Pursuing any level of achievement in endurance sports is kind of a crazy thing if you think about it. Whether your goal is a century, a triathlon, a marathon or something altogether different, being prepared for the event is going to require a lot of time and effort. If you’re reading this now, on some level you must feel that it’s “worth it”. But that feeling can become elusive, especially as you spend more time in the sport, and keeping things fun is an important part of your longevity as an endurance athlete.
The path into endurance sports as an adult varies. For some, it’s a continuation of the activities of youth. Others start with something that is a fairly benign pastime and eventually elevate it to a more competitive level. Still others seek a regimen for health and fitness benefits. Somewhere along the line, all transition from just exercising to actually training. The difference being that “training” implies a specific purpose and direction.
Training can be quite motivating, especially at first. Athletes new to structured training often see substantial progress in speed and power and even improvements in the physique. Accomplishing a goal, especially one that may have seemed intimidating at the outset, can be very rewarding. But after you’ve made those easy gains, and accomplished the goal, what do you do next?
Without additional stimulus, the body will not continue to adapt. You need to work harder or longer or both. You need to increase the discipline so the effort you put in during training can be more effective. You need to sleep more so you can recover well. Or you could pick a more intimidating goal to motivate you for the next season. And again, you have to train longer and harder to be prepared. It’s at this point that training and exercise may not be quite as enjoyable anymore. It can become something that you feel you “have” to do, rather than something you “want” to do.
For many athletes, the process itself is rewarding. These folks wouldn’t be athletes if they didn’t find some satisfaction in pushing their own limits. But even in the most resilient among us, I’ve often noticed a change in attitude taking place over several seasons wherein the constant pursuit of more and more ambitious goals fosters a sort of reluctance that results in viewing workouts as a necessary evil rather than something the athlete looks forward to.
I’ve gone through this myself. When I first got into cycling, I couldn’t wait to ride my bike each day. Exploring new areas, challenging myself up steep climbs and flying down hills was exhilarating. I didn’t really care what I did or how long I did it, I enjoyed it all. But ignorance was bliss as they say. I soon learned there were more effective ways to train, and cycling became more rigid and focused as I honed in on specific goals. Finally, it struck me that I rarely looked forward to actually riding the bike. Fortunately, I was able to find some new avenues to pursue, in the form of mountain biking, running and cross country skiing. Each of these can just as easily lend themselves to the same type of obsession that cycling had for me before, but the variety and change of pace kept it interesting.
As we come full circle, the point that I want to get across here is that it is OK to LIKE what you do as an athlete. That doesn’t mean it will all be fun. A lot of it may be miserable. But I want to encourage everyone to take time to enjoy their activities as well. You can do this by having days when the workout is a secondary priority and your main objective is reconnecting with what you first loved about the sport. Run trails through a local park rather than pounding the pavement, even if it means your pace per mile will be a little slower. Take a ride without your power meter, or anything else, on the handlebars and actually look around and take in everything around you. Take other friends along with you so it doesn’t have to be a solitary experience.
Putting these recommendations into practice may be challenging at times with weather conditions changing often or various factors that limit your time. As you face the prospect of getting up in the dark and heading out into the cold to torture yourself yet again, try to remember to look forward to the aspects of the sport that appeal to you most. If it’s not already, liking what you do will eventually become a much more compelling reason to continue than any other goal you set for yourself.