June 1, 2022


There are moments during ultra endurance events where things feel profoundly hard and our goals seem impossible. Ask any athlete at any level who’s accomplished a challenging goal and they’ll tell you they had moments of doubt and adversity, whether physical or mental, or both, that made the outcome of what they were trying to do uncertain and just plain hard. In moments like this, successful athletes pull from their why, tapping into an internal well of passion, purpose and determination, rooted in their values to move through the low moment and ultimately accomplish their goal.

Training and racing of any kind is freaking hard. You can’t avoid it. Even at the top level of the sport. Because these events are so difficult, athlete’s have to want to get to that finish line more than they want the suffering to stop. It’s in these decisive moments where less experienced athletes and athletes who don’t have a coherent why tend to falter and even ultimately end up DNFing. An athlete has to feel like it’s truly more rewarding to overcome the challenge than it is to quit. They must act on meaningful motivators and it’s at this moment when our why’s are most important. 


Your why isn’t just your reason for trail running, or training, it’s your reason to take one more step, to forward relentlessly in the face of adversity, and it’s the singular most important tool in your mental skills toolset.

Most athletes (and people) find that their why(s) is directly connected, at the deepest level, to their values. Values are our fundamental beliefs about the world. They’re what motivate us, shape our perspectives and guide our actions. They help ignite our passions, provide us with grit and determination and give our actions purpose. Acting on our values often equates to more joy and fulfillment too, making them even more important in a sport where the journey can be so challenging.

When thinking about your values, it can be helpful to think about how you’d like people to remember you when you’re gone, or of what things act as a compass for you as you navigate life.

Take a few minutes to think about the following questions:

  1. What motivates you?

  2. What inspires you?

  3. Where do you draw your inner strength?

  4. What gives you purpose?

  5. What gives you grit and determination during challenging moments?

  6. When I look back, what do I want to have given most of my time and energy to?

  7. What relationships in my life are the most meaningful?

Use your answers to help identify your values.


Use the values you identified to create your why! This is an important step because our values guide us and they often stay fairly stable and central to who we are, even as we grow and our interests, perspectives and attitudes change. I find it helpful for athletes to have athletes think about conceptualizing their running why in a way that connects directly back to these values. For example, one of my values is being a positive role model. When I conceptualize that in terms of running, I think about all the actions I take in order to set a good example for my athletes and community. I ask what are the principles we believe in at Microcosm and how do I live them every day? For me, the line of connecting values to actions to why results in a coherent why for why I train every day. It helps motivate me when things are tough on race day too. “I run because I love it, but more importantly because I get to set a positive example for my community, I get to show them how consistent work over time pays off.” 

Without a clear why, training ebbs and flows and race performance does too. If you’re a consistent athlete, putting in the time, it’s likely you’ve got a why or several whys but you just haven’t developed them yet. Start by doing the values exercise above to help you get closer to uncovering what’s behind your actions and what’s guiding you through life. Building that awareness and then contextualizing it in a way where it fits in with running will help you get a better grasp on your why. During this process, don’t be afraid to write down several different iterations of your why in order to figure out which one feels best to you. 

We’ve found it helpful to start with why’s that are anchored in self and are somewhat within an athlete’s control. For example, if your why is “to win your age group,” this isn’t a good why because winning and losing a race isn’t determined by an individual athlete’s actions alone, but the entire field of athletes as well. A why like this doesn’t provide for stoke and inspiration, it doesn’t help you build momentum during tough times, it sets you up for negative emotions and feelings of failure when things don’t go exactly right. A better performance related why might be something like “I run to do my best, to express all the hard work and training I’ve done. Doing my best means working through the hardest moments to raise up and see who I really aim.”


Once you’ve gotten a good grasp on your values and developed a why or several whys, it’s time to put them into action! I like to have athletes start by thinking about their why during their weekly workouts. Workouts provide the perfect environment for drawing on your why because they often mimic some of the challenges athletes go through on race day. The fatigue, the discomfort, the nerves and anxiety too. Go into these workouts with a pre-established plan to conger up your why when things get hard. The more often you do this, the more it will become second nature. Long runs are another great time to practice tapping into your why as well. Use your why as a source of inspiration and sustain your effort. 

As you continue to develop your why, don’t be afraid to share it! Tell your coach, tell your crew at your next race so they can remind you of it when things get tough. Sharing your why makes it real. This helps to give it more substance. The idea here is to really bring it to life so it can continue to help stoke your inner fire during tough moments. As your why becomes a more tangible concept, it becomes a default source of energy for you on race day and during tough training moments.

Ultimately, finding your why in running will not just allow you to run to your potential, to rise up in challenging moments and work through adversity, but it can even help you live a more fulfilling life. 

In closing, ask yourself, what does life look like when you’re living your why?

-Coach TJ & The Microcosm Coaching Team