Find Your Purpose

Here is the question at hand – “How do you stay motivated to exercise? I start out well – then – if I miss a day or 2 it is like starting over. Any suggestions???”

Mike and Brian & and the rest of my awesome followers!:

Thank you for your questions.  First off I will say that these struggles with motivation are extremely common.  I would wager to say that pretty much every person who works outs, trains, and competes in athletics faces similar dilemmas.  A huge determining factor in the motivation level in my opinion is created when you go from being a on a team to becoming an individual who is doing it for the love of the sport, or for the love of keeping ones body fit.  As the vast majority of us are not professional athletes we must hold jobs for our living so that we can pay for our housing, our cars, our groceries, etc.  This is what turns our exercising into hobbies.  It is no longer a sole devotion to the sport, or to exercise that one may have had growing up in grade school when it was then kind of an afterthought, sports were just something that was a part of your life that you just did and didn’t really think much else about for most kids its just part of growing up .  Now that were are all grown up the exercising, the sports, the all becomes a hobby, an additional item that is added to ones life on top of everything else.

Here’s the determining factor, did you get into your hobby (your exercise) with a passion, with a love for it? If you don’t have a true love for it then you are selling yourself short.  Sure its easy to head out for a nice job on a sunny evening after work in the park when the sun is still shining and 100 other people are that, everyone can do that!  The trick to staying motivated is being consistent in your effort and sticking to your plan.  I would guess that most people who head out in the cold winter for a morning job feel like crud when they start.  I know I do!  It’s usually freezing outside, you’ve not seen the sun in months, its icy, your house/apartment is warm and toasty, and your bed feels like a fluffy cloud of wonderfulness.  Basically everything is telling you to stay inside and keep sleeping.  The key to keeping yourself honest is that you actually have to have a love and a passion for something to allow yourself to look the other way and head outside in the nasty weather.  If your not fully immersed in your efforts to better yourself at the gym, on your bike, in the pool, or running then you won’t have the drive to keep yourself going. I would wager to say that the vast majority of people who get into athletics, training, weights just to get some excercise or to lose some weight won’t be around for the long term. Eventually they will burn themselves out and when they no longer have any other motivation they will sputter and stop. Yet, if you develop a passion for being the best at what your doing each and every day then you know have something that can keep you going even in the darkest times. Whether you lift weights to keep in shape, take up tennis at the club to stay competitive, or join the masters swim team; do it with a passion and be the best that you can be each and every day.

I know that when I look back at the times I spent in the weight room when I was in college I cannot believe the amount of time I spent lifting weights.  Today I struggle getting to the gym twice a week to lift weights.  It just seems so mundane and boring to me.  You see I have developed a new passion, one that is very strong and has lead to me to so many places already.  I enjoy swimming, biking, and running.  I love the fact that all the training leads to races where you get to show off all the work you’ve put in, and more importantly I love that it has placed me in a sort of community of people who are absolutely amazing!

For the vast majority of us we will never be Olympic athletes, for us we are the general masses that keep sports moving in this country. Without us Age Groupers triathlon and other sports would be non-existent. That’s not a bad thing, its just a thing. So don’t get discouraged when someone is faster, like when you watch a professional triathlete. That is their job, and they do it well. Instead of saying that you will never be that fast, take it all in and see if you can learn something to better yourself. And when you see someone in the lane next to you absolutely crushing out swim sets don’t get angry that you are not as fast as them, the truth is that they have probably been swimming a lot longer than you. Triathlon and basically any sport in general rewards the patient. It rewards the silent warrior who doesn’t complain, who puts the work in, and gives it his all. Because I am partial to triathlon I will say that patience is right up their with vo2 max, lactic threshold, blah blah…if you don’t have the patience to trust in your plan, to trust in your coach, to trust that your training is going a certain way then you have a good possibility of sabotaging the whole thing. So in any sport, training, or life adventure do it with a purpose. Train purposefully each and every day, whether it be a 12 min mile paced run or a 5 min mile paced run. Each day should be set out with something to be accomplished or something to at least be attempted. If you come up short who cares! That means you are exerting yourself to levels that are beyond you…and the best thing about that is when you exceed those levels the next time because that means your are improving! Improvement is quantifiable and I urge you all to keep track of your training, or your days in the weight room, or your miles that you’ve cycled. If you write things down and make them come alive on paper then they will become real! When you look at your data from the past you will see that you have improved. Along the way improvement is hardly felt, you feel as if you are at the same place. But when you have kept track of your progress you can look at the hard evidence and see what you have done. I personally did that today on my bike test. Just one year ago I did the same bike test I did today. In one year my wattage has increased. It didn’t increase anything crazy like 50 watts, because quite frankly no ones ever does. And if they are telling you that they did they are probably exaggerating. The cold hard facts is that improvement in running or biking or swimming takes time! Lots and Lots of time. Just like lifting weights or doing the couch to 5k, to 10k to marathon route. I FIRMLY BELIEVE THAT ANYTHING YOU SET YOUR MIND TO IS ACHIEVABLE. Do not let yourself talk yourself out of it and worst of all don’t let anyone else tell you different. Talk to someone you trust or map it out yourself. Make your training goals realistic and stick to them. If you are overly ambitious and end up not meeting your training times you could end up feeling like you’ve failed. Instead plan realistically and hit the targets, build on the success and don’t get caught up in a bad day here and there. The most important thing is that you keep coming back for more. If your trying to become a bodybuilder you must become a gym rat, if your trying to be a triathlete you must fall in love with your bike trainer and chlorine. With anything you do you must throw yourself into it and really dig in. Obviously we all have jobs, careers, and families on top of that so it can be difficult. And with that I will end on this note, go buy a notebook and start writing. Write your plans, your goals, even your dreams. Just like in high school when you made brainstorm charts before starting an essay. Do the same for your life. Map it out and make it attainable. Everything becomes clearer when you can see it on paper, when you can actually visualize something. So do it! Plan when you can make it to the gym, when you can go grocery shopping, when you can sleep! When you can get to the kids athletic events. We can all fit it in if we try!

