldn’t be available. Granted, he was completely justified in having schoolwork and exams to study for. But, it was too late to back out of the race, and I realized I would literally be running a 5K in North Carolina for the sake of running it. 

Faced with the inevitability of this race, I did away with all logic and optimistically believed in the possibility that somehow I would magically become in-shape during this 5K — even though I hadn’t been consistently running for at least a month. I hoped that maybe, miraculously, all my high-school running experience would just return and guide me smoothly to the finish line.

Spoiler alert: this did not happen. 

Once the gun was fired to start the race, I realized quickly that the likelihood of an athletic miracle was very low. Two minutes in, I was breathing heavily and questioning all my life decisions — especially the one in which I impulsively decided to run a 5K. It was turning out that running was, in fact, very logical and my lack of training was extremely evident.

After barely making it to the top of a hill, I strongly considered the costs and benefits of stopping. I mean, there was no reason I couldn’t just give up now. I told myself I would finish this race and see my friend as a reward, but since he was busy, there was really nothing to stop me from just calling quits. 

As I reached a path of loose gravel and potholes, I simultaneously zigzagged along the narrow pathway, trying to prevent a twisted ankle, while contemplating my options. Giving up seemed like such an easy solution to the stomach cramps, formulating blisters and fatigue. It was so very tempting. But, I had no legitimate excuse to stop — sure, I was absolutely exhausted, but so was everyone else. If I just walked off the course, I would be temporarily relieved. But an hour from now, I would be kicking myself internally for quitting when it got hard. I began frantically repeating the lyrics to middle school hype songs like “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson to offset the negative thoughts swirling through my mind. And ultimately, I pushed myself to reach the blue tarp, a makeshift runway that signaled the final meters of the course. 

All in all, I was really glad I finished the race. Sure, my time was definitely way far off statistically from my high school races, and my initial intention to see my friend didn’t actually pay off. But just the action of finishing the race filled me with pride and satisfaction. I learned that intrinsic motivation is an important tool to carry, because I can’t always rely on other people or prizes to do tough things. Sometimes I just have to do it. 

Now, this does not mean everyone should just be able to finish a 5K on their first try — I do have years of past experience. But I like to think back to one of my favorite movies — in Ratatouille, Chef Gusteau's famous quip was, “Anyone can cook.” Well, similarly, anyone can run. Everyone just begins at different baselines and with different motivation levels. 

And if you really want to measure the limits of your own intrinsic motivation, try going for a run. 

Pauline Povitsky is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com. 

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