How Do You Do That??

Susan Donnelly runs the mentally tough Zumbro 100 mile ultramarathon

“How do you do that?” 

People ask me a lot and I have yet to find a satisfying, one sentence answer that remotely scratches the surface, so I love this version a friend (who’s pretty badass herself) surprised me with recently.

“How do you do that so consistently?”

Good question. 

I’ve finished 99 100s and haven’t DNFed (other than races being cancelled, which I have no control over) in the past 92 of them. Not since May 2003. That’s 13+ years of consistency.

Over all those years, I’ve finished 100s:

  • In brain-baking heat and bone-chilling cold

  • Over countless mountains and across the inevitable creeks and rushing rivers

  • In blue sky weather and rain from start to finish

  • Sound as a rock and injured

  • In crowded races surrounded by runners and alone from the first mile on

  • In three different countries on two different continents

  • More on rugged single-track trails (the more mountains, rocks and roots, the better) than flat or pavement.

  • Usually on my own, without crew or pacer.

So what’s the secret?

After years of watching others and working it out for myself, I can actually put the best answer into one sentence:

You have to have a Why.

A Why is your vision for your lifetime running portfolio. Your ideal, cumulative, total body of work.  What you want to have accomplished over the course of your running career, when all is said and done.

Why have a Why? 

  • It bestows each race, mile, and footstep in shoe-sucking mud with a bigger purpose.

  • It transforms unending endurance into adventure.

  • It clears a way past resistance of the unknown.

  • It motivates you to keep going when things get inconvenient, uncomfortable, and there’s an epic list of perfectly good excuses to quit and put your feet up.

  • It measures the hell-yes-ness of adding a race to your calendar or passing one up.

  • It anchors you when the storms of everyday life are trying to drown your running goals for good.

Sure, you can make it through one or several 100s without a Why. People do. But if you’re looking for more than bragging rights at the water cooler, like say…a life spent doing exciting things, week in, week out, this is where it starts.

Just promise me one thing. Make it something you’d regret not doing, something you can’t imagine living without doing, something that lights you up with giddy excitement. Even if it won’t get you on the cover of Runner’s World.

Don't settle for something that depends on getting something (like approval or praise) from others. Measuring success that way won't sustain you over a lifetime. It’s the express lane to burnout.

My own Why goes something like “exploring and enjoying (yes, both) the full extent of the capabilities I’ve been given to the best of my ability.”  I have more details that elaborate on it but that's the essence. Just reading it makes my heart sing. And notice that although winning is nice, this says nada about it.

So there you have it. The most fundamental, one sentence secret I can give for my consistency.

Now my question for you is…

- What’s your Why?  

- What do you want your running career to look like when you look back on it?

Share yours in the comments section below. And if you enjoyed this post and know someone who’d like to read it, please forward and keep reading for more.

Be fabulous,


P.S - Hey, I’m launching a new service called Power Day for the impatient, deadline-driven, and time-challenged among us, where we compress 8 sessions’ worth of work into one kick-ass day.  Get something big done faster. Just you and me, 8 hours, working on whatever you want, like creating a mental strategy for a big race, brainstorming what’s next for you, or nailing down your own Why along with the goals and actions steps you need to take to make it happen. 

Sound perfect? Sign up here for my mailing list to get the details. The available dates will be limited and you won’t want to miss it!