Training for Pleasure

When I run there is lightness to my step and fluidity in my movement. Confidence is returning and with it the subconscious fear that something – that previous injury – might go wrong diminishes. I’ve been running without calf pain for months and a winter free of interruptions has allowed me to slowly regain some fitness. Spring brings hope. I’ve written about putting the previous season behind me and it finally feels like I can. There is the potential to return to form.

Despite my doubts it has always been there, the question of whether I could revisit previous performances was a distraction, the relevant question was how I could revisit previous performances? And, perhaps, did I want to pay that price?

Drawn to comparisons of this year with the last I started to ponder these questions and the direction I am about to take. I previously concluded that last year went wrong because, “there was no plan.” True to a point, but it overlooked the huge role my own motivation had played in the affair; I made choices: not to swim, not to run far, to rest because I’m tired, to cycle a little bit more, to continue racing when unprepared. In the absence of a detailed plan I made successful progress on the bike, it was the absence of consistent training that hindered development. If I honestly evaluate the last four years – I’ve never stuck to a structured plan, but at my best I have been consistent.

The cycle of motivation, work and fitnessHow I train is intimately linked to how I feel. I struggle in the off season when fitness is low, motivation flounders and my peaks seem like distant memories, but I flourish in season, once spring is done and fitness has grown, training comes naturally and I have an innate desire again; then, sometimes, I push myself too far and for a while I struggle once more. Motivation drives work, work drives fitness, fitness in turn drives motivation. When one component is low the others follow – early season my lack of fitness makes it hard to do the work and I am poorly motivated, at my peak I’m fit and motivated enough to work too hard. I’ve felt the link most strongly when I go too far, fatigue and motivation tightly bound prevent me from working and fitness falls. Mood is a good indicator of form.

I train informally, driven by a desire to work and be fit and an enjoyment of sharing the experience with others, but it’s not unbounded. I realise that while I’ve lacked the strictness of a schedule, I’ve developed rules:

  • Ride a long way at least once a week.
  • Ride hard and fast often.
  • Ride hills whenever I can.
  • Run long once a week.
  • Run often.
  • Run fast every so often.
  • Swim often.
  • Swim hard often.
  • Train with others.
  • Go by feel: if it feels good do more, if it feels bad do less.*
  • Keep doing the work.

* Good and bad are subjective terms, good can hurt; it’s about being willing to push yourself.

I don’t want a firm plan. I may think I need one, but it would detract from the pleasure of training. I’ve had success constructing week after week to this formula, progressively working harder as my fitness grew; perhaps I was limiting myself, slowing my progress, but I’m fine with that – it’s never been just about race results. I train for enjoyment.

The season ahead? I’ll build it with my rules, starting next week with another home training camp – six days of big mileage, maybe this time I will kick-start the season. There’s plenty of racing, I’m looking forward to it; I’m not setting myself targets, simply aiming to race as well as I can. I’d like to go faster, but not at any cost. I’ve spent a lot of time focussed on improving, this year I just want to enjoy it. It’s sunny outside, time for another run.


  • Andy B


    Have you heard of Cognitive Evaluation Theory? (a sub-theory of self-determination theory). I think you would certainly find it interesting, considering the themes of this post.



  • Andy,

    I had not, but thanks to Google, I can find out more! Based on a quick read around (and I do mean quick, wiki and a couple of the top links on Google) I can see the relevance, my motivation is strongest when it feels like what I’m working towards is within my competence; so having a general principle in place that sees me looking to work more each week (in whatever terms you want to define more) keeps me motivated as the small push seems within my competence. Of course at this point of the year, the idea of racing an Ironman well doesn’t seem close to competence at all, so poor motivation! I can also relate to the notion of intrinsic motivation – that the work itself fascinates me more than the results.

    Interesting ideas. I’d become increasingly aware of the relationship of motivation and fitness over the last year, I think being at much lower levels of fitness than I was used to opened me to this. Largely I had been considering it simply along lines of a distant reward – race performance – not being sufficiently motivating in the immediate moment and a tendency to favour short-term gains over long-term.

    Thanks for the recommendation


  • RobQuantrell

    Hey Russ,

    Great post – You said you may need a firm plan, but it might detract from the pleasure of training. I would posit that a firm plan would feed directly into the enhanced fitness = enhanced motivation = enjoyable training?

    Despite your last paragraph I would say as a gut reaction (and you probably get this all the time) a coach “may” be the missing piece of the puzzle. Your list is more guidelines than rules per se and is vulnerable to the motivation part of your cycle. By using a coach to establish rigidity within your guidelines (thereby taking the pressure off you to determine and create that rigidity) you decouple the work = fitness = motivation = work. The absolute key is getting the right coach. I am going down this path currently and it is very (very) hard to let go and cede “control” to another person (I use “control” in commas as your cycle is based on your decisions – and knowing your cycle, having control is actually not helping). To use a poor metaphor, I have had to have complete faith that my coach knows the path, even if he doesn’t know the vehicle 🙂

    If that person is not perfect, or you (and him/her) are not willing to give it a concerted effort (a season at least?) then it will be an expensive lesson.

    A year of training under the perfect coach would yield a very scary Russ Cox on the start line!! 🙂



  • Russ,

    Seems very similar to what Matt Fitzgerald preaches in his latest book on Running by feel. I think it’s called “Run”.

  • Hey Rob,

    Well that gave me plenty to occupy my thoughts on my evening run (in typical fashion I distracted myself and didn’t get out until the end of the day!) Not many people tell me a coach would help, possibly they think it, actually I suspect quite lot of them think it, but they rarely share. But the crux is would I buy in? As you identify that would be key, if you don’t buy in to your coaches plan, then you are basically wasting money!

    I’m not sure. Perhaps at some point, but I don’t think now is the time. More broadly I’m not convinced I want to chase the results enough at the moment; I’m starting to enjoy the training again, I’m starting to look forward to the huge race load I’ve set up for myself, but I’m not sure I’m concerned with PBs enough. They might come, last year those guidelines had me fit enough on the bike to tow Epic Camp a long way across the Alps! I suspect, however, that sticking to my vague guidelines is not going to get the most out of me. It’s not a way I’d coach an athlete, far too imprecise and a cavalier attitude to testing… And it doesn’t in address my weakness with regard to volume, I noted on my run today that as running starts to feel good I’m increasingly inclined to just go and run more; I would happily leap into 80+km weeks now, and break down in the process.

    Also I am a bit of a control freak, and the idea of someone else telling me exactly what to do… I am my own worst athlete!

    But it did make me think (including who I’d consider). You’re right, a coach is probably the way for me to really achieve my best. The way I train now perhaps gains me a small percentage improvement in some areas every year, but I’m likely giving away something through my generalised approach. If I’m honest, I don’t want to tie myself to a plan or strict goal right now. Scary Russ Cox will have to wait a while yet!


  • James,

    I have a copy of that book on my desk. It’s unread, like a number of other good books in the stack. I really need to properly implement reading time into every day, at the moment that’s a bit to hit and miss and the Kindle tends to win over print for convenience.


  • Loving the comments!