Why Do You Run? – 20 Questions

by Russ Ebbets, DC, USATF Level 3 Coach

Winter Series 1, Dec. 10, 2023. Picture by Ray Lee

Why do you run? That's a good question. The famous Greek philosopher Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” That may seem a little rough for some, but the intent here was for humans to examine the reasons for what they do (or don't do). One’s efforts to better understand personal motivations and purposes can allow us to evolve into better people.

To that end, below are 20 questions for self-examination. It is a new year with all the excitement and motivation that brings. It might be worthwhile to examine where you are, what you are doing and why, as you set off in 2024. All you need is a sheet of paper and a pen and get to work.

When you have completed your answers you can read my thoughts, my comments on why I asked the questions I did. There is no big ulterior motive here, just some points that will hopefully elucidate the importance of the question. In the end some extra introspection may make the experiences and opportunities afforded through running more worthwhile.

Part 1 – The 20 Questions

1. What is your favorite distance?
How often do you train?
What constitutes an easy and a hard workout for you?
What type of warm-up do you do?
Do you have a coach?
Where does your advice come from?
What are your running goals for the coming year?
What are your sleep and hydration habits?
What changes are you willing to make?
What questions would you like answered?
How can you improve your diet?
What new training idea did you incorporate this past year?
How do you motivate yourself?
What is your greatest running accomplishment so far?
What contribution have you made to the sport in the last year?
How do you treat injuries?
How do you choose a healthcare provider?
What running/fitness/lifestyle books have you read in the last year?
Where does alcohol fit into your lifestyle?
If you could sit down with any three people, living or dead, why would you pick those three? What would you talk about?

Part 2 - The 20 questions

1. What is your favorite distance?

This question gives a window as to not only what your current physiological makeup is but also a hint at what may be your goals and motivations.

2. How often do you train?

This clearly speaks to one's experience and level of commitment. Future improvements may come from a little extra work past the three training episodes a week (for a newbie). For the elite runner, two-a-day can increase one’s training episodes to 10 to 14 workouts per week.

3. What constitutes an easy and a hard workout for you?

Certainly, if one has some long-term training goals the answer here offers a benchmark for future reference. Not asked was why the workout was hard. That answer may offer some short-term goals for one to get better at XYZ (be that hills, intervals, or distance recovery efforts).

4. What type of warm up do you do?

I think as one's sophistication level increases this component of training becomes more important. While a 10 to 15 minute warm up may initially be dismissed as of minimal importance I strongly feel the more experienced runners (ultimately all runners) come to appreciate the fact that injury prevention and overall improvement is not simply achieved by running more miles. A dynamic warm-up can prevent injuries and promote multi-lateral development that promotes overall body fitness and provides a “margin of error” for the repeated, linear nature of running.

5. Do you have a coach?

While a coach is not critical to success, I think you'll find that a coach or close advisor with some objective wisdom can do much to aid a career. For the newbie, the coach can offer tips and directions that would supersede a personal “trial and error” method that is wasteful of precious time and energy. For the more experienced athlete a coach can be the person to pull back on the reins and champion rest and recovery. The newbie would benefit more from a “you can do this” type of encouragement, while the performance-based athlete would benefit from a more impartial observer telling one when enough is enough.

6. Where does your advice come from?

With the omnipresence of the Internet and even the contributions of AI, virtually no question one has, will go unanswered. Would you bet your life or risk your career on the answers you get? Probably not. The impartial sources may give one some direction but without knowing your training history or your goals and aspirations I’d still recommend advice from a fallible human. Maybe the day will come when AI programs can light the way, but we are not there yet.

7. What are your running goals for the coming year?

This is really a critical question. It doesn't matter where you are career wise, just getting started or still chasing the horizon. One's goals will dictate one’s training plan, they can serve to motivate and offer direction or a training/racing schedule. The acronym SMART seems to be the fashionable solution to goal setting. Broken down SMART represents goals being specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound. If you Google “SMART goals,” you can easily find a resource describing finer points.

