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On Motivation

“Motivation is not a tank that needs to be filled. It is a fuel that needs to be ignited.”

We don’t need to find motivation, we can create it with discipline and determination. Lockdown has been tough on everybody for so many reasons. As endurance athletes we have had to adapt our training plans and deal with the uncertainty regarding when we will get to take part in events again. Yes, racing is how we show off what we have accomplished in our training and it is how we measure ourselves against our peers, but the training itself is at the core of who we are and how we perceive ourselves. It is a critical part of our lifestyles. It is how we stay healthy and sane. If you’re anything like me, and I think you are, you can’t do without it.

With the start of 2021 seeing the early races all being cancelled or postponed to later in the year, a lot of the ‘New Year Pump’ that most experienced was completely deflated. Many had a good December of training. making the most of the extra time that the holiday period offers to put together some high quality weeks in preparation for events in January and February. Then came the dreaded postponement announcements and many found their momentum evaporating in the Summer heat.

Motivation is not something that we need to find though. It is something we can create. I was recently told that a professional athlete would not understand it when an amateur tells them that they are battling with their motivation but this is not true. A professional athlete goes through the same ups and downs in their career as we all do but when your financial livelihood depends on your ability to train day in and day out, that creates motivation right there.

All of us, pro and am, will have periods where we just need to ‘gut out’ a few weeks. When a big stumbling block like a postponed or cancelled event pulls the motivation rug out from under us, we need to put our heads down and get the work done. Even if we are not necessarily enjoying it. Now I imagine that there was a big uproar from all who read that statement. At the crux of daily training is the fact that we enjoy it. We must enjoy it. If we don’t, we need to find something else to do with our time but… we are not talking about our long-term enjoyment. Part of what we enjoy about our training is the way it makes us feel, both mentally and physically. Our ability to do events that are hard, to keep improving our physical condition and our skills and techniques. These are all things that we enjoy about our sports. It is not necessary to enjoy every second of every training session. In fact, if we set out for that to be the case, we would not continue with anything for very long.

Remind yourself where you started and how far you have come – One of my favourite tricks to ignite some ‘motivation fuel’ is to go back and read old training diaries when I am questioning my desire to go out and train. I started way back when these were hand-written on paper but the same would apply going over past sessions on training apps of our various devices or applications like Training Peaks and Strava. This highlights the importance of keeping detailed training diaries. Not just uploading your data but adding descriptions of how things felt and recording personal victories and defeats.

Reading our enthusiasm in our post session analysis from early training sessions will remind us why we started. It will stimulate those same feelings in us now and help to push us though a rough patch. Reading how we celebrated achieving a training milestone, which today, we would consider easy, will remind us how far we have come. It is much, much easier to maintain the gains that we have made than it was for us to gain them in the first place. Our motivation will return sooner or later, no matter what. Is it not better to hold onto our form rather than have to work to regain it when the fire starts to burn brightly again?

Sometimes we have to be the hard-coach, not the sympathetic shoulder to cry on. We have to tell ourselves to suck it up and get out there and follow the plan. We will thank ourselves later. If there is no concrete date for an event to aim for, aim at the physical performance parameters that would have resulted in a good performance at the event. We know what result we were aiming for. What would have needed to do to achieve that. Do we need to be stronger, faster or have more endurance? Focus on that during these tough training sessions and get the work done.

Consistency ignites motivation, not the other way around. Motivation has brief, very bright flares but consistency is a slow-burning flame that keeps us going till the goal is achieved. Build a few weeks of consistent training through a low-motivation period by being disciplined and determined and you will see how your momentum builds. Sooner or later, you will no longer be lying in bed giving yourself a stern talking to, ten minutes after your alarm has gone off and instead, will find yourself sipping coffee before the alarm chimes, ready to charge out of the door.

Sometimes making yourself proud is making yourself do the work that you don’t feel like doing. Often, this is the work that achieves the biggest results.

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