Long-Term Motivation and Momentum

There is an awkward pause whenever I’m asked about my race plans. I am a triathlete without races, or at least one who has yet to tow the line. My history brands me a frequent competitor, but half a year has passed and the most I’ve done is an offhand 10km open water swim. I pause knowing there’s an expectation to list a long series of races, but instead I need a moment to construct an excuse.

“I’m not focussing on racing this year”, I explain, before naming the two Ironman distance events and the ITU Long Distance Worlds on my schedule. A heavy season by many standards, but three races feels light by my own. The difference is the lack of goals – I’ve entered for the experience, not the performance.

My awkward handling of this simple question reflects my concerns. I chose to step back training this year and largely I have; the change is reflected in the hours put in and the time has been well used elsewhere. I’ve also stated intentions of pushing for better performances in 2012, a come back of sorts. I won’t focus on training this year, but want to start the next ready to set personal bests.

The underlying insecurity of an endurance athlete kicks in. I am not ready. My first major race of 2012 is eleven months away and already a part of me is concerned about my preparation. Absurd, but true. The same insecurities dig at me, making it hard to truly abandon the notion of racing this year. Can I really face racing when my goal isn’t to do my best?

Five weeks remain until the Outlaw Triathlon, my first Ironman of the season. True to my word – I am not going to perform. I have a plan to survive the swim, push the bike and do whatever gets me round the run. I know I am cycling strongly and I’m excited to see how hard I can push for 112 miles. I know I have the lowest run fitness of my athletic career, the marathon will be a game of survival. There is no option to perform, so I’ve chosen to test my limits on the bike. I can at least learn.

But the biggest challenge of an unfocussed season is maintaining momentum. I have a natural tendency towards all or nothing, either throwing myself into training or struggling to make it to the door. Race a lot and it’s easy – a month or two pushing hard in preparation then a few weeks off for recovery. Take that cycle away, think long term and training needs to carry through. Not performing this year takes away pressure, but wanting to perform next year demands consistency.

I overcame my inertia and built into a solid spring; good, consistent hours of training and clear improvements after the winter lull. For a while I had that momentum, it carried me through to the start of summer and a trip out to Lanzarote. Watching the Ironman was inspiring and motivating, but after a few months of good training the momentum died. On return I took a break – a few weeks easier than planned. At first due to illness, but then inertia took hold again.

Slow to start. Pace is finally gathering and motivation seems to be returning. I hope this is fresh momentum and I can look forward to a few more months of good training. At the same time I’m anxious, concerned that I’m unprepared. I acknowledge my limited Outlaw goals, but subconsciously struggle to accept them; it would be good to perform. Frustration becomes the biggest hinderance to finding my drive – if I’m not pushing myself, why train at all? I have always struggled most with the short and the easy sessions.

Perhaps it is good timing that my Powertap wheel is back in the shop to have its worn out rim replaced. For a few days training is less measured and there is reduced pressure in each session. A reminder that long term means consistency and not constantly pushing for more. Progress isn’t linear and preparation for 2012 will inevitably have breaks. I can’t train hard for eleven months in a row.

Lulls in momentum are natural as is the anxiety that accompanies them. Focussing long term feels like complacency when you’ve been used to cramming training into the week. There’s much to be positive about – cycling strongly, a new approach to running and I’m sure if I could bring the momentum to swimming I’d be in good shape soon. The Outlaw may not be my best performance, but the long term looks good.

Ironman Training Library

From nutrition to pacing - a collection of CoachCox blog posts focused specifically on Ironman training and racing.