Recent research published in the Journal of Aging Studies confirms what many runners already know: You have to really love to run to stick with the sport. Researchers interviewed runners about their experiences with running and aging. They found that the runners who assigned significant importance to success in terms of physical performance were more likely to stop running as they aged. These were the athletes who hung up their running shoes after their times continued to slow with each birthday.
On the other hand, the runners who attached "existential meaning" to the act of running were more likely to continue to run despite declining performances. For these people, it wasn't all about the numbers on the clock, but rather other internal benefits garnered from running, which translated into greater longevity in the sport. This is where the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation becomes important.
"When a person runs solely to win without intrinsic motivation, what happens when they stop winning? Or, what if they never win?" says Jess Underhill, a coach in New York City. "Consequently, they may stop running simply because they feel discouraged."
Extrinsic motivation is drawn from outside influences. Perhaps you're running for a top-10 finish, a medal or a T-shirt. Or maybe you're looking to achieve that beach body that will give you praise from others. These all fall into the camp of extrinsic motivations.
Conversely, intrinsic motivation is all about finding joy in the sport itself. You do it because you love it, not because it helps mold washboard abs or gets you a trophy.
"Intrinsic motivation is what makes an athlete a lifetime athlete," says Underhill. "External motivation fades quickly, while internal motivation is that thing that drives you to get out there day after day."