Let’s call it the Hamlet moment, when triathletes bust into an internal soliloquy debating whether to train or not to train. Whether ‘tis nobler to suffer the aches and pains of a multi-brick, or to set a new alarm and sleep, perchance to dream. We’ve all been there — even the pros. But not everyone gives in to Serta’s siren call. So what’s the trick to choosing training over excuses?
Sports psychologist Dr. Chris Carr of Indianapolis’ St. Vincent Sports Performance says it all comes down to motivation. Or, rather, a specific type of motivation. “Some people start training because of some external motivator — they want to fit into clothes differently or look better,” Carr says. But while external motivation can be useful, it doesn’t have the power of internal motivation to keep you training consistently when mornings get dark or life gets tough. And consistent training, triathlon oracle Joe Friel writes in his “Training Bible,” “is the way to attain the highest possible fitness.”
Internally motivated athletes make the fewest excuses, Carr says, “because they’re very determined. They’re clear about their goals, they focus on goals that they control, they’re good at self-monitoring and maintaining compliance through difficult times.”
Some people are born with internal motivation, a gift, if you will, from the triathlon gods. Luckily for everyone else, a great way to start developing it is simple: keep a journal. Try a self-reflective journal rather than, or in addition to, a training journal. Write about your fears, your triumphs, your excuses and how you’re feeling when you make them. “If you journal and reflect a couple of times a week” on your mental state, Carr says, “it’s not overwhelming, and it helps keep you more accountable and honest.”
Journaling can also help you recognize training-related patterns. Maybe you tend to skip evening workouts on days your boss gets you down. Solution: switch to morning workouts. Or maybe you use up all of your self-motivation on days you work from home. Solution: Schedule group workouts on those days.
On the other hand, sometimes you might need the rest, a fact some extremely internally motivated athletes may ignore to their own detriment. If you do need a break, Carr says, “it’s not an excuse to take a day off. It’s actually a goal-directed activity based on what you’re experiencing physiologically.” The goal being to do your best in whatever event(s) you have planned.
Perhaps most importantly, you must practice self-forgiveness when you do give into excuses. “Humans by nature make mistakes, we’re not perfect,” Carr says. Just make sure to adjust your performance expectations accordingly; failure to hit interval times you haven’t properly trained for shouldn’t become another excuse not to train. “You can’t put 80 percent into something,” Carr says, “and expect a 100 percent return.”
With that in mind, and while you work on your internal motivation for long-term success, we’ve collected six popular tri excuses and a few external motivators to help you get out the door. Because once in a while, we all need a little spark outside ourselves to keep us going.
I’M TOO BUSY AT WORK.
The fix: Train in the morning before work takes over.
Motivator: Post-workout, treat yourself to your favorite store-bought coffee for a morning pick-me-up.
MY KIDS NEED ME.
The fix: Incorporate your kids into your workout. Got younger kids? Set yourself up on a trainer or treadmill so you can keep an eye on them while working out. Or use them as weights. Older kids? Get them to do part of your workout with you, or clock your splits.
Motivator: Spending quality time with your family — and teaching your kids about physical fitness by example.
I ALWAYS GET HURT.
The fix: Get your form checked by a pro. A few small tweaks can make chronic injuries disappear.
Motivator: Aside from avoiding pain, there’s always this: killer form will make you look awesome in your race photos.
I HAVE NOWHERE TO TRAIN.
The fix: Bring the training to you. Invest in a treadmill and try one of Pear Sports’ coach-led treadmill workouts. Got a trainer? Try virtually racing cyclists around the world in real time with Zwift. Need a place to swim? Check out usms.org.
Motivator: The new apps should amp you up to train in place. If all else fails, promise yourself a weekly or monthly massage for sticking to your training plan despite your un-tri-friendly location.
I’M NOT FAST ENOUGH.
The fix: Train consistently. Hiring a coach to build you a training plan will also help. Or get a buddy who’s about the same speed to sign up for a race with you and bet on it.
Motivator: The drive to beat your buddy and win cash, ice cream, a weekend of driving his Miata — whatever — may nab you a PR. Also know this: the last person across the finish line gets the most cheers.
IT’S TOO DARK TO TRAIN SAFELY IN THE MORNING/AT NIGHT.
The fix: Treat yourself to a sweet headlamp like the Petzl TIKKA and some cool reflective gear like a jacket or vest. And grab a buddy if you feel unsafe.
Motivator: New gear!
About the Author
Erin Beresini is the editor-in-chief of Triathlete Magazine. She's been racing tris since 2005 and took a hiatus once to write a book called "Off Course: Inside the Mad, Muddy World of Obstacle Course Racing." Her daughter Immy is her favorite thing in the universe.