Motivation is critical in triathlon training, first of all, because triathlon is difficult. It requires a lot of time, patience, coordination and planning, maybe even a few sacrifices. You will encounter challenges and obstacles along the way - maybe not very often, but at some point you will probably need to remind yourself what your main sources of inspiration were, in the first place.
Second of all, you will probably experience something called "goal creep" as you get further down the road of triathlon training. As triathlon involves three different sports with three different systems of training and measuring progress, you may well find yourself adding more specific performance goals as you go along. This can be a healthy sign of progress, but it can also lead to some very unrealistic goal-setting (see my other blog "Setting goals for next year") and perhaps even some unhealthy, obsessive tendencies. To keep that in check, it is good to remind yourself why you got into the sport in the first place.
Image from london2012.com
New to the sport?
If you are new to the sport, what got you interested in triathlon? Here is a list of common reasons I have come across over the years, including a few of my own, so you can see if anything resonates with you:
A bunch of my friends signed up for a triathlon and it sounded exciting, so I signed up for it, too
I watched a friend doing a triathlon last year and got inspired to give it a try myself
I have been doing some other sports for a while and feeling stagnant, looking for a new challenge, so I thought I would try doing a triathlon
I have been getting injured doing just one sport (e.g. running) for a while and I need to add some variety to my training, so I thought triathlon would be a good idea
I have been struggling with health and fitness issues for a long time and I think triathlon could be my answer
I got a charity place in a triathlon and now I need to figure out how to tackle this thing
I honestly haven't given it a lot of thought, but I am totally psyched
Returning for more
And, indeed, some of these same questions apply to those of us who have done triathlons and want to continue doing them. What motivates you to continue?
It's hard to explain, but I just love it so much
I have been training for triathlons with some friends/a club, I love the camaraderie and support, and I want to keep doing more
I have started to achieve things I never thought I could achieve, and I want to continue pushing myself on to new challenges
I have been doing triathlons for a while, sort of ticking over, and I want to change it up, get more organized and take it up a notch
I didn't get to achieve the things I set out to achieve last year, and I want to do better this year
Strengths and weaknesses
After you sit and think a while about your inspiration and motivation, you should also start thinking about your strengths and weaknesses. Obviously, there are the sport-related strengths and weaknesses, such as:
How much swimming experience do you have? What sort of access do you have to swim-training facilities?
How do you feel about open-water swimming, like in a lake or a river or in the ocean? What sort of strengths and weaknesses do you feel you have when it comes to swimming?
How much cycling experience do you have? Do you prefer mountain biking or road biking? Do you have access to safe cycle routes near you that would allow you to do long enough training rides for your targeted distances?
How do you feel about cycling, in general? Do you commute to work on your bike?
How do you feel about running? What sort of experience do you have in this area of training and racing?
This is a good place to start, when thinking about how you will structure your training for the months (years?) ahead. But, there are also some very important strengths and weaknesses to think about, and you will probably keep revisiting these issues, over and over again:
How good are you at time management? Can you set a schedule and then stick to it? How good are you at managing things when they don't go according to plan?
Do you prefer doing early morning training sessions, or doing them later in the evening? Do you prefer training on your own or with friends/with a club?
How much control do you feel you have over your work and personal schedules? Can you foresee and work around vacations, deadlines, special occasions, and build all that into your plans?
How willing are you to seek out professional advice when you need it? When you have sat down and looked at your strengths and weaknesses, how do you imagine you will fill in the gaps in your abilities?
So, there is a lot to think about, when you get started thinking about triathlon training and racing. But, this is a really good place to start!
Remind yourself of the big picture
At some point, all these challenges, obstacles and struggles will inevitably rear their heads. There will be weeks of illness or injury, tough weeks at work where you just can't get away for your regularly scheduled training, the personal issues that come up and derail your training plans. And, then, you will need to remind yourself about the big picture and what inspired you to get into triathlon, in the first place. You need to remember that there is something more to this sport for you, more than hours and miles and race results.
So, write down your motivations and keep them somewhere that you can look at them later on, when you need reminding.
For me, it is a very personal thing, and it has gotten me through a lot of difficult times so far. When my kids were little, they had two granddads who were both very loving and kind men, but who were both very unhealthy and had very limited movement. One was always attached to an oxygen tank due to severe emphysema, and the other was not able to stand up or walk much due to excruciating, chronic back pain. I want to be a granddad who plays actively with my grandkids, runs around with them at the beach, teaches them to play frisbee or how to ride a bike or how to do a judo-shoulder-roll. For me, triathlon has to fit into that big picture, it is part of my vision of what I want to see in my future. When I have a bad month of training and I am not getting in as many miles as I had planned, when I have a bad race result and I am not as fast as I had hoped to be, when I have a bad year in which I was lazy and sick and injured, and I put on weight and got slower, I remind myself of the big picture. I remember that the obsessive-compulsive behavior of all this GPS-HRM-power-meter-TrainingPeaks-data-gathering is nowhere near as important to me as it is to stay healthy and play with my grandkids like the active granddad I would like to become.