Staying Motivated while Training

Getting Started May 04, 2020

I was trying to keep all of my #100DaysToOffload posts over on my general blog but this suggestion from Kev@Fosstodon was just too good to pass up. As it's fitness related, I thought it should be here.

Earlier today I tooted a short follow-up to my post regarding my month of training based on the MAF method. That month was something I really struggled with towards the end and I couldn't wait for it to be over. So how do you keep that drive to just keep moving forwards?

It's inevitable that at some point, your motivation to keep training is going to take some hits. Not only does it affect us mere mortals, but the professional athletes battle with this too. Knowing that is also a huge boost. Every single athlete (leisure, amateur or professional) is going to struggle to lace up those shoes, snap on those goggles, jump on that bike or do whatever sport it is that you choose to take part in. The most important thing to remember is that you had the strength to even attempt it and that makes you amazing.

I can feel the frustrated eyes scanning down the post already. Just wanting to know the secret to staying motivated. Stop waffling and tell me already. The answer is:

There is no secret. It's completely individual.

Sorry to disappoint you. But that is it boiled down in to one little sentence. Now that's not to say there aren't ways to help you stay motivated. There absolutely are little tricks you can play on your mind and your body to make it think the torture is almost over. But for me, I don't think I can honestly say I ever want that torture to end.

For me, staying motivated to train isn't too hard anymore. That's not to say there aren't days when I really don't want to run another X mile threshold workout, or that I don't want to do another set of deadlifts (I hate deadlifts). In-fact, today is one of those days where I look at that squat rack and shudder at the thought of the 95% 1RM (lifting weights that are 95% of the total weight I can lift for 1 repetition) load that is coming my way later today. I would much rather flick on the PS4 and blow shit up.

Now, I did say that it's not too hard anymore. What is it that drives me forward to push myself like that when it is hard? That is one incredibly loaded question that would probably be best discussed between me and a therapist for the rest of my life and is far too personal to divulge on the internet. Besides which, that would cost far too much money and running in to the hills is free. You can say anything you want to yourself out there and not hurt anyone else in the process. Therapy bill avoided.
But without digging to deep and personal, it's the constant struggle to make sure I'm a better person than I used to be. There is a quote that goes something along the lines of:

Strive to be the best version of yourself

I don't remember it exactly, but that is what drives me. Fighting to be the best version of myself that I can possibly be. Easier said than done when that tub of ice cream is calling and your favourite TV series is ready to be binge watched for the next 48 hours straight. Especially with the world as it is right now. You just have to take it one day at a time, one set, one mile, one more "holy shit I'm going to throw up 25% gradient climb on the bike" that feels like it will never end.

But you also have to make those mistakes, those little failures, to find what you want. Because as I said earlier, there is no secret to staying motivated, you must simply find the reason you are choosing to move forward.
Maybe it's to loose weight because your fat ass couldn't make it up a flight of stairs without being out of breath (go read my about page, yeah, that was me). Maybe it's about conquering a fear. Maybe it's both and more.

“Why do we fall, sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.”- Alfred Pennyworth

If you're just getting started (or re-started) with your fitness journey, there are a couple of tips that will help you succeed.

Don't do too much too soon

We all have that initial surge of interest in something new, especially when it comes to being fitter an healthier. A common issue I see is that people try doing too much. Let's use running as an example. Some people will attempt to run every single day when they get started because that will make you better faster, right? That's not going to help you - you're just going to burn out and end up hating it, or worse, injure yourself because your body isn't ready for that yet.
Take it easy, 2 or 3 times a week, short and sweet and leave yourself wanting more. Especially if you're not in it to compete (straight away ;)). This method isn't going to burn so many calories you can gorge yourself on that doughnut when you get in I'm afraid, but that's short term thinking! You're in this for the long haul, right?

You need to build yourself up, brick by brick and build a strong foundation, not only in terms of fitness but also mental strength. It took me a year of training to not only build my fitness but my mental strength to push through my Ironman Wales race. There were tears and there was fear of failure, but build on yourself, one day at a time, then one week. These grow in to months and before long, getting up at some stupid time in the morning while it's still dark and everyone else is asleep doesn't seem so difficult any more. It becomes just one of those things you do.

Set an overall goal, split it down in to chunks and then split down once more. That's your target. One small victory on a regular basis.

