Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Struggling with Motivation

Since the Bennington Monument race in May, I’ve suffered from lack of motivation. One root cause is that my fitness levels have hit a plateau. A year ago, my climbing times were steadily improving, but in recent months, I’ve seen little to no improvement. This fitness plateau has had a profound effect on my motivation. I call it the “all pain and no gain” syndrome; I hate putting my body through grueling workouts without having any measurable improvements in fitness.
To make matters worse, I had a string of business trips where my eating habits and exercise schedule went out the window. When I finally got back into my regular exercise schedule, I had gained a few pounds and my fitness levels decreased proportionally.
I’ve overcome several obstacles over the last few months and although motivation is still a challenge, I’ve learned a few helpful hints that have helped me stay motivated.
1)     A little bit of exercise is better than nothing at all.
This tip is more about preventing discouragement rather than increasing motivation when I had limited time to exercise. During my latest string of trips I felt awful whenever I bagged a workout; partly due to guilt and partly because exercise helps me cope with stress. On the other hand, I felt pretty good on the days I exercised, even if I only managed to sneak in 15 minutes or so. These short sessions helped minimize the loss of fitness. It also helped me get back into shape once I resumed my regular schedule.
2)     Don’t always focus on performance.
When I train hard, I usually have a goal in mind (e.g. certain number of reps, weight lifted, and pace/duration climbed). When I got back into the stairwell after a long business trip, I felt sluggish. Between jetlag, weight gain, and limited training, I had lost my edge. Midway through my first workout, I stopped timing myself up the stairs and ripped up my time tracking sheet. Rather than feel depressed because I couldn’t achieve my usual goal, I focused solely on having a good workout.
3)     Put on your workout clothes.
For several weeks I dreaded going to another grueling training session. Simply walking over to the gym was mentally challenging since thoughts of the upcoming workout were always at the forefront of my mind. To make it easier, I tried focusing on simply getting dressed. Putting on my gym clothes was painless and easy and it took my mind off of the upcoming workout. Once I was dressed, I usually felt ready to exercise.
4)     Reset your fitness benchmark.
My fitness peak plateaued in March and decreased a bit in June. Resetting my fitness benchmark helped in a couple different ways:
·        Before I reset my fitness benchmark, I was climbing faster than my body could handle. I’d burn out prematurely and feel like crap because I failed to achieve my goal. By resetting my benchmark at a lower performance level, I could finally complete my workouts.
·        Once my benchmark was set a reasonable level, I was able to see improvements from week to week. This bolstered my confidence and motivation because I knew I was getting my edge back.
5)     Sign up for a race.
Even though racing season is still a few months away, signing up for a race helps me keep focus. Earlier this month I signed up for the Willis Tower (Sears Tower) race in Chicago and made a promise to be in better condition than I was at the end of last racing season. Whenever I feel like skipping a work out or overeating on junk food I ask myself - how will my actions impact my race?
6)     Have a rival and an idol.
As a competitive stair climber I know the capabilities of most climbers on the circuit, especially the folks on the east coast. As such, there are a few people that I know I can beat if I can just shave off a few seconds. Likewise, there are folks who I can’t touch in the stairwell, but want to emulate. I use both for motivation. When I’m getting tired during my stairwell sprints, I often try to visualize racing against one of my rivals to help get me to the top of the stairwell. Similarly, I think about my idols when I plan my workouts & diet; after all, if can pick up a few seconds by imitating my idols, then someday they will become my rivals!
After a solid 6 weeks of regular training, I’m feeling much better about the upcoming racing season. I’m still struggling with my weight, but I’m also a bit stronger and my power outputs have improved. I can’t wait for my next race, but at the same time I’m glad I have a couple of months to train. I want to be in the best shape of my life come race day. I’m planning for a top 10 finish, so I need to shave off at least a minute from last years’ time!

1 comment:

  1. Alex-

    With all this introspection and analysis, you’re way ahead of most athletes. I agree on your last point: I flirted with making one of my idols (Paul Crake) into a rival, and although I didn’t quite get there, it got me to work much harder. Anyone at any level who says they don’t suffer from a lack of motivation at some point isn’t being honest. Remember Jan Ulrich…2nd place to Lance so many times in the Tour (wouldn’t it be ironic if he gets all those Yellow Jerseys?)…and still couldn’t stay away from the schnitzel and club kids every winter?

    It sounds like you’ve pulled out of your funk, but I have a few thoughts about your training.

    You’ll never improve if you don’t mix it up. You’ve clearly got the strength and power side of things covered, but I would consider going longer in your distance training and your stair work (you can find taller buildings). I come from a cross country skiing background, so I love my three hour rides and rollerskis; I know it’s not necessary to go that long and it’s tough with family commitments, but I also know it helps me a lot in longer stair races. When I turned 40 and got back into stair racing, I focused more on strength and power – something I had been neglecting – and I believe it helped me set some PRs (you can teach an old dog new tricks!).

    So, I would also reconsider your focus on beach muscles – you’ll probably turn more heads if you drop a few pounds and lower your body fat composition (a guaranteed result of doing more distance and you don’t have to starve yourself), and you’ll definitely be faster on the stairs. It’s like taking off your backpack! (I’m 150 lbs., and I would guess that Crake weighed at least 10 lbs. less in his prime...then again, Thomas Dold is 160.) In this sport, you don’t have age as an excuse, so you’ve got plenty of time to experiment.