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Training Motivation

Finding That (Extra) Time

I often hear the comment: “its all right being advised that you must do this or that to improve your running, but I don’t have the time to spare.”

The following observations may help.

In the first instance it’s not always the time factor that is the basis for the original statement, but a lack of real motivation in your training, so this aspect needs to be checked out.

Initially you have to make an effort to find a little more enthusiasm, and the easiest way to do this is, is to arrange some of your training with a friend or colleague.  Having made a commitment to train with them (for some of the time) let their enthusiasm work for the both of you, their regular company - no matter what the weather - is a major help in reviving lost enthusiasm.  Many runners find themselves in set routines with little in the way of variation in routes or tempo, the old saying ‘that a change is as good as a rest’ is never truer in this respect.  Sometimes running with a friend not knowing where your next run will be - new routes - can generate more interest and pleasure and increase enthusiasm.

If you already train with other runners then it’s much easier to bounce ideas off them for increased mileage.  There is also the other route of using one of the club coaches to set out a revised schedule - having a conscience that can ask questions is highly motivating.

Bad weather is a great de-motivator and is another reason that deters runners from that extra mileage.  The advice here is to gear up with the right clothing, running in the rain or cold is little different from dry conditions if you have the right attitude, and fully waterproof clothing.  With a good cap and gloves, these can give you all the protection you need.  I know it costs mega bucks for Gortex - or its equivalent - but Christmas or birthdays should at some time reap a Gortex jacket.  I use a waterproofing silicone spray for my cap and mittens, which makes a big difference in the comfort zone.  Don’t forget the illuminating factor, ensure that your shoes or top have some reflective material.

If your times for training are not suited to company, then there is always the truly dedicated route of going out before you go to work.  Many athletes fight shy of morning runs, but for those runners who have serious aspirations, then the morning run is the best solution.  Once again I hear you saying ‘it’s not possible because of the time I have to go to work, or that family commitments have me up early enough’.  I know from experience that there are many athletes who were sceptical about fitting in a morning run, but because they wanted to succeed, gave it a go and have not looked back since.  It’s just a matter of routine and adaptability, similar to the old faithful of running to and from work.

I must mention that running with a friend does on occasions have its drawbacks, and for those who do, the following 10 golden rules, may help to keep you running happily together:

  1. It’s not a good idea that at some time during the run you have to prove the point of who is the fittest, or fastest, by stretching away at some stage.

  2. Try to run along side your friend, not 10 metres in front, it is one of the most irritating habits a runner can have, to come out with you and never speak until the run has finished because they are not in ear shot, I’m not advocating a constant chat but it is nice to pass the occasional pleasantry.

  3. Don’t hog all the route choices, take it in turns.

  4. Agree to vary the meeting place, not always at the same house.

  5. Agree before hand if you feel the need to put in an up pace session.

  6. Try not to talk all the time; your friend may want a good session.

  7. Make sure that you have a route in mind before commencing your run, your friend may not appreciate, a grand tour.

  8. If a new member joins the group communicate with them, explain the rules, nicely!

  9. If you can’t make the run try to give your friend as much notice as possible.

  10. Finally, if your friend is having an off-night, stay with them even if you feel you lost out on your training; think about all those other nights when the friendship was the motivation to be there.

If you still feel a lack of motivation to get out for that extra training, read on.

Mental Preparation & Conditioning

This is a much-underrated factor in overall preparation; a full programme of conditioning in all aspects of mental adaptation is necessary if you really want to achieve something in your running.  Some athletes have a misguided opinion of their mental toughness and find to their cost that 100% effort is not always available in some race situations.  I rate this aspect of preparation very highly, especially for those athletes aiming for more than a place in the middle of the field.

In the first few paragraphs I mentioned about finding the motivation to do that extra mileage, or indeed effort, to progress.  Without going into too much psychology I would like to give you an insight of how you can improve your mental discipline, so that finding that extra motivation is less of a problem.

In the first instance it’s important to realise that progressive conditioning is not just the prerogative of muscle tissue, mental application is also progressive and with the right adaptive training can improve tremendously.  When you see international athletes - in any sport - pushing their bodies to the limit, don’t think for one minute that they were born with that amount of determination and controlled aggression, like all other aspects of training it came with time and a gradual adaptability to the overload principle, in this respect the ability to absorb a level of discomfort that possibly other athletes will not tolerate.  This aspect of mental discipline is at the leading edge of mental preparation, but there are many other areas were the stick-ability factor is very noticeable.

As I previously mentioned about running in bad weather, this would not be an issue with an athlete who had the mental discipline to follow a schedule, irrespective of what the weather can throw at them.  As with all matters progressive there has to be a plan, and to ensure that the plan is right for you it will be necessary to consult with a coach or other senior athlete who you feel has the necessary knowledge.  It’s also clear that if you are aware that there is a requirement to improve this particular aspect of your training, then you will require someone to monitor and give advice on your progression.

The ability in the first instance to recognise that this is an area to improve on, is usually the stumbling block, as most athletes are unaware of why they are not progressing as much in reality as they hope to do in their dreams.  The acid test is when you have the time available and know you should be running that extra mileage, or intensity, but for some reason you are unable to do anything about it, that reason is usually a lack of mental discipline.  The saying ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’, is a simple declaration of mental toughness.

So how does one improve this situation?  To start with, your plan must have a strong reason to succeed, so the incentive to complete the plan has got to be of a value in keeping with the effort you intend to make.  It’s certainly easier for a 39 year athlete of a good club standard to be motivated as he comes up to his fortieth birthday than a 38 year old with a similar mental outlook.  So the first priority has to be the incentive.  This inducement can range from your first marathon, to your first race abroad, a championship title, or vet age category win, or a £100 bet from the lads!  But it has to be as strong a motive as possible.

Now you have a set target, tell your friends what you intend to do - you require a little help from them to keep you on schedule - if you ease up at all then the pressure soon gets to you with questions like ‘How much mileage have you done this week?’ or ‘should you be eating that now?’  All in good spirit I may add, but essential for the newly committed.

There can also be a little envy from your friends who now see you doing what they find difficult, and this new admiration helps to keep moral high.  Anyone who moves into overdrive in their training usually loses weight and as the weight factor is the final key to success it’s another bonus.

The plan must also have some short term incentives, so known races have to be run with an air of anticipation, there is little doubt that an improvement will occur, possibly a PB - unless your racing goes way back to younger days - as you increase the mileage and improve the quality.

Up to now most of the motivation has come from the interaction with others, but the real effort to change to a more disciplined, self motivating person, has finally to come from your own efforts when you test yourself against the old enemy, pain, or its younger brother discomfort.  This is were the lactate loading comes in, whether its through hill reps, circuit training, or a good weights session, it doesn’t really matter, but there is no doubt that a progressive circuit or weights session is a big plus in changing attitudes towards effort and intensity, there is no hiding place from the clinical aspect of reps and known weights.  This aspect does require that extra, extra, commitment and in the first instance, once again, help from a coach or friend is usually necessary to start the ball rolling.  Many runners do dabble at this, but to persevere for years does require a strong will and a well developed mental attitude that eventually allows a runner to do what ever training they see as necessary to improve their performance.

Are you doing all you can to improve your performance?

Norman Matthews © 2001-2004
Head Senior Coach
Horwich RMI Harriers