It’s no coincidence; given Triathlon is essentially a summer sport that the ‘off season’ occurs over the colder and darker months. A time when people’s moods are often lower due to lower levels of Vitamin D compounded by less daylight hours. Many people comment that they lack motivation over this time. Indeed there is a ‘syndrome’ called P.I.S.S - Post Ironman Sadness Syndrome based on people training hard for an event for many months culminating in a good or bad performance and then that feeling of having to ‘start again’ for their next event.
Here are some tips or suggestions for maintaining or even building motivation in the offseason.
Take a Break.
People in full time work are given four weeks annual leave. Most companies will insist that you take this. Annual leave gives you a chance to take a mental and physical break from work and to (hopefully) come back refreshed. From the corporate world it was not uncommon for people to resign after taking leave as the break allowed them to “see the forest for the trees” in terms of motivation. So why not take a break from training? This doesn’t necessarily mean doing nothing - there is a difference between physical activity and training. Spend four weeks not worrying about structure, not worrying about doing ‘x’ runs or swims a week. If you wake up and it’s a nice day and you feel like going for a ride then do it. If you feel like going for a walk or surf then do it. If you feel like staying in bed and reading a book then do that. If you feel like trying something new like Yoga or a dance class then give it a try. The point is to avoid the pressure of structure and do what you feel like. Four or six weeks isn’t going to massively impact your fitness especially if you are doing some fun aerobic activities. I often say the best time to start again is when you start to miss it - and then wait one more week..
Define your Motive.
This is something that you can and should do during your break. One of my favorite quotes is “You can’t have Motivation without Motive”. The suffix -ation means creating the action of. Motivation is the action associated with YOUR motives. In other words define YOUR reason for doing this. YOUR is highlighted because it needs to be YOUR reason - not someone else’s. It may be something that might sound silly, trivial or even narcissistic when said out loud but that doesn’t matter.
“I do this because I love the company of my friends"
“I do this because it provides an escape"
“I do this because I want to prove I can"
“I do this because my ex partner/friend said I was too xxx to do this"
“I do this because I want to make my friends jealous"
“I do this because I like to look good"
“I do this to set an example to my children"
The key is the reasons have to be your reasons. For me it is a desire to prove people wrong. To prove unhealthy beliefs such as you can’t do endurance sports without sugary gels and you can’t do well in triathlons without training 20+ hours a week wrong. These may sound silly to some people but they are MY reasons.
Sit down with a pad and pen and write down why you are doing this. What you may find is that the motive no longer exists. For example if you wanted to prove to your couch potato friends that you could do an Ironman - and you have done that - that the motivation no longer exists. If that is the case, and a new motivation that is important to you doesn’t exists then it may be worth acknowledging this and not forcing yourself to continue. The key is to be very honest with yourself as to why you are doing this and whether that reason still exists.
I use this in races too. When things get tough (and they will) or things go wrong (and they do) then it is this ‘reason’ that keeps you pushing on and remaining focused.
Set some short-term goals - and link them.
I am not a fan of goals as they often define limitations. Set a goal of going sub 11 hour in an ironman and you may achieve it and finish in 10:59. Commit to every day going harder, faster or heavier at the gym and you may do 10:30. But there is no denying short terms goals help support motivation. Using the SMART systems (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely) set a goal of, for example, improving your Critical Power on the bike by at least 5% over the next 6 weeks. THEN define and, more importantly, link your training sessions to this goal. Weights, indoor trainer sets - even diet in terms of watts/kg can be linked. Then understand that by NOT completing a session you are directly impacting that goal. If you miss a session you compromise your chances of succeeding. A more important way to think about it is that you will fail. For many fear of failure is a more powerful motivator than success
Phone a Friend.
Having a training buddy is important but triathletes are typically competitive people so recruiting a frienpetitor is more valuable. Create a competition with a friend based around either a short-term goal like the Critical Power or a race. Define a wager to create more pressure. Then ask yourself, if you wake up and don’t feel like doing something, whether your frienpetitor is out there doing it..
Many coaches will say that you should enter off-season events. There are, for example, plenty of running races during the triathlon off-season. Whilst these can be great ‘goals’ to use they don’t necessarily provide motivation especially if, for example, you know you can cover the distance already. A focus on defining your motive as the root of motivation and then creating some pressure (called eustress) provides a far better impetus to be accountable and to get out of bed when it is cold and dark.