8. What are your sleep and hydration habits?

 Increasing commitment will require an increase in self-care. These two simple areas play a profound effect on performance. An athlete needs seven and a half to nine hours sleep. Water is the body's solvent. All processes in the body require water. It seems fashionable to publicly question the necessity or wisdom of eight glasses of water a day, but I can virtually guarantee the people who raise the questions regarding a human’s hydration needs, are not athletic, have never coached and are irresponsible in their advice.

9. What changes are you willing to make?

I have little doubt the previous questions have generated a significant number of changes you would like to make. And if we are honest, a year from now a similar list would reproduce many of the same areas for change. All that leads to is frustration and self-recrimination, so we'll prioritize one change over all the rest. Just one. Incorporate that change into your lifestyle and then plot another.

Why the hubbub about change? Improvement necessitates change. Einstein and many others have noted that mindlessly repeating the same habits expecting a different outcome is insanity. Developing a new habit creates a new pathway, with new perspectives and challenges leading to breakthroughs and personal growth.

10. What questions would you like answered?

This question is important because it presents you with challenges and can offer direction. One thought that has troubled me for years is why the nervous system lags behind the muscular system in terms of recovery following a superlative effort. Little to no research has been done in this area. I have long contended that there is some biochemical depletion of an enzyme, mineral or nutrient inside the nerve cell that alters the ability of the nervous system to respond to athletic demands for about 10 days after the superlative effort (called the 10 Day Rule). There is emerging research that the problem is not inside the nerve cell but rather with the depletion of the fat of the myelin sheath that surrounds the nerve cell. This deficit alters the nerve’s ability to transmit an electrical impulse, which would explain why superlative efforts are often followed by a subsequent flat performance. We need to keep researching.

11. How can you improve your diet?

We live in a land of plenty with 60% of the population obese. Processed foods, fast foods and nutrient depleted foods are unfortunately abundant. Truism remains pre-eminent - nothing goes in your mouth by accident. Strive for a water-based diet with an abundance of fruits and vegetables. Choose high quality proteins. Stay well hydrated and allow some variation without beating yourself up over it. When forced with making a food decision the answer to this question may help – what part of my body do I want this ___ to become?

12. What new training idea(s) did you implement in the past year?

What change(s) did this make? Did it revolutionize your thought, or did you not give it an honest chance to make it work? Different training systems may take six weeks or longer to significantly impact one's physiology. Changes in one’s psychological thought processes also take time. This is not to suggest that one try every fad the graces the cover of a national running magazine, but rather consider ideas that can create a substantive change in your running career. The SMART goal acronym comes into play here.

13. How do you motivate yourself?

You're tired, it's cold, you're hungry and nobody's going to know if you don't do whatever your weekly/long range plan called for today. A flexible plan is not the same as bailing on a plan. Sometimes all you need is an easy mile to start, and the pieces fall back into place. Low mo can also be the result of a weak goal. This is where some easy first steps, literally and figuratively, can get you refocused. Everyone has these days. Unfortunately, not everyone knows that the will to prepare precedes the will to succeed.

14. What is your greatest running accomplishment so far?

Compare your thoughts during preparation prior to this accomplishment. Was it doubt, fear, trepidation or resolve and confidence or some jumbled combination? Contrast that with the pride, the sense of accomplishment, the satisfaction that you feel when you reflect on those moments. In the team huddles before the championship races where my teams had a shot to win, I would tell them, “This is what it feels like to be a champion. What you do today, you will remember your whole life.” After the competition, when they have weathered the challenge of competition, they could take pride in the understanding that pressures, positive and negative, are part of a successful journey.

15. What contribution have you made to the sport in the last year?

The people you meet in the books you read are the two things that change your life according to motivational speaker Tremendous Jones. Volunteer opportunities will give you a deeper understanding and appreciation for the sport. There is also the strong possibility that your unique knowledge, skills and abilities can make a unique contribution. Volunteer opportunities abound, even if it is something as simple (yet as critical) as manning the corner as a traffic marshal or working a water station at a road race.

