I remember when Aisling was training for her first Ironman in 2008 each time she met with her coach he would ask about her training motivation. She would say it was fine and move on. Later on she said to me that she had no idea what he was talking about. If she had training to do she just did it. Motivation didn’t enter into it. She could either train or she couldn’t and unless there was a physical reason not to train then she did everything she was told. Click on through for more…

I think looking back that it’s not that she didn’t understand the motivation aspect. It’s just that she was so highly motivated to do the work that she didn’t understand why she would feel any other way. Ais has always been like that. She’s very black or white. There’s no grey areas. She’s either doing something or not. And if she is doing it she wants to do it to the very best of her ability.

Related post: Training motivation

But what if you’re not as black and white as that. What if you want to achieve something like a marathon, Ironman or even just get up off the couch to do a 5k Parkrun but struggle to find the motivation to get the work done?

What to do when you’re just not motivated to train?

I think the place to start is to try to identify why your motivation is low.

  • Is it external or internal? Are you really sick of training or are you distracted with other outside stressors like work or family issues?
  • Is it being caused by fatigue from overtraining? Could you be burnt out?
  • Is it because you’ve set yourself a goal that’s so big that you just can’t ever see yourself achieving it and as a result can’t force yourself to get started?
  • Maybe you simply don’t like training? Maybe you love racing and race day but don’t like all of the training that goes along with preparing for it?
  • Is it the weather? Winter can be hard to train in with cold, wind, rain and short dark days. Living in Ireland I’ve never had to deal with the opposite side of that, extreme heat on training, but having coached athletes living in climates where day time temperatures reach the high forties centigrade it’s just as difficult to train if it’s impossible to go out during the day.
  • Is it that you don’t like training alone?
  • Is it because your training is repetitive and lacks variety?
  • Is it because you haven’t got a challenging target to aim for?
  • Are you injured and unable to train for all three sports and as a result have lost the drive to train for any of them?
  • Are you frustrated that you’re slowing down as you age and feel that your best years are behind you?
  • Is it hormonal? Do you suffer from depression or S.A.D?

These are just some of the reasons someone may be struggling for motivation. Figuring out exactly what it is that’s causing the slump is the first step. You then need to figure out what to do about it. Next we will look at a couple of the above examples and try to suggest solutions.

Related post: Ironman training motivation part two

Fixing motivation

If you’ve identified what it is that’s causing your lack of drive to train you then need to decide what to do about it. Let’s take a look at some of the above examples and suggest some fixes.

  • Is it external or internal? Are you really sick of training or are you distracted with other outside stressors like work or family issues?

If you think that it’s an external stress that is affecting your motivation to train then you need to decide if continuing to train is the correct thing to do. If for example work is crazy, you are under pressure and working long hours then the logical thing might be to reduce your training load. I’m not a believer in stopping altogether if possible as a lot of us get significant emotional and mental release through exercise and stopping altogether will often make me feel worse.

If I feel under pressure to do nine sessions a week but can’t fit them in them every time I try and fail it just makes me more frustrated. The more training you miss the further behind you feel you are dropping with your program. This then becomes a vicious cycle which can have a negative impact on motivation. If work pressure is the problem for me the solution is usually to drop all of the difficult to fit in sessions. Long bikes, swims (as I have to travel to the pool) and very long runs. This helps with my energy levels as I’m not dealing with heavy training fatigue as well as working long hours. The sessions I do fit in will either be very short hard ones or short easy ones. The easy ones are often just for my head and to hold onto some of the fitness. The hard ones are to stimulate a training adaptation but will also give me a mental boost as often give a big blast of endorphins.

If it’s easy to fit in a session while I’m struggling for time I’m less likely to skip it. If however I’ve a three hour bike and all I can think about is getting into work to deal with that then I’m much more likely to skip the session. In this instance I’m often still motivated to train, just not twenty hours a week. If I maintain a base level of sessions for the period of pressure it tends to fix the motivation issue. Is it being caused by fatigue from overtraining?

  • Could you be burnt out?

Again for me the solution to this is similar to the previous example. Reducing training volume or intensity or both for a period or even just a couple of days off will often allow the body and mind recover enough that motivation levels return to normal quite quickly.

I actually track my motivation to train as a way to monitor how well I’m handling the training load. If my motivation drops consistently for a number of days and my energy levels are low it will often be a sign that I need a couple of easy or off days.

  • Is it because you’ve set yourself a goal that’s so big that you just can’t ever see yourself achieving it and as a result can’t get started?

If this is the case then setting smaller intermediate goals can help. If you are a beginner runner and all you want is to run a marathon that can seek like an impossible step from where you currently are. Starting off with a plan to run first a 5k, then a 10k, then a half marathon all the time taking steps towards your overall goal. As long as each of these has a realistic time scale and a deadline then they can take the focus off the huge, scary ultimate goal and allow you get started and move towards it.

You can see with these examples that overcoming low training motivation can be accomplished. Firstly try to establish why it’s happening and this will allow you to start to come up with potential solutions to the problem.


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