Triathlon training is work. A lot of work, especially if you are training for long course events. And it is not just physically exhausting either. Balancing triathlon with all of the other aspects of life can get to be mentally exhausting as well. Work, family, friends, chores etc; — all those other non-triathlon aspects of your life don’t go away, you have to find a way to balance it all. You have to stay motivated; otherwise, you may end up (say it with me now, “Living in a van, down by the river!”)
Chris Farley proving once again that motivation is a fire that only you can light.
Motivation is a funny thing; no two people are motivated by exactly the same things. What drives you is as unique as your fingerprint, and that drive is what helps you accomplish your goals. If you’re trying to use tactics that motivate other people, or feel hollow to you, that motivation is not authentic.
More importantly, it may not be intrinsic; think about the person who uses money as a motivator. He or she accumulates a large pile of wealth and bought lots of expensive things. But when asked, this type of person often reveals: “I thought the money would make me happy, but it didn’t.” Don’t get me wrong, money can make a lot of things easier; I think it can be a facilitator for other things that can make people happy, but if you don’t know what those more intrinsic things are, you will still end up asking yourself what motivates you.
Affirmations for motivation
To learn what motivates you, the athlete, sit down with pen and paper and think about the things that you love about endurance sports, why you do them. Write in a positive, empowering tone. Scribble, swear, doodle. Do whatever it takes to get some sort of list down on paper. Once it is done, you have to post it somewhere where you will see it every day.
Many people find it easier to build affirmations by completing sentences like the following (if you want more examples or exercises to help with this, let me know):
- When I race I: (Ex. When I race, I feel the most alive)
- The best thing about training is: (Ex. The best thing about training is exploring new places on my long runs.)
- Racing makes me feel like: (Ex. Racing makes me feel like a superhero, I am brave and strong)
In short, affirmations are those things that Stuart Smalley might say, but not in that hollow, monotonous way. You can also use affirmations during workouts and racing. What’s crazy about affirmations is that you do not need to believe them in order for them to work. They just need to be repeated frequently. They can change; some affirmations may work for you for a while, then you may want to replace them with others. Make sure that you revisit your affirmations every 6-8 weeks to make sure they still resonate with you.
Create an Inspiration Wall
If you don’t like the above exercise, the alternative is build an “motivation or inspiration wall”. Basically, you need to start a collection of images, quotes, and other artifacts that you can mount on a big piece of paper. These items can be photos, magazine pages, old race numbers, fortune cookie fortunes. You name it, if it makes you feel good and speaks positively to you, it is fair game. This is something you can do in an evening, or take a week or two to do.
For such a wall to help you stay motivated with training, I recommend putting the names and dates of your goal races somewhere on your wall. Additionally, you could take the number from your favorite race and put it on your wall. When you see that number, you’ll be able to reconnect with what made that race your favorite. Make sure that it is something other than just a finish time. It could be the time, and how you felt during the race. Or it could be the toughest race you have ever done, and your result was less than stellar, but you dug deep and finished, and you are extremely proud of that.
The key is that all of your artifacts are someplace where you see them everyday, and that the items you choose empower you. Coach Sarah and I used to have our refrigerator covered in tons of triathlon and running schwag until kids came along. Placing your inspiration wall on your fridge can also help prevent snacking raids, as you’re constantly reminded of what your goals are.
I have seen cubicles decked out in a similar manner. Seeing those positive affirmations everyday will help to remind you why you do what you do, and put it in a context that is meaningful to you and encourage you to get out the door.
Mix it up
Dean Karnazes has stated: “No matter what your definition of success, if you are not happy doing what you do all else seems immaterial. Follow your passions. . . There is no higher calling.”
If you aren’t happy training and racing like you have in the past, it may be time to make some changes. It has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result. This is not intended as a deterrent. Instead, mix up your training; train on new bike routes, swim at different pools, try a group workout instead of going solo. Group work specifically can add an element of competition that can provide a motivational boost. Athletes who mix up their training are often reminded of what they love about it in the first place. There are a lot of options here, so experiment and use what works.
I am recommending this with one very important caveat: limit yourself to Strava-posted one run and one ride a week. For those who are not familiar with Strava, it is an online social community that allows you to upload training data (.tcx files, for example) and evaluate your time on portions of routes or entire routes. The site not only lets you compare you against yourself, but also your times against others. The site informs you when you have set a new personal record for a course or course segment, and if you own the best time for a segment, it lets you know when someone has bested you. In other words, it turns training into a video game with a real world component.
If you’re aiming for new PRs all of the time, you are effectively undermining your training. Those base – L2 effort rides and runs get tossed away in favor of pursuing a new Strava PR. I call this “Strava-tage”. So limit your Strava-inspired domination to two workouts a week.
Other tips for instant motivation
- Race for a cause
- Buy new gear
- Watch an endurance themed movie or read a similar book
- Sign up for a race that is different from anything else you have ever done before
- Re-infuse your iPod playlist with new music
Fear as a motivator
Fear can be a great motivator; the emotion can be a great catalyst for getting people to take action. But it’s a negative form of motivation, which works against the goals you are working toward as an athlete. Here is an example of fear-driven motivation that I have heard countless times: “If I don’t train, I’ll get fat!” Telling yourself that over and over can be incredibly damaging. Miss a workout, and that self talk is likely to plummet even further.
Instead, you could make the statement positive by saying something like: “I love the way I look and feel when I train. I am healthy and fit!” A positive message like that is more likely to get you out the door.
Build your season at the onset, and motivation will follow
Sticking with training, day after day, week after week, it is easy to forget why you’re training. Life is full of surprises. You may have to travel for work, you may have to work extra hours, kids get sick. There’s a lot of things that commonly interfere with training, and that can kill your motivation. There are a few things you can do at the start of your race season that can help you ensure that your training stays on track, and you stay motivated:
- Plan your season, and let others know about it: Let your family, friends and coworkers know what you are training for. Make sure that your family understands the time commitment the training takes, and more importantly plan time for family too. This will help reduce a lot of the tension that results from long weekend workouts. A lot of people find that when schedules are communicated up front, people are more understanding.
- If possible do your workouts when there is less interference with other areas of your life: If you work a fairly normal schedule, you can minimize the impact that your training has on other areas of your life by doing your workouts early in the morning. For those people with odd work schedules, this may be a little more difficult and may require more planning.
- Plan plenty of downtime: One key to maintaining focus and motivation as an athlete over a long period of time is that you need to get away from training and racing periodically. Breaks allow athletes to heal physically and mentally. A break also allows you to focus on other things, during which you may actually remember why training and racing are so important to you in the first place. Please understand that we are not advocating nothing but couch surfing. That is fine, but you should try to continue with some level of exercise, it just does not need to be structured. During these types of breaks, leave your watch and heart rate monitor at home.
What do you do to stay motivated? Let us know in the comment area below. Better yet, send us a link to a photo of your own Inspiration Wall.