16. How do you treat an injury?

Repetitive motions, hard ground contacts, slips and falls or simply accidents - despite running’s health benefits the possibility that sooner or later one develops some type of kink in the system is high. There is a school of thought that one should “run through” injuries and “gut it out.” Both sentiments certainly have their adherents, with success stories to match. The important thing here is the ability to recognize when something is serious enough to seek outside or professional help. Anything that makes you limp, doesn't heal or precludes you from running for longer than 48 hours are red flags that should be heeded. I'd also consider the success of the age-old RICE strategy (rest, ice, compression, elevation). Particular care and attention should be given to the knees and Achilles. These are tattoo-like injuries for a runner, in that once you get them, they seemingly linger on forever.

17. How do you choose a healthcare provider?

One's philosophy, availability, location and economic situation can dictate the selection of a health care provider. Referrals from friends, coaches and competitors can also differentiate between the ones who know what they are doing and those who spend the most on advertising. The level of healthcare in this area has risen tremendously since I was in college. A back injury ended my collegiate career with the school's provider telling me it was “all in my head,” despite the fact that, I couldn't touch my knees. He's still out there. Be careful, ask around.

18. What running/fitness/lifestyle books have you read in the last year?

As stated before, the books you read and the people you meet are the things that change your life. The old cliche that success is a journey not a destination applies to life as well. The proliferation of social media in all our lives presents a challenge. This is especially true with algorithms that end up feeding us more of what we already perused. My suggestion here is to find a list of classics, the top 100 books on the all-time list on XYZ and wade through the list. The other option is to look for references and resources used by nonfiction bestsellers to see where the ideas and concepts current authors have used to develop their theories and thoughts. A third suggestion is the book reviews in the monthly Pace Setter. Mark Mindel, Tom O’Grady and Sally Drake frequently offer an athlete’s two cents each month with some helpful suggestions.

As far as the people thing goes, optimize your social contacts. Whenever I go to a social gathering, I try to meet one new person. As a coach and athlete, I always tried to congratulate those who beat me and be willing to speak with anyone I beat. Make getting out of your comfort zone from time to time an adventure.

19. Where does alcohol fit in your lifestyle?

I'm not preaching temperance here. Think of it as good sense. Alcohol, be it beer wine or hard liquor, is a cellular toxin. Every six months or so, somebody publishes something about the benefits of wine. Almost immediately someone else seems to contradict those findings. I get the social aspect, relaxation, even the taste but the fact remains alcohol does nothing to improve your physical body. Whether you see the decision to limit consumption as a sacrifice or wise decision, if alcohol stood between you and successfully reaching your goals, what would you choose?

20.If you could sit down with any three people living or dead, why would you pick those three? What would you talk about?

This group would represent Napoleon Hill’s Mastermind Alliance. This is a group of people whose traits you admire and placing yourself in this realm allows you to use their admirable traits to view your questions, challenges or problems in a different perspective. Your mastermind group can be used to encourage, motivate or inspire you through good times and bad. Ultimately the value in doing this is that it gives you a different perspective on life and possibly problem solving, if you attempt to “think” of solutions by considering how your role model would approach a similar situation.


Change can be intimidating, especially if it is too much, too fast. But to expect things not to change is either the thought of a child steeped in fairy tales, or the “old” person so set in their ways that their attempts to hold on to the past becomes a pathetic, new rendition of a Shakespearian tragedy.

Change is constant in one’s life. That is an oxymoron (a juxtaposition of opposites), but nonetheless true. Considering the 20 questions presented hopefully allows one to see change in a positive light, laced with potential for adventure, discovery, and personal growth.

1-RussEbbetsFinalEnd.jpegRuss Ebbets, DC is a USATF Level 3 Coach and lectures nationally on sport and health related topics. He serves as editor of Track Coach, the technical journal for USATF. He is author of the novel Supernova on the famed running program at Villanova University and the sequel Time and Chance. His book, A Runner’s Guide, a collection of training tips and running articles was a 2019 Track and Field Writers of America Book of the Year finalist. His Runner’s Guide 2 was published in February 2023. Books are available from Amazon.com. His USATF Niagara High Performance presentation on Career Longevity and the Masters Athlete can be found at – USATF Niagara HP Zoom. He can be contacted at spinedoctor229@hotmail.com.

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