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Mental Training 101: I’m Struggling with Motivation for Winter Training—Help!

Uncertainty around the race calendar can wreak havoc with motivation—here's how to get going.

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One of the greatest challenges in 2020 for many of the athletes with whom I work has been maintaining a significant level of motivation given the postponement and cancellations of so many competitions. For many, the “dangled carrot” of a future race has been a primary inspiration, which generated interest and intention to push through some of the daily challenges, apathy, or indifference. But for as long as the racing and competition schedule remains undefined, how do you stay motivated? One recommendation that might be effective is to readjust and redefine the “why” behind your training. This examination can connect us with the internal wellspring from which our training desire flows. Do you train because you like the discipline of it? Do you train because of the fitness aspects? Do you train because of the challenge in getting incrementally better, more fit, stronger, or faster every session? Do you train because of the solitude it provides and the head space clarity? Do you train because of the social environment you create for yourself in your training? Do you train as an outlet/stress reliever? Consider peeling the layers off of the surface “whys” and getting down to question yourself even more deeply. Are you training to manage insecurities in other parts of your life? Does training buoy your self-confidence in ways that your job and/or relationships currently do not? Does your training give you a sense of control over something in a time where you’re feeling out of control of a lot of things?  Any of these things (or others) can be helpful in identifying, acknowledging, and using as motivation to get your daily work done. 

In addition to understanding your why, which is connecting with our “push,” getting clarity about what you ultimately want out of your training regimen (our “pull”) can also be helpful. This is more related to something that you can see down the road as an achievement. Despite the fact that there may not be an immediately defined “pull” from a scheduled competition, are you looking toward a future fitness goal of some type? Is there something that you can identify that has significance to you in its achievement? Dropping time? Specific increases in strength? Weight loss? Improved VO2 max? 

For some, the primary inspiration for their daily training session comes from more of a notion of wanting to step on the starting line at their next event—independent of whenever that might be—knowing that they prepared each day during the pandemic in such a way that they were making daily progress. Most athletes can find some inspiration in the image of themselves feeling fully primed to take full advantage of their first race out of the gate. Others find similar inspiration in wanting to avoid the circumstance where they will have an opportunity in the future for which they were not adequately prepared. 

Make an investment of your time to connect with and get clarity about your inherent reason for engaging in this process of training, and allow that clearness to sustain you as we all await getting back to being race-inspired—whenever that is!

Jeff Troesch is a sports psychologist with more than 30 years’ experience in the field. He has worked with professional and amateur athletes from a wide range of sports, including golf, tennis, surfing, and triathlon. He has helped lead pro triathletes to world championship and regional championship titles. He was a guest on our Fitter & Faster podcast, which you can listen to here.