Intrinsic versus Extrinsic Motivation and Marathon Goals

Intrinsic versus Extrinsic Motivation

How is it that 18 weeks of training are nearly over and my first marathon is only a couple days away? At this point, I’m not stressing much about it, which I’m not sure is a good sign or a bad sign.

Today, I want to talk about intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation and how it should impact your goals. I also want to share my goals for the Portland Marathon, which I’ve already babbled plenty about before, so there’s nothing new here.

Intrinsic versus Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic versus Extrinsic Motivation

Does your motivation come from within? Are you pursuing your goals because they are meaningful to you in some way, even if that meaning is inexplicable and ineffable beyond a deep desire to achieve it? Are you running this marathon, half marathon, 10K, or 5K (or even just running, if you don’t race) for yourself and only yourself? If you answered yes to these questions, then your motivation is intrinsic. It comes from within you, a fire burning deep in your bones regardless of what others think.

Extrinsic motivation is when you pursue a goal because of a desire to please others. Think of in school, how some students happily did their work for the sake of gaining knowledge, while others had to be motivated by grades, the threat of detention, or treats. Extrinsic motivation may come from social media and a desire to run a marathon or other race because all of your friends are training for one as well. There’s nothing wrong with finding inspiration in the accomplishments of your friends, but if you are running a marathon just for social media likes, then you may want to reassess your goals.

Susie and Jesica wrote recently about why a BQ should not be the be-all, end-all for runners. Running a marathon in itself is a huge accomplishment as it is! When it comes to a BQ, I truly believe that there should be intrinsic motivation; you should not want to qualify just for the applause on social media or because all of your running friends will be running Boston.

Ultimately, you should run a marathon, pursue a BQ, or any other goal you have because it brings you joy. Right now, I don’t race 5Ks or 10Ks because that searing sensation of going all-out in a race is not fun for me (which is a definite weakness of mine – my speed is lacking in comparison to my endurance). Even Lauren Fleshman’s 10 Reasons Why the 5K is Freaking Awesome couldn’t persuade me to ditch the long hours and pounding of distance running.

When you set goals, set goals that present a reachable challenge for you, but also set goals that will bring you joy. Create your own narrative of what defines success for you in running, not what you see everyone else doing. Don’t compare yourself to what others are achieving or what you think others would want you to do. Goals you set to please others won’t leave you feeling truly accomplished and happy.

[Tweet “What motivates you? Intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation via @thisrunrecipes #runchat #fitfluential #sweatpink”]

Portland Marathon Goals

When I set my goal to BQ at the Portland Marathon, I based the goal not as much upon my desire to run the Boston Marathon (for which I am intrinsically motivated) but to run a 3:30:00 marathon. If I fell under a different Boston Qualifying standard, such as if 3:05:00 applied not just to men my age but to women as well, I would not be as motivated to pursue it.

I am still incredibly type-A when it comes to grades, so I’m listing this goals as A+, A, and B. Yes, I’m totally insane, but mentally, I’ll take it better if I hit my A goal and miss my A+ than if they’re called B and A, so I’m working some sports psychology on myself here.

My A+ goal is to qualify for Boston. I really want to run a 3:30:00 marathon, because I’m weird about numbers and like how much of a round number this is. Whether I squeak in with a 3:34:58 or smash it with a 3:29:00, I’ll still feel so accomplished if I achieve this goal. That said, qualifying for Boston is hard (that’s why it’s such a big deal) and the marathon is a beast, which is why this is my A+ goal.

Portland Marathon Goals
From my final goal pace run, including warm-up and cool down. Now just to hold that pace for a bit over twice as far.


For my A goal, I am aiming to run a 3:40 or faster. Even if I hit the wall and slow down over the final 5-10K of the race, my training times still indicate that I should be able to run this time.

My B goal is to finish under 4 hours. Sometimes you just have crappy running days; while I’m hoping that tapering and a good dose of mental toughness can overcome this, I also don’t want to get too full of myself before the inevitable humbling of one’s first marathon. I know with this time I would be happy, but I would still feel motivated to try again for a better marathon time again soon.

[Tweet “Portland Marathon Goals via @thisrunrecipes #portlandmarathon #fitfluential #sweatpink”]

Questions of the Day:
Where do you find your motivation as you set your running goals?

Sign Up for My Newsletter for More Running Tips

* indicates required

Share this post

18 Responses

    1. Thank you! I’m definitely planning on enjoying it – I am so excited about the scenery and am running without music so I can soak it all in, the good and the bad!

  1. Obviously, you know I so get this, and you know what side of the fence that I am on. Something that Jillian said when I was at SCW this weekend was that you can be inspired by external things, but the motivation has to come from within. That’s how I”m looking at the world right now.

    1. Definitely – inspiration can come from without (and that’s pretty much what inspiration means), but the motivation needs to be from within. And not just for running!

  2. I’m really excited for you. The weather is going to be decent this weekend too, hey? Good for you for putting out your goals like that. I believe in you! Can’t wait to see you smash it out of the park.

    1. Thank you – that means so much to me! I’m never one to sandbag, even if I totally miss my goals. Yes, the weather looks amazing – I had mentally braced myself for rain when I signed up back in the spring, but it’s supposed to be clear and 55 degrees!

  3. I think there’s a bit of intrinsic as well as extrinsic motivation for myself. I know my parents are proud of me no matter what, but I want to show them what I’m truly capable of. If it’s at NY then awesome, if I blow up and it’s not, then that’s okay too. I love running marathons because of how they make me feel. I gain confidence and pride. I’m so excited for you to crush that BQ goal – I know you can do it girl : )

  4. I’m just like you in that my speed really lacks in comparison to endurance! I don’t enjoy the ball to the wall speed feeling and get a bigger rush from training for and completing marathons. Can’t believe it’s this weekend! So excited for you!

  5. I can’t believe it’s so close!!! I can’t wait to hear how you do!!!

    It’s been a huge focus of mine in the latter half of this year to make the move to intrinsic instead of extrinsic motivation. I can see I’m definitely making a lot of progress in truly enjoying running and being grateful now that I’m letting go of my need for external validation. But I think if we’re all being honest with ourselves, there is always a little bit of both. We’re human and we can’t help but want the applause, attention, and feeling of validation that comes with achieving certain goals. But this alone is not enough to power through the immense commitment of training for a marathon, so there must be some internal motivation even if, as you say, it’s hard to articulate what it is. I think acknowledging the vain, applause-seeking part of our motivation is the first step in minimizing and eventually moving past it.

    Something I like to ask myself is, “if I couldn’t tell a soul except my closest loved ones that I’m training for and running this marathon, or what my finish time is….would I still want to do it?”

    1. I definitely agree – we all want that validation, and to move on from it we have to recognize it and then move forward. When I decided to quit academia and not get my PhD, a big part for me in moving on was realizing a lot of my motivation in applying for PhD programs had been getting into the best schools, getting that recognition, and pleasing my professors from undergrad and grad school. But was it what I wanted? No, and that’s what matters. I think it’s so good for you to make that your focus, and I’m excited to see how you continue to grow from it!

  6. I’m not a runner, but when I’m setting goals and looking for motivation, I try to rely on the motivation from within. Knowing how sticking to a plan will benefit me and my every day life are very important to keeping me going!

  7. Great thing to think about. I would say I am intrinsically motivated but certainly extrinsic factors also play a role in keeping me working hard to achieve my goals. My support system is a big part of that as well as seeing other’s success is also motivating. Rooting for you, Laura!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *