How to Keep the Training Fires Burning

By Carrie Barrett – August 1, 2014

I had a pep talk text session with two athletes on the morning of a scheduled long run. “Take your time and just put one foot in front of the other,” I typed, reminding myself how simple it was. You see, I had my own long run to do and was not looking forward to it. Ironically, I'm one of those annoying people who absolutely love to run. Yep, I can talk incessantly about how running makes me feel free, empowered, and invincible. (I know. Gag me.) Well, that day, I wasn't having it. I, too, was planted firmly in Let's-Just-Meet-For-Brunch Land. My text was intended to pep them up as well as motivate me to get off my butt and do the work.

As much as anyone loves to train, it is hard and, sometimes, just plain work. If you're like me, you'll come up with any excuse to postpone or outright skip it. One day missed turns into two, which then turn into three. Before you know it, you're slipping down the rabbit hole of negativity and training apathy. The warmth of the training fire is fading.

Up-and-down training trends are normal. Most of the time, the breaks are temporary and rejuvenating. If, however, your feet are planted firmly in Negative-ville, here are a few tips to grab on to for life support and rescue you from the doldrums. Simply embracing one or two can help reignite the workout passion and get you back on the path to the finish line.

1. Do the hard stuff first.
It's amazing how something written on the computer can literally grow an evil life of its own. Do the hard stuff first. Don't put it off. This is the same advice used to manifest success in business, marriage, and just about any dynamic relationship that involves consistent effort. Get it done before your mind can process all of the junk and potential negative self-talk that revolves around a hard training session. If it’s a speed run session, I like to say, “Hit the track at the crack.” Get up early (even if that means a headlamp) to beat the boot campers and dog walkers and knock back those 800s like you own them—because, at 5 a.m., you do. Sure, you'll hate your alarm clock and your coach, but you'll love yourself and that's really all that matters. Nothing beats a post-workout endorphin rush as the sun is rising.

2. Focus only on the present moment.
I'm starting to sound like Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey, but these new age thinkers, spiritual advisors, and billionaires have it right. It's human nature to look ahead at a run or a long bike ride and start to dread the miles. You self-sabotage, convincing yourself you'll never make it through. Sometimes, you think back on that one time when you had the same workout and weren't able to finish. Dwelling on the past and laboring over the future scripts failure. Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you're right.” He is also quoted as saying, “Failure is simply an opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” I love him.

How can you possibly only focus on the present? It may sound “woo woo,” but one of the first and most simple solutions is to slow down. Focus on breathing; count foot strikes; tell yourself to relax when running; smile at everyone you pass on the trail; take in the surroundings and notice something you've never seen before. Pick a completely new running route and explore. Heck, run repeats on the new boardwalk; if that doesn't put you in a happy place, nothing will because it's spectacular. Ten hill repeats on the schedule? Think only about the one you are doing at that moment. So often, the focus is on the end goal and off the here and now. Relax. Enjoy the present moment. It's the only one you ever get.

3. Find purpose in the task.
One of the reasons for resisting something is the lack of a full sense of purpose for doing it in the first place. “Why am I doing this again?” is a frequent refrain when motivation fails. I encourage you to list the reasons for setting a particular goal. In fact, I encourage my athletes to write a reason every day. The reason doesn't matter; whether you are raising awareness for a charity or impressing a hot dude, you must have a goal, a plan, and a reason to push beyond the comfort zone. And, depending on the magnitude of the goal, the reasoning better extend beyond “my coworkers talked me into this stupid thing.” Peer pressure may get you across the finish line of a 5K, but it won't get you to an Ironman finish. Listing one reason every day will provide an abundance of purpose to draw upon when race day approaches.

4. Find inspiration in others.
I have an arsenal of inspiring books to thumb through when I need my motivational fires stoked. Two of my favorites: Mind Gym: An Athlete's Guide to Inner Excellence by Gary Mack and David Casstevens and Fit Soul, Fit Body: 9 Keys to a Healthier Happier You by Mark Allen and Brant Secunda. Both tackle the bigger picture of fitness—how to keep the mindset strong and positive. Having a fit body is one thing, but the more developed and trained the mind “muscle,” the more physical success will follow. People think that athletic success breeds happiness. It is, in fact, the other way around. Happiness begets athletic success.

Taking time to volunteer at events can be incredibly motivating and inspiring. Cheer for those who are struggling; extend an arm to help another out of the water; run alongside a bike to hand up a bottle at an aid station; put a medal around a finisher’s neck. Volunteering never fails to remind me how lucky and grateful I am to be a part of this triathlon community.

5. Find company to share.
Want to love something? Get a partner-in-crime who’ll hold you accountable (i.e., call you out when you want to bail). Even if you hate it together, two minds are stronger than one. My training partners have helped me through tough workout days and been my confidants and therapists during life's rough patches. Don't get me wrong—I absolutely love to run by myself; it's “me” time. But there are, however, days and sessions where everyone wants and needs  company. For instance, I have a friend who was training for a 100-mile run (yep, she's that crazy person). While she did a lot of solo training, she also had regular 50-mile training runs on the schedule. A parade of training partners and friends showed up to keep her company. Some ran and others biked alongside, and her positive and steadfast mindset kept everyone inspired.

If the thought of working out by yourself sounds no bueno, join one of the many running and training groups in town. There are clubs and teams for athletes of all levels and age groups. In Austin, you never have to train alone…unless you want to.

6. Make training a game.
Turn off the training devices and work out for fun. What? What? Yeah. I know—your job makes you take life seriously, but your hobbies and passions shouldn't. If you're struggling to find motivation, visit Austin Pets Alive! to take one of their rescue dogs for a run or walk; try a new run/walk rhythm; take a hike or run along one of the many hidden trail gems in the city; run to Whole Foods to meet friends for a happy hour. Turn your training into a commuting game to find out how many places you can go by foot or bike. (Have you tried out the new B-Cycles around town? They rock! Granted, they're not the most aerodynamic bikes out there, but they're guaranteed to make you feel like a hipster.) Run and train for fun or as my running mentor, Gilbert Tuhabonye would say, “Run with joy.” It's contagious.

Wouldn't it be great if training were easy all of the time? Wouldn't life be perfect if you woke up with tons of energy ready to take on the world and all of the Mt. Bonnell repeats you could muster? It might, but I suspect you wouldn't enjoy it as much.  You see, true love of training really only comes when that fire starts to burn low and you have to figure out how to keep it going. Do you stoke the fire or do the logs burn out and become cool ash? I encourage you to fan those flames and keep the training fire lit.

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