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Motivation is the best friend an athlete can have. It drives you on both good days and bad, and always serves as the driving force behind your desire to succeed. Motivation keeps you going when all else fails and is a key ingredient in progress and development. Motivation is produced by the regular sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that follows your hard work and dedication.
Improvement is probably the best source of motivation. If you are getting stronger, training better and seeing better results you will have little trouble pressing on. There are so many benefits that are recognizable contributors to the reward of your hard work. When you feel stronger, healthier, and more alive, you will have more confidence. Keeping a training diary will help you chronicle these achievements as they occur.
Goal setting is another great tool for motivation. Athletes like a challenge and if you write these challenges down on paper in the form of goals, you will have something specific to focus on and work toward each day. Goals give focus to your workouts and define what you are trying to achieve. As you accomplish each goal, you will gain confidence and motivation. Goals are the simplest way to keep your training on track...the process of setting and using goals is as easy as 1-2-3.
1. Make sure your goals are realistic and attainable. It is important to keep the bar set high but not so high that you will never reach it. Setting goals that are beyond your reach is a receipt for disaster. It is important to have dreams / goals that may take some time to achieve and provide motivation of the long-term plan. For example,. a 15-year old junior triathlete may have the "Dream" of competing in the Junior World's Championships when he turns 17. The qualification standards are well known for a goal like this and he can easily work the needed elements into the yearly training plan and be ready to compete at this level when the time comes. There may be races that this triathlete can plan on attending to get important experience.
This type of long-term goal setting will provide focus and discipline for this young athlete and provide much needed motivation when training and development are the most difficult. Shorter term goals like doing well in a local race series and improving a personal best are both realistic and attainable contributing to the long term "Dream" goal. When you sit down with pen and paper, start with goals that are challenging but know you can reach. When you get there, you will have the fitness and motivation to set new, higher goals and keep moving forward.
2. Make sure your goals are flexible! A Triathlon is a very demanding sport and there are many things that can get in the way of your training and progress. Time constraints are probably the most common, especially for amateurs. Most recreational athletes have jobs / families or both to consider; some may still be in school. We all have daily responsibilities that need to be considered when creating the monthly training calendar. Then you might encounter the inevitable injuries and physical setbacks that keep you from training which hinders you from your competition schedule. Maybe you catch a cold and need to rest a few extra days. Or worse, you may have a crash and need to let the injuries heal. Whatever the cause, there will be times when you cannot follow your training plan, and this will disrupt the progress you are making toward your goals. Make sure your goals are flexible so short disruptions in the training process have less impact.
The opposite might happen...say you have been training hard and you reach a performance goal early. What then? You need to put this new level of fitness to good use and that means resetting your immediate goals to take advantage of the windfall. A common mistake is not using fitness when it is available. Fitness is not like money in the bank that just sits there earning interest. Fitness must be used or it will fade away and have to be regained. Whatever the cause, make sure your goals are flexible so you can adjust to whatever good or bad things might happen along the way
3. Make sure you have some way to measure your progress. How do you know if you are making progress toward your goals? Some basic goals are easy to measure, like improving your power/weight ratio. If you need to lose 10-pounds and have a sensible eating plan that takes off say x number of pounds per week, then the scale will tell the story. What about fitness and performance goals? You need to have a testing schedule in place that measures progress toward the performance goals you have set. It is important that you use testing protocols that measure progress in ways that apply directly to your racing performance. For example, if you are trying to improve your bike time (40k) by 2-minutes, then you will want to do testing every 4-6 weeks to measure the effects of your training. Testing at the half-distance will give you some indication of your full race distance potential.
For general fitness and power training goals, it is a good idea to do some type of threshold testing every 7-8 weeks just to measure the overall gains in fitness. A simple ramp test on a cycle ergometer like CompuTrainer will give you the data you need. There are also many opportunities to test your fitness in your everyday training. Maybe there is a hill to climb that all the local riders do to test for time on the weekends. One last thing to consider about testing and measuring your progress is that there will always be plateaus in your development so don't expect to see the same amount of improvement every time you test. As you get fitter, you will see smaller increments of change and the increases will be spaced further and further apart. So, if you do not see a big increase in fitness from one test to another, no worries. Just know that you are getting stronger and make whatever adjustments in your training are needed to keep you working toward your goals.
Are we having fun yet? It is so much easier to stay motivated and work hard if you are having a good time. It's like the chicken and the egg...if you are enjoying yourself, you will be motivated and excited about your training and racing. Your overall progress will produce more motivation and a willingness to do the hard work. So, look for ways while training to make this something to look forward to...try mixing up the routine a bit to keep it from getting tedious and boring. It could be as simple as doing a regular training loop in the opposite direction or starting your Saturday morning training ride from a different location, running on different trails, open water swims, etc. it will change your routine and put a fresh face on your workouts.
Change does not come easy to most people and athletes in particular resist changes in their routines. In fact, routine and planning are key elements to a successful training program. This does not mean that you always have to be doing the same thing in the same way. Putting some variety into your training is easy and will help keep things interesting. Whatever it takes, try to keep your training interesting and fun. If you are having fun and seeing results, the excitement of it all will really keep you motivated.
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