Are some people born with extra doses of motivation? We may ask ourselves this when we see marathon runners log 100-mile weeks and pass us in races like we are statues.
It’s easy to think, “Well, they just have that extra motivational gene. It just comes naturally for them to train like that. I could never do it. I’m just not wired that way.”
I feel that I’ve been swinging on both sides of this pendulum. While I have never been an elite runner, I’ve managed to become a decent distance recreational runner, getting my longer runs down to sub-8 minute miles. However, this has vacillated and I now find myself facing a full Ironman in 9 months when I’m back to less-than-ideal shape. In every athlete’s life, they have their ups and downs. Lately, I’ve been facing some downs…
My Fall from Pace…
It’s time to take a hard look at my current predicament. How did I let myself fall from speedster to slacker in two years? How did I lose my endurance and fast pacing? Like most sad stories, there wasn’t one particular thing, but an entire cacophony of bad decisions, direction, and depression.
First, I moved from a location where I was surrounded with amazing running support and fun races to a place where I had to create it from scratch. Upon arriving to my new island home, I initially joined a local triathlon team, but their practice conflicted with my husband’s schedule. He only stopped studying for dinner, at the exact time the team practiced. I felt like I always had to choose, and in the end I chose to spend time with him. Since there was a lot of other personal emotional turmoil involved with the move, which caused these past two years to be the most difficult of my life, I didn’t set up another support system to keep me athletically engaged. Also, the simple act of moving to a tropical island, with more intensive heat and hills, naturally slowed my pacing down and further discouraged me.
Second, I went to a very different environment from what I normally experienced, where heckling runners (especially women) is looked upon by the locals as cultural. I fail to accept this argument, and instead believe it’s a universal lack of respect and objectification that some people within all cultures share. I simply believe that bad behavior is more acceptable here vs. the previous places that I have trained. Since I have some emotional scaring in this area from past trauma, the last thing I want is additional sexual attention from guys. Getting crude comments and harassment from multiple men every run and feeling unsafe in my running happy place takes its toll on my mental health. It just makes me not want to run at all.
Third, my personal health has taken a blow. I’ve been dealing with stress and depression due to outside situational circumstances. Before, I dealt with the depression through intensive exercise and endorphin release. However, when I moved and stopped working out, the lack of endorphins impacted me just like going off anti-depressants. I crashed… hard. Since emotions also impact physical health, I had some chronic health issues and a few months where I was fighting dengue fever and couldn’t exercise at all.
Finally, my diet has suffered. At my athletic peak, I was a raw vegan. However, I went off of this diet and embraced comfort food. I did this mainly because moving to an island meant my raw vegan diet was too expensive to maintain. I relied heavily on nuts and seeds as a part of my meal plan. Most nuts are three to four times as expensive here vs. back in the US. I looked at our food budget after a few months and realized that I couldn’t realistically afford to continue eating raw vegan. I didn’t eat any differently than my husband, who stays lean so easily with zero effort. His maddening metabolism resembles a rocket launch while mine is closer to a bicycle with square wheels. Naturally, the weight crept back on. The stress of having a husband in medical school is also very intense. Imagine if you failed a test and were given a six-figure debt while both parties were jobless with no way to repay it? That’s what it’s like to be the wife of a medical student, except someone else is taking the test for you and removing every iota of your personal control. Stress, as we all know, causes weight gain and food addictions.
Now, I haven’t completely stopped exercising. I still swim open water three times per week consistently, get on my bicycle trainer occasionally, hit the weight room, and have been running sporadically these past two years. I can still run a 5K in the high twenties and can finish an 8-mile run without too much pain involved. I’ve gained about 30 pounds, but I started on the verge of being too skinny. I’ve also spent more time in the gym lifting, so some of this is added muscle mass. But, there is still a lot of weight I need to drop to gain speed back (especially with the IM Tahoe biking elevation climbs) and endurance training I need to put in to even hope to finish my first full Ironman.
So, how do I get motivated again? What head and heart games are required to get my body back to my top athletic performance? Since I’m facing this question personally, I wanted to get real and share my game plan with all of you; as it’s my guess that everyone has been where I am a time or two.
Here are my top ten motivational busters, and how I plan to overcome them.
1) Running Slow
Buster: This wasn’t an issue the last time I got into top form. I was coming off of not running for many years, and I had forgotten what it was like to run fast. If you’ve never been there, it is an intoxicating, addictive rush to run at an intense pace over a long distance. You feel like you can accomplish anything! Once I lost my speed, I lost a lot of my motivation. I would look at my watch in disbelief at my slow speed in comparison with the effort I was putting forth. I felt like I was plodding along instead of floating effortlessly over the pavement. I wrote a post “So You Think You Hate Running,” which pretty much sums it up. I also lost most of my running partners, as I hated slowing them down to stay with my pokey pace.