Training Partners

A reliable training partner can make all the difference to some people. Personally, I prefer to train on my own. I use that time to work through my own fears, doubts, anger, {insert feeling here}. But for some, being on their own is just too daunting (perhaps dangerous for some depending on a few factors). So grab a buddy and have a laugh. It also gives you that little bit of accountability in that you don't want to let each other down. I've had some fantastic rides alone, but I've also had so much fun on others with someone by my side. One ride was so wet, and so miserable you'd honestly wonder why we carried on. But we were laughing and joking through every mile.

Cheat Day

If you're just getting started, chances are you're following a "diet". A disgusting term when used incorrectly as most marketing does but that is a completely different personal rant that I'm not really qualified to advise on either.

However, I try to eat lighter and cleaner for most of the week. The only thing I try to restrict is heavily processed foods. Except when it comes to cheat day, and oh boy - I have fun. There is one day a week where I will have whatever it is I'm craving. My usual main meal is a great big cheese burger (well vegetarian burger) AND pizza. Along with sweet potato chips and corn on the cob. This and a few naughty snacks throughout the day usually covers all my desires for the week for that stodgy naughtiness.

That doesn't mean you should go absolutely mental and eat your bodyweight in chocolate at every meal, but you also shouldn't feel guilty about having that little treat. As long as you're not having a week long cheat day (*cough* never done that *cough*).

Have Fun

Perhaps the most important one. Make sure you're enjoying yourself out there, whatever sport you choose. You can't beat a long run in the snow, it's amazing and makes you feel free.

We spend our entire lives pandering to other people, saying yes all the time and doing shit we really don't want to do. For what? So we can seem like that perfect person? Bollocks. Say no and have that time to yourself. We get one life (well, maybe - that's a dangerous topic) and you shouldn't waste a damn second of it. I'm not advising you to turn in to a complete arsehole and treat people like dirt. Not at all. But there's nothing wrong with saying no to people who take advantage all the time.

Want to squeeze in a last minute meeting over my lunch break? Tough tits, pal. Your inability to plan more than 5 minutes ahead is your problem, not mine and I'm going for a run/ride in the sun. There are legitimate emergencies where you need to make allowances of course, but this comes under not being an arsehole. This also leads in to the last one.

Make Time

Our days are full already. Juggling family, work and all-sorts of other things. Squeezing in more? Sometimes we just have to make our days longer. I prefer to do as much as I can in the morning, but that often means an earlier night. I like to be in bed by 10PM and will have my alarm set anywhere from 5AM depending on what workout I have planned for the day. Getting up at those times is not something you can just flick a switch and do x days a week. I had to build the basic blocks, starting with 1 or 2 days a week. You will slowly adjust and before long you'll be raring to go before the birds.

The Too Long; Won't Read

For those of you that have skipped to the bottom looking for the TL;DR (I don't blame you, that was some serious waffle), it's this:

Take it slow, build it up one day at a time, grab a friend (or make new ones), don't feel bad if you slip a day here and there but don't make a habit of it. There's nothing wrong with having that pizza or the beer with your friend. But most importantly, have fun and make time for yourself. This journey is all about you and shouldn't be done to pander to someone else's feelings or desires. We're not all superhuman professional athletes and we can't all look like the front of the magazine models that have been photoshopped to hell and back with perfect lighting. There are some people in the world that are just awe inspiring (Jason Statham / Hugh Jackman). Seriously, I didn't look that good in my prime... bastards. But it wasn't handed to them. They had to work at it and build it up one step at a time.

You're going to have days when you feel like a failure and just can't continue but use that as the next building block to remove that fear.
I distinctly remember coming in from one ride utterly devastated after struggling so much to grind through 60 miles. At the time I just sat down and had a little moment, wondering how the hell I could ever complete 112 miles between a 2.5 mile swim and a marathon. It seemed impossible. Identify the weakness, find the cause and destroy it. Maybe it means training a certain aspect a little more, maybe it means talking an issue through with someone that you didn't realise was even there.

“It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” – Batman

Pretty soon "I can't" replaces itself with "I better had" and the whole thing doesn't seem like "motivation" anymore, but just something you do.

If this inspires even one person to go out there and improve themselves, then I guess it did the job. If not, well, that was a waste of over 2000 words and some time you'll never get back.

Gray

An average amateur athlete striving to be better every day. Competes in running & triathlon events and has one Ironman finisher medal to his name so far.