As you guys should know by now, I’m your coach, but I’m an age grouper myself. And I understand very well the issues of juggling a busy life with the demands of a training routine.
Most importantly, I understand that once in a while, we lack the motivation for training. And to be 100% honest with you, the doctor DID NOT prescribe you to train for a triathlon, let alone for a half or full Ironman. So, why should you train when you’re not motivated? Or as Michel put it: “how do you keep yourself motivated for long distance triathlons year after year without long breaks in between seasons?” Or, on a slightly different note: “if you don’t feel like training, how do you know it’s your boding being tired and sending you a message, or if you’re just being lazy?”
I already wrote a post on how I think you should find your own motivation for training and racing, and you can read it again here if you fancy. But as this is still an ongoing issue, Michel’s newest questions urged more answers. So let’s try to break the questions down into smaller chunks.
1) How do you keep yourself motivated?
This is probably the mother of all the motivation-related questions and the most important thing you need to understand. Let’s re-phrase it: what’s YOUR motivation for training and racing? Is it an external motivation (I saw a very tempting video from IM Australia and signed up for the race; my friend is getting faster and I also want to qualify for Kona) OR is your motivation internal and personal?
I don’t want to say that external motivations are inherently bad, but I do believe that they will tend to fade away quicker than internal ones. It can take a lot more effort to find your own, personal motivations than simply ‘following the flow’, but from my personal experience that time is time well invested. I personally spend a good amount of time reflecting on what I want to do and why I want to train, rather than signing up for a race because 10 people of the club just did, or because “Roth” is one for the bucket list (one day I’ll do Roth though). So my advice is to take tour time to think and take a step back from the mainstream motivation junk (read: marketing) and find your own goals. That said, a well-edited video with a nice soundtrack can still be a good trigger ;)
2) How do I keep myself motivated year after year?
That is a nice question and breaks down into two different components: the motivation one and the long-term perspective. Let’s bear in mind once more time that nobody has forced you into triathlon and that if you’re satisfied with the only Ironman you ever raced, you can actually walk away from the sport or focus on something else.
The nice thing of triathlon is that they is a multidiscipline activity: you can focus on sprint and Olympic triathlons because they’re more manageable within your weekly schedule (DO NOT read easier if you want to perform at high level or push your limits), or you can even decide to focus on one single discipline: swimming, cycling, running, playing football or tennis with your friends, rock climbing, and even mountain biking!
I think that nothing is always fixed and definitive in life, so you can decide to take a year completely off from triathlons and see how it goes; switch your goals to something different but in the same environment OR, if you really want to race long distance events year after year, you maybe need to work more on your inner motivation. If that is your scenario, then try to be realistic with the time you have available to train AND find ways to still enjoy the process. If you don’t most enjoy what you do most of the time, then it’s probably a good sign you should try something else. Like curling.
3) The long break
I know lots it’s being said about “off season” – but try not to look at “off season” as a period where you are not training at all for 3-4 months. This, I personally believe, can already equals to a short- or medium-term break from the sport. But that’s my personal point of view. Again, if you find it hard to train and you don’t have the motivation after such a time-span, then maybe:
A) You still haven’t find your own motivation and you’re still trying to only tick other people’s boxes;
B) You may be a little stressed and/or tired from your life and work commitments;
C) You may be a bit burned out by the triathlon bug and you may need to focus on something else (and that’s totally fine). In this case, the lack of motivation may even come from something that happened months or years ago.
4) How do you know if it’s your body being tired and sending you a message, or if you’re just being lazy?
This can be the hardest one to answer. Although sometimes we only prefer not to look at the answers to our questions, I still believe that you may know the answer better than anyone else. Other times is different of course: the answer can be a mix of both or — alternatively — the one you didn’t think it was plausible in the first place, or none of the two.
The best way to find out the answer is still “to go out and find out”. If your body is tired, it won’t take much to realise that. You may struggle to match the power numbers set for that sessions, or you may feel that the run pace and heart rate zones for that day are too demanding. You may also feel that even the “easy segments” feel harder than they used to. But if you’re out there and still gave it a go, the good thing is that you can still get some benefits from that session.
As you know, the rule number one in the way we train is consistency. So, if you don’t know you’re tired or lazy; but you still went out and tried out; you eventually found out you’re actually tired; but you still do something; than you’ve got a bonus session right there. If you can’t match the numbers, don’t despair. Going slow and at a low intensity for at least 35-40 minutes is still better than sit on the couch.
If on the contrary, it is not the body, but the mind that is tired, then you need to work around that differently. If the weather is nice, I’m sure you could still enjoy what you’re doing (at least a little bit, no?). If, on the other hand, you still feel that you just hate what you’re doing, then stop. Have a coffee (yes, in this case I’m fan of coffee stops), enjoy being outdoors and treat yourself. Be nice and don’t put extra pressure on yourself, and just accept the moment as it is. As I said before, I think nothing is fixed in life, and your feelings towards what you’re doing can always change and you can find new energy in a relatively short amount of time. But be nice with yourself!
5) So, why should you train when you’re not motivated?
At the end of last week I had almost zero motivation to train. I had had some busier weeks with my jobs, my wife was sick and struggled with a virus the whole week and I had lost some hours of sleep here and there. At the end of the week I felt burned out.
I knew I would have not matched the training sessions prescribed, but that was OK, even while I was 2 weeks from a half Ironman. Resting and getting the mental and physical energy back was crucial. I took one day completely off, although that worked only in part. I still had to reduce the length and frequency of other sessions because of time constraints and because I really felt like shit still.
I decided to wait for a different time of the day to train. I waited until I felt better and more motivated and tackled the session I was supposed to, only a bit shorter. Of course, at the end of it I felt much better.
The most important thing though, is that I only took one complete day off and still managed to train a little bit every day. I was able to keep the consistency going and balanced that with the requests coming from my mind and my motivation. I am actually proud I was flexible with my routine, but I still endured through the lower moment and came back.
VERY LONG STORY, VERY SHORT.
It’s damned hard to keep training when you’re not motivated and we all have our own strategies to push through if we want and need to. The best thing is only to go out and see what happens. The motivation can always come back very quickly – but if not, then that’s a sign we should try something else.
However, I would always suggest you to be a bit compassionate with yourself and not too hard. That (being hard) never works for a long period of time.