I know that when I look back at the times I spent in the weight room when I was in college I cannot believe the amount of time I spent lifting weights.  Today I struggle getting to the gym twice a week to lift weights.  It just seems so mundane and boring to me.  You see I have developed a new passion, one that is very strong and has lead to me to so many places already.  I enjoy swimming, biking, and running.  I love the fact that all the training leads to races where you get to show off all the work you’ve put in, and more importantly I love that it has placed me in a sort of community of people who are absolutely amazing!

Additional notes that I jotted down after I had wrote the stuff above:

To keep yourself motivated and to keep yourself honest I would urge people to become a part of something and be held accountable.  Not only to yourself but to other people.  Being a part of something is really big in my books.  Personally I feel my best when I am sharing great moments with other people.  I tend to spend a fair amount of time training and living alone.  Its just the nature of triathlon and being a single guy working a corporate job.  I am not complaining, its getting me to where I want to be and I am doing the things that make me happy.  However, the times that I am most happy, and have the most energy for life is when I am with others.  For example, every Mon, Wed, and Fri I have my masters swimming class.  Just about every M,W,F I head to the pool with about 20 other people just like me..including none only than Travis the Great. We swim from 5:45am – 7:15am.  Truthfully most lounge on the pool for a few minutes to chat with each other and debate about whether or not to actually enter the water, and some like me tend to get out around 7am so they can get a start on the rest of the day.  In my defense I will start swimming for the full session later on in the season, but for now I am content on getting my hour swim in and calling it a day with the pool work.  One of the biggest benefits of masters is not the actual swimming. Its the fact that you are swimming with 20 or so other people who are holding you accountable, who are hoping that you will be there in the early morning to give them that extra kick to get their but in gear.  I know that when someone says “will I see you on Wed, Matt?” and I reply “you sure will” I feel as if I have agreed to some imaginary contract and I don’t want to break it for fear of repercussions.  The people that I see on mon, wed, and friday mornings are my good friends.  We all understand they each of us is making some kind of sacrifice to get here that early in the morning 3 times a week.  It’s a cool group to be a part of.  In terms of actual training I think the benefits for a non-traditional swimmer as myself (meaning that I did not grow up a swimmer, I only just started swimming for real a little over a year ago) are tremendous.  Having the lanes around you as well as your own full on these mornings keeps the intensity from wavering.  Out of 4-5 people in each lane one of those people has to be feeling good and they usaully keep the morale of the group going so no one slacks off to much.  I think that is a huge negative about swimming solo at the local Y or wherever you swim.  If you constantly are swimming by yourself without any extra mortivation from people I think that you will not be getting your full potential utilized and you just plain and simple won’t be improving like you could.  I feel comfortable saying this because due to my work schedule last year I began swimming alone in the morning (not totally alone, lifeguards were at the pool) but you get what I am saying.  I was swimming alone, no one to keep me honest, no one to slap me on the ass and tell me to get going.  I would usually complete the full workout but it just didn’t feel the same.  I wasn’t always digging a little deeper and I was just flat.  I wasn’t getting any energy from the 80 year olds aqua jogging next to me.  Weird huh?  So I think that kinds of brings this being accountable thing to its conclusion.  The moral of this story is that becoming a part of something and being accountable to someone are a great way to keep yourself motivated because its not just yourself that you are letting down, its the other people who are counting on you.  When you are laying in your bed debating whether or not to get up (barring being actually sick) just think “If I don’t get to practice I am theoretically letting down 20-30 people”  Do you want that on your conscious all day? I don’t!

