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We’re roughly two months into the new year and for most of us, our training and racing goals have already been developed and set in collaboration with our respective T:Zero coaches. Training Peaks is probably looking nice and green too – rolling hills for days.
But this isn't always the case...
It would’ve been easy to write yet another generic article on tips for getting back on the training wagon when the wheels have fallen off. But indeed, when you take the time to stop and consider loss of motivation, these superficial measures aren’t going to tackle the real problem.
The real problem is an ill-defined ‘why’.
Your why is not the result. Your why is the reason you’re striving for the result in the first place.
Take the following (quite common) example:
Result: Cross the finish line in my first Ironman
Why: To push myself beyond what I am (seemingly) capable of (mentally and physically); to see if I can make it.
Before tackling your why, of course you must first set the huge goal; one so big it scares the [insert expletive here] out of you.
Think back to your first Ironman (or first ever triathlon, irrespective of distance). Your why driving you to get up and train every morning, without fail, is the fact that you’re not quite sure if you’ll even be able to do it. Your why is clear. It’s highly likely you’re genuinely scared. You’re “all in”.
Fast forward down the track, with a few more races under your belt, and perhaps your why is not so clear anymore. Why are you here again? What are you trying to achieve? A better time? Is that motivation enough? This is a big reason why athletes often find it difficult to revert to compete at lesser distances and remain enthusiastic about it, once they’ve finished an Ironman. Sure, there’s always a performance factor – the desire to do better – to race faster – but is that enough to get you out of bed before dawn, every morning?
Without a very clear understanding of the reason you’ve committed to doing a race, your journey will be a struggle. And the destination (should you make it)? Not so sweet. Realistically, if you’re dragging your heels out of bed, or continually hitting the snooze button, your drive isn’t strong enough.
Conversely, if you are unreservedly clear on your why, you won’t struggle to find that motivation to get up in the dark and train. Sure, you might be tired, but you’ll still get up and get it done. There would be absolutely no argument in your brain about whether you should be doing it.
For any athlete who truly wants to get the most out of their journey, it’s vitally important they have a clearly defined why and then continue to revisit it, reassess it, ask the question often and write it down. Mental strength is such a huge component of endurance racing, and the why factor is arguably the biggest mental hurdle of all. Once you’ve overcome it; once your why is clear, so becomes your path.
Recognising that your why can change throughout your journey, and your ability to be open to that change, is also important to consider.
Take this coaching example of an athlete in her mid-50’s, with minimal endurance history. Her why was to see if she could finish an Ironman. Her coach got her swim and bike to a standard whereby she could walk the entire marathon and still cross the finish line in under 17 hours. Four months out from race day he told her she didn’t need to do any more running. Confused, she asked him for an explanation. The athlete was still projecting her original why, but when strategically challenged by her coach to re-evaluate, she realised her why had changed. She now wanted to run the whole marathon and see what she was truly capable of.
Certainly, this story is not unique. The desire to discover one’s ultimate capabilities is what attracts so many athletes to endurance racing in the first place.
“Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.” ― David McCullough Jr.
For many athletes, it’s not until the finish line that they realise it was never about crossing that line, but it was about the journey in the lead up to race day. In endurance racing, the most enjoyment comes from the grind of that journey and to be successful as an endurance athlete, you need to get solace and fulfilment from that grind. The early morning wake ups, runs in the pouring rain, solo hours on the bike, missed work drinks and everything in between – that’s the real deal. If you have a very clear understanding of your why, you’ll be able to look back on these experiences and the journey as a whole with warm nostalgia instead of complete resentment. If your why is clear, then the reward comes from the journey itself.
So what about metric gains? Aren’t they important too? In short, yes, they absolutely are. However, if your motivation is fuelled purely by a desire for metric gains, then the journey isn’t going to be enjoyable and you’re not going to get the most out of it either. Reflecting on a range of T:Zero athletes from years past, those who have seen the most improvement in metric gains over a short period of time are those who in their souls have embraced the grind of the journey. So, when they arrived at the start line, the result didn’t really matter. Whilst they wanted a good outing, regardless of the outcome on race day, they’d already won. Finishing the race within their perceived achievable timeframe was just the cherry on top. The finish line? It was just the view.
Throughout your triathlon journey (as is true in life itself) it’s important to take a step back and keep perspective along the way. Think about your journey not as yourself as an individual, toiling away alone, but rather a collaborative effort – family and friends, your workplace, coach and so forth – all these people are supporting and encouraging you; helping and willing you forward. They are your personal ‘A-team’. Stepping back and realising you’re just one part of a bigger picture to which so many people are contributing (and making sacrifices for) helps to remove the “woe is me” factor, allowing you to focus on the task at hand with absolute clarity. If you’re not prepared to put in the effort and your why is not clear, then you’re not only wasting your own time, but the time of your support crew too.
Anyone can find a coach or an online program to get them (in questionable forms of readiness) to the start line of an Ironman. But if you can find a coach who really instills in you the understanding that it is so much more than crossing a finish line, encourages you to revel in the journey; one that will expose your greatest weaknesses and push your physical and mental limits beyond what you ever thought possible? Then you’ve hit the jackpot.
So, if you happen to find yourself on Struggle Street or hitting ‘snooze’ far too often, instead of searching for a superficial fix, take some time to sit down and reconsider what’s ultimately driving you.
Remember, it’s okay for your why to change. It’s good to continually reassess your motivations throughout your journey. But if you’re not prepared to have these conversations with yourself and put some effort into your mental game, then come the finish line (if you even make it there), crossing it may very well leave you feeling unfulfilled and longing, wishing you enjoyed that journey more and perhaps wondering why you didn’t.
Feel free to share your ‘why’ with us in the comments below, we’d love to know! What drives you?
An amazing collection of training and racing advice from the T:Zero Multisport coaches- with the occasional guest blogger! Read this blog to help you live your potential!