Fast Running Performance Project member Lloyd Emeka talks about keeping motivation going strong into 2021.

The first day of 2020 marked the beginning of a new year and decade.  Runners participating in their local parkrun and looking forward to another year of pursuing various goals, aspirations and resolutions.  There was a palpable sense of excitement and optimism in the air.

Although media coverage of the pandemic was already afoot, the outbreak was predominantly in Asia at the time.  It was easy to surmise that the UK wouldn’t be affected but as we headed towards spring, the nightmarish dream of an outbreak became an unfortunate reality. 

The normality of life suddenly transcended into a scene not too dissimilar from a dystopian novel and uncertainty ensued.

Lockdown 1.0

As we entered lockdown 1.0, runners were thankfully allowed to continue undertaking some physical activity albeit in an isolated capacity.  During this period of time, all competitions unsurprisingly ground to a halt.  Runners with spring races in the diary had to abruptly apply the brakes and trained in the hope that rescheduled races would proceed as planned.

The summer brought about a sense of renewed optimism, with a decline in the number of covid-19 cases along with gorgeous weather and lighter evenings.  The streets and parks were aflow with runners enjoying the opportunity to train within small groups, but a lingering doubt remained about the latter months of the year and a potential second wave of the pandemic.  

The cancellation of large city autumn race competitions led to increased demand for participation in smaller-sized local races but even then, it wasn’t definitive that they would proceed either. 

More recent months

During the last few months, we have experienced lockdown 2.0 and this led to further disruptions to training and competition.  The pandemic has affected people in many different ways and the ongoing uncertainty can trigger feelings of anxiety, worry and fear1,2 

It is thus understandable that levels of motivation might have declined for some runners within the current climate.

From an early age, we are taught about the importance of being motivated to achieve our goals and aspirations in all aspects of life, and this is reinforced through societal narratives.  Our social environment can influence us to pursue goals throughout our lives without pausing to reflect on what drives us to achieve success.  

There are many interpretations of motivation but it is worth briefly outlining the origins and  definition of the term.  We can trace the origins to the latin word ‘movere’ which means ‘to act’ and motivation is considered as a process that initiates, guides and maintains goal-oriented behaviours3 

Although our actions can be focused predominantly on performance-oriented goals (i.e., extrinsic), it is also possible to freely participate in running for the interest and enjoyment that it brings (i.e., intrinsic).  This is underpinned by our basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness4.  

A sense of togetherness and belonging can be important for motivation, seen with the likes of the AB Training group above.  Photo: Phil Westlake (@westlake1953)

Looking after our motivational needs

The need to experience activities as self-endorsed, to interact effectively within the environment and feel connected, and be cared for by important others are vital components for human thriving, wellbeing and personal development.  These needs also facilitate volitional forms of motivation and enhance the ability to persist with goals.

A lack of motivation can stem from the perception that an activity is unimportant, a task is too difficult or the belief that the desired outcome is unachievable5.  However, there are numerous psychosocial factors that contribute to amotivation during this ongoing period of uncertainty. 

In the absence of races, reflecting and remembering the reasons for training and competing in your sport can assist with sustaining or regaining motivation. 

Establishing a daily routine enables us to attain structure and develop a renewed sense of purpose.  Although there are many apps that can support you with this task, writing in a journal is an effective method for capturing our thoughts, feelings and behaviours that contribute to the emergence of a routine.  

Setting goals, inside and outside of our sport

We can also continue to set ourselves goals with the emphasis on task mastery (i.e., improving our pace judgment, nutritional approach and resistance to fatigue) whilst reflecting and determining appropriate long-term outcome and performance goals. 

For example, where do you want to be in your sport twelve months from now and what are the tasks that you need to master in the process?  Sharing your goals with family and friends can also facilitate accountability and enhance levels of self-motivation.

The pandemic has created an opportunity to further engage in personal interests outside the sporting domain.  This could be developing a new pastime or investing an increased amount of time in the company of loved ones. 

Having a deliberate break from running can result in feeling physically and psychologically recharged when ready to return back to the sport.  As a consequence, the pursuit of goals and task mastery might not be the most appropriate option for a runner in the current climate.

With the year fast approaching a conclusion, I would like to take this opportunity to wish a healthy and happy January to all readers of Fast Running.  Here’s to a prosperous 2021 for all of us.


  1. Increasingly certain about uncertainty:  Intolerance of uncertainty across anxiety and depression, Carleton et al (2012)
  2. Tolerance of uncertainty: Conceptual analysis, integrative model, and implications for healthcare, Hillen et al (2017)
  3. The ‘’what’’ and ‘’why’’ of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior, Deci & Ryan (2000)
  4. Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development and wellness, Ryan & Deci (2017)
  5. Toward a hierarchical model of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, Vallerand (1997)