Train in the morning if you can:

When I skip workouts its pretty much always because they are afternoon ones and most of the times when this happens I COULD HAVE GOT THEM DONE IN THE MORNING! When this happens it absolutely kills me, I HATE IT!

Eat clean:

When its time to get serious about training its time to eat right. Consume the types of food that will be conducive to maximum potential in your athletic endeavor. Plan your meals out beforehand and write them down once they have been consumed. If you want help with this just let me know and I can not only lead you in the right direction for eating right but I can also show you great online tools that can help your structure it, log it, track it, count it…I think the hardest part about eating right is having the proper food available at all times. Most people’s downfall comes when they are hungry and the easiest option is a burger or a sub or something else from a fast food place or the restaurant on the way home from work.

Go easy to go go fast

Over the past year and a half I have grown a lot as a triathlete.  I have gone from knowing nothing about proper training to know being at a point where I can honestly say that I have some of my own opinions.  I would never tell someone to train a certain way nor would I ever critique anyone’s training.  The trust is as they say “is in the pudding” so on race day everything you do shines brightly for everyone to see.  What do you want people to see?  With that said I just wanted to share a little peace of wonderfulness that I have attempted to put into words.

It revolves around the type of training that in my opinion is crucial during this time of the  year.  What I mean by this time of year is that its January 1st.  Most of you all who are triathletes won’t even be racing tri’s for another 4-5 months.  Personally my first real races of the season is 5 months and 20 days away.  The bottom line here folks is that YOU HAVE TIME.  There is no need to feel bad about a missed workout, if you feel tired or you feel sick, take a day off and get some rest.  Don’t dig yourself in a hole now…its a long winter.

When it comes down to it though the key to offseason training really does become CONSISTENCY!  Yes, I know what your thinking..but Matt you just said that we can take days off. 1 day off to recover and get yourself together is fine, as long as your not really sick or anything you should get back on the horse in my opinion.  You get back on the course because being meticulous about your training is key.  Plan out your week ahead during the weekend, determine the times when you are going to train, do your big grocery shopping on Sunday so you don’t have to waste precious training time during the week.  I like everyone else wish that we had 28 hours in a day, but the fact of the matter is we don’t.  None the less everything that we need to get done (including 8 hours of sleep) can be accomplished in the 24 hours that we have each been given.  I will bitch and moan about this over the next three months when I am going to be slaving over a computer doing peoples tax returns.  But you know what?  All that time that I am sitting at my desk makes the time between 4:30 – 8:00 when I am training all the better.  Even though I may not be as well rested, or the fact that its cold out, or that the sun hasn’t made an appearance in weeks, I know that I am getting it done and that feeling alone gets me through the long days at the office.  Personally I get a lot of personal satisfaction that I have done more exercise in a single morning than most of my co-workers will do in a week..some in a month..some in a year.  But I don’t hold that against them, nor would I ever bring it up.  Each person does what they want to do and I hope that they are doing it because they really love it and really get a joy from it, whether that be watching football, playing with their kids, going golfing or whatever else they may be doing.  The bottom line is that everyone should have something!  Something to call their own, something that they absolutely love.  In my case triathlon has filled that void.  Its not only the sport, its the training, its the races, its the travel, its the fun days with friends, its the weekends with friends, its the trips to Lake Placid with good buddies…its the mile repeats on the treadmill on New Years Day, its the reason why I went to bed last night at 10:30 after having gone to see a movie with my parents last night.  Ya know, when push comes to shove if your not doing what you really enjoy then something needs to be done about that.  I know that if I had stayed up late last night and rang in the new year in style and then I subsequently blew up during my run test today the fact that I had a shitty run would totally put me into a funk, it would make me feel like a pile of poop.  I’d be cranky and no fun to be around or talk to.  However, I know myself now and I understand that going to bed early and kicking butt in a workout is what really gets me going.  And the beauty of this sport of triathlon is that I have met people like me, people who are the same model as me.  They get the same kicks that I get from all this stuff.  Its fun to do all this stuff by ones self but its even more fun when you can share it.  For me I really enjoy the energy I get from other people around me.  Like today when my friend Mary ran with me on the treadmill at Midtown.  We did mile repeats on the treadmill to get some HR data.  Mile repeats are not what you would call fun on a treadmill, its pretty much as fun as having your toe nails ripped…just kidding it wasn’t that bad, I actually had a lot of fun.  Other than my stomach giving me some issues early on I really had a blast.  We didn’t talk much because thats not what it was about, today was about putting the work in.  It was about being Consistent!

