In this excerpt from Run Like a Champion: An Olympian’s Approach for Every Runner, two-time Olympic runner Alan Culpepper shares the first step in sport psychology that helped him find running success at the highest levels of the sport.

STEP 1: Recognize Your Incentive

If you’re reading this book, there is a good chance that you are motivated to improve as a runner, want to learn how to train better, are open to making adjustments, and want to pursue your running goals to the fullest. Now you’ve got to come to grips with why you’re doing it. What is your source of motivation? What does your desire to run the best you possibly can stem from? There are no right or wrong answers, but it takes honest introspection to determine why you want to run. You can’t pretend to be someone you are not, physically, mentally, or emotionally. I could not pretend to run out of anger or fabricate a desire to beat my competition out of spite that they even thought they could beat me. Be real about who you are and what drives you.

Before you dive into training, recognize and embrace the incentive. After all, it is that singular motivating factor that you will fall back on when the training gets hard, when you start to lose some of that initial excitement and motivation, when you get into a training rut, or when the weather is bad and you don’t feel like getting out there. Why do you want to go through all that is necessary to reach your goal? Is it out of joy? Anger? Disappointment? Loss? Faith? Need for freedom? Desire for attention? Without a true and clear understanding of your primary incentive, you may fall short of your ultimate potential. This is not meant to put you through a therapy session but rather just an exercise to gain a realistic understanding about why you’re pursuing your running goals.

For some, the motivation is crystal clear. Some of the greatest athletes on the planet run to escape poverty, using the financial incentives of running fast to create life-altering changes in their future economic status. Most runners, however—whether at the high school, college, or recreational level—will never pursue running as a profession for monetary gain. To achieve your best as a runner, you have to dig hard to find out where your desire really comes from.

My own incentive was always centered on an unwavering pursuit of excellence. I knew I had a gift for running, and I wanted to get at every single ounce of my talent. I wanted the assurance that I had accomplished all that was physically and emotionally possible. In order to honor that gift, I had to see how good I could get, and after my first year and a half of college I never again doubted that I was going to see it all the way through.

I also liked that what I was doing was unconventional and that not many people could do it (or wanted to do it). And I liked the fact that running’s noteworthy accomplishments were so quantifiable. I was competitive, and when I was side by side with other runners with a lap to go, I wanted to win. I wanted to win not out of distaste for my competitors but because I wanted to achieve excellence. Winning was proof that I was getting the most out of my talent.

To reach your full potential as a runner and achieve your short- and long-term goals, explore what motivates you. Being honest about your desire and true to your incentive will lead to your best performances.

To read the rest of Alan’s steps check out his book below available for purchase in paperback or digitally.

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