Bounce Back: I plan to not run with my watch during my base training period. I will still log my run with my phone, but it will be hidden so I don’t know my speed until the workout is over. It is terribly demotivating to glance at my watch as I struggle up a hill and realize a speed walker may overtake me. During my base training, I will focus on logging miles and enjoying the scenery instead of watching a watch and racing my former self. That girl of two years ago will always win. After my base phase, I will incorporate speed work back into my build and peak phases of training. That’s when I plan to bring back the watch. But, for now, it only messes with my head.
2) Eating Junk
Buster: Living in a place where food costs are double what you will find in the US, I’ve found it too costly and difficult to eat raw vegan. While I tried cooking more healthy food, daily using a hot stove in a kitchen with no AC in a sweltering house on a steamy jungle island is not pleasant. I still cook, but the appeal of more easy meals is undeniable. It’s so much easier and cheaper to eat the junk food here. We also have very limited options for food choices. In addition, I had a few rough bouts with food poisoning due to contaminated raw salad greens. It made the fresh less appealing and the packaged appear more safe. The momentary pleasure that satisfying a food addiction brings was sometimes the only bright spot during my darker days. Eating raw vegan for seven months had also left me very prone to a rebound once I allowed junk food back into my life. I felt I had refused so much tempting food, that once I opened myself to it again, I was ready to dive in and indulge in all I had been missing. Plus, during my most intensive depression, I was going through an unhealthy self-punishment phase and hoped the additional weight would grant me anonymity from unwanted attention from the male population. It didn’t…
Bounce Back: I plan to incorporate the raw vegan diet into my life once more after the holidays. I realize that coming back to the states, I will want to indulge a bit in my favorite restaurants that I haven’t visited in over a year. I will allow myself permission to do this in moderation. Then, I plan to settle down and go back to the diet that I know produces the fastest training results for me. However, when I went seven months without eating anything cooked, when I did eat cooked food I was very sick for several days. To not have to go through this again, I will allow myself one weekly cheat day where I can have healthy, cooked food with maybe a few sweets. I think keeping a little moderation in my diet will help me not feel like I’m missing out, leading to feelings of martyrdom.
3) Dealing with Street Harassment
Buster: I really hate street harassment. I feel it is disrespectful, crude, and can sometimes escalate to physical violence and rape. Having suffered from an attempted physical assault while here, I can say that once this happened, street harassment caused me much greater anxiety than I used to experience. You never know when someone will go from talk to action, and the result is that you become anxious and distrustful of even “harmless” shouting.
Bounce Back: I’m only on the island three more weeks. We actually shelled out a bit of our limited budget and bought a month’s membership at a gym with treadmills. I plan to either run very early with a partner or on the treadmills in the safety of the gym. When I get back to the sleepy towns of Arkansas, this will no longer be much of an issue. I know where to run where I won’t draw unwanted attention.
4) Sleep Deprivation
Buster: Stress is almost synonymous with sleep deprivation for me. I haven’t been able to sleep well for months now. When I’m tired, the last thing I want to do is draw from my limited life motivation to exercise. These past few months, I have also allowed caffeine back into my life after nine years of being off this drug. It really messes with my sleep and turns me into a zombie that needs more caffeine to function in a viscous cycle of addiction and dependance. My husband lives off of Coke while he’s trying to study. My slippery slope started small, with just a few sips off of his drink. But, that sugar and caffeine concoction doesn’t take much to get you hooked. In addition to now drinking my calories in Coke, lack of sleep and stress also contribute to weight gain, which further escalates the lack of motivation.
Bounce Back: I plan to cut out the caffeine. Also, after this week, the stress of my husband’s basic science years of medical school will be over. This will allow me to relax quite a bit. And, I will try to stop staying up so late and get back onto a more structured sleep cycle. The more mentally awake I feel, the more motivated I will be to go after my fitness goals.
5) Feeling Fat
Buster: This may seem silly, but I refuse to buy fat clothes. First, on our tiny budget, we can’t afford a new wardrobe. Second, I refuse to spend money on more clothes that I plan to be unable to fit into soon anyway. And third, I want to make it as painful as possible for me keep the weight on. I think the more comfortable I become with my girth, the less motivated I will be to make changes. (This has happened in my distant past… see my story of previous transformation here.) So, if I get down to only a few things I can wear, since my wardrobe was purchased to fit a lean, mean, athletic machine, I will be more focused on getting back to that magical place where the clothes feel comfortable again. My current experience of my clothing becoming a tourniquet while turning me into a human muffin is much less desirable.
Bounce Back: With the healthy diet and return to consistent exercise, this one should care of itself. I plan to be at least back into most of my clothes comfortably by Christmas. When I came to the island, many of my thin clothes were still falling off because I had lost so much weight, so getting back to where they fit without turning parts of my body blue will be a good compromise. With the continued weight loss, the motivation will be a natural end result. I will also try to cut back on dinners. I find that if I skip the evening meal, I feel very lean in the morning.