I truly feel from experience that most people get caught up in thinking that they don’t want to do a workout because they might fail and not hit the targets they want to.  Subsequently said athlete will either tone down the workout or skip it all together.  Now the athlete is falling behind because they are no training to there potential.  This compounds and two months later they have not progressed because they have failed to really challenge themselves.  The fact of the matter is that challenging workouts are their for a reason.  They are in our plans because they spice things up and give us all a good measuring stick to see what we have done to improve and what needs to be worked on.  I urge you all to not be scared by high intensity workouts or “test” days when you have to run all out in a 5k or bike as hard as you can for 20 minutes.  These days are great even if you do bad.  Why?  Because even if you have a bad day and totally blow up you can reflect on that, analyze your data (if wearing a powermeter, or have a HR monitor), think about what you ate, think about how your prepared (sleepwise, etc.).  Or you could hit your targets and feel good that your training is taking you to the places you need.  Testing at full out balls to the wall intensity is a necessary evil.  One that is not needed a ton during the winter months but it is needed just enough so as to keep you on the edge.

Ok, I am not really sure where my post has gone but I am going to go with it and see what comes out..maybe some useful knowledge will come out of this in the end.  As I think about the day I had today and some of the conversation I had with Mary I want to make the point that I began making at the beginning of this post.  It’s that during these winter months training is all about Consistency and putting in the time.  During these months you have to really be dedicated to your plan as well.  I have come to really really like training in my HR zones.  Yes, I have a power meter and all that jazz, and yes I really love it.  But I begun to see that every time I get on my bike I don’t need to be riding to a certain wattage.  During these winter months its just not that beneficial in my opinion.  I think that power is very objective and even if your feeling shitty and your HR is all out of wack your power will remain constant.  Thus if you are feeling a little “out of it” and your HR is way low or way high you are still going to be riding to a certain wattage.  Say your HR is really high because you have a slight cold and you didn’t get enough sleep.  Then you hop on your trainer and try to ride to a certain power zone at a certain HR.  All the sudden your HR dictates that you should be in zone 2 power but your only supposed to be riding in HR 1 in power zone 1.  I’ve probably lost some people with that but what matters is that during the offseason I think a good chunk of base should just be executed on the bike by HR because it takes away the “glued to the powermeter syndrome”  it allows your to ride to your bodies ability and not overexert yourself when your not feeling 110% or if your feeling really good it allows your to exert yourself maybe beyond the normal levels.  That got a bit tough to follow but if you understand what I am saying acknowledge with a comment and I will give you a gold star.

So with that I will end my little rant on HR zones with the key take away for today.  The key take away today is that I have been running very slowly lately.  I have been sticking to my prescribed zones, running 8+ min per mile endurance zone runs and 9:30 + min per mile recovery runs.  These are on the slow side but they are pretty good for this time of the offseason.  As training accumulates and miles are logged the times will keep decreasing.  One thing that I am dedicated to this year is sticking to my zones regardless of how fast or slow I am going.  This will most likely bring me to the place I want to be come summer time and keep me healthy at the same time.  Like I said their is no need to go out at blast out a run at a specific pace if your HR is through the roof 10 minutes into…your body is telling you something, listen to it!  We are not training like we are in high school when the season is only 3 months long, were training year round for races that are in 5-10 months.  WE HAVE TIME!  So the moral of the story is that I tested today in the tune of 4 x 1 mile repeats at descending paces.  I started at 6:03 and ended up running my last mile at 5:30.  In between each mile was 1:30 of recovery run.  This proved to me that I still had a little speed in the legs.  I have not “lost” it over the past couple of months.  I think a lot of people think that they are somehow going to lose all that they have gained in the previous year(s) when they take time off or tone down the level of training they are doing.  Personally I think I am proof positive that this is not the case.  I am running slower in my training runs but doing so purposefully.  I am slowly going to make myself a very fast and efficient endurance runner who someday is going to run in the low 3 hr region for an ironman marathon.  I am confident that if I keep my drive and determination that this will happen.  So don’t fret when you are running slow, or biking slow..stick to your plan and go with it.  If you have a coach, believe in them!  Believe that they are setting you up for success not failure.  Don’t manipulate your workouts, they are there for a reason.  And make sure to test out once in a while because it will make you feel good, trust me!

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