6) Losing my Athlete Identity / Goals
Buster: Sometimes, it seems hard to think of myself as an endurance athlete when I’ve lost so much endurance and, therefore, so much of my identity. When you forget that you are an athlete, you stop acting like one. I don’t want that to be my story, not again…
Bounce Back: First, I need to stop hanging my self worth on my girth or fitness grade. When I forgive myself for where I am now and focus on building from my current base, I will begin to move forward. When you are at a high level of fitness, it’s so much easier to keep training, because you are already doing something very well… and that in itself is its own reward. When you lose it, you have to dig deeper within to not only continue despite your body’s logical argument that retreat from your mileage goal is the best choice, but rise up again even when you are the slowest person with the biggest ground to cover. I have more respect when I see overweight people running than when I watch the elites race. Because, I can promise you, going out every day when you feel like a gooey blob where everything rubs you wrong and each step is painful is so much harder than gliding your muscular body over the ground like Superman. Facing our own mortality and weakness takes a lot more guts. Second, I need people to hold me to my training plan. I will put together a schedule and share it with you for additional accountability. Hold my feet to the fire, my friends!
7) Hot Weather
Buster: I ran in Florida for years, but you haven’t faced heat until you run in the tropical jungle 12 degrees north of the equator. Even in the early morning, the heat and humidity are horrendous. We also don’t have central AC in our home. This means that you always feel hot and sweaty. And, the last thing you want to do is go outside and run in the sun and intensify this feeling. The sun is also feels like a blast from the planet-destroying Death Star, and your skin gets burned much faster even with sun block. I can’t count the times my lips and scalp skin have gotten cooked.
Bounce Back: Running in the gym will fix this issue for the next three weeks we have left here. I also run in the early morning if I run outside, especially if the run lasts over an hour. When I go back to Arkansas for Christmas, we will have plenty of cold weather. I find that my ideal running weather naturally makes my legs numb so that I feel no pain. It makes it harder to know if you’re tired or not.
Buster: Without AC in the house, you don’t realize how much water you need to drink to compensate for the lack of constant coolness. The typical 8 glasses per day won’t cut it here. I often get busy and forget to drink. We all know that you can’t fix dehydration just a few hours before your run. You need to hydrate days in advance to get to the proper levels. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to stop a run because I stopped sweating and began experiencing heat-stroke symptoms. Having a headache the rest of the day because you didn’t hydrate properly for your run is a major deterrent to keep up a good training schedule.
Bounce Back: I’m making a more conscience effort to drink constantly. Even though I’m slightly sick of water due to the quantity I must consume to stay hydrated, I plan to have daily water goals. That way, when it is time to exercise, I don’t run into a hydration nightmare.
Buster: I tend to embrace business when I want to avoid introspection or pain. Being on a tropical island without a demanding career, I have forced myself to slow down considerably and deal with years of past trauma that I never faced because I stuffed it away and embraced busyness over healing. I am working with a counselor, but I still fall back into the busyness trap often. This gets worse as I move into new entrepreneurial ventures. I am trying to gain clients and earn a living from my computer keyboard as a writer and business owner. This work can easily suck me in. I can get so absorbed in my writing, gaining clients, and meeting deadlines, that I forget to lace up my running shoes and train.
Bounce Back: I was able to train for my first marathon while I was still working a demanding, full-time job; so an intensive workout schedule can be done with the right planning. I will focus on being more deliberate with my time. There are still plenty of places in my day where I could become more efficient. Thankfully, while I’m resting my body from a tough workout, I can still move my fingers and work. My training and writing go together like marathons and ice baths.
10) Stress / Depression
Buster: Stress and depression can really take the wind out of your motivational sails. Thankfully, for me, I believe many outside stresses will drop after this week. I’m coming to the end of a very long and emotionally-draining two years in a foreign country. Someday, I hope to write about all of the things my husband and I have faced here, but it will be a very long and difficult story for a different time. If you struggle with depression, and I believe more people do than will admit, the best thing you can do is tackle it head-on with a good counselor and embrace self introspection to bring out better emotional health.
Bounce Back: There’s a reason why people say that running is the best therapy. I believe that once I get on a better running schedule, get back to the US, and bring in more work, my emotional outlook will only improve. Also, in my current location, I am unable to work locally. The only income that I can generate is online. Knowing that I have the option, should we get into real financial trouble, of walking into a business and landing a full-time paying job (even if it is just making cappuccinos temporarily) is a nice cushion to fall back on. While I plan to continue my online business so that I no longer need to work the typical 8 to 5 grind, it’s still nice to still have this safety net. I also have worked with a fantastic counselor this past year, and plan to continue to invest in my mental health. Things will only go up from here!
So, to sum it up from both sides of the coin, I don’t believe people are born with an extra motivational gene. I think we can all meet any goal we set for ourselves, once we get through the mental barriers keeping us back from our success. We just have to find that spark deep inside to light the fire within and fight for our dreams.
If you are interested in more ideas of how to stay motivated, check out this article that I wrote for Lifehack.
So what about you? Do any of my motivational busters also smash into your best intentions? If so, I want to hear from you. Or, what other challenges do you face? To keep this from being simply a gripe session, also tell me how you overcame it. What works to motivate you? After all, we can all use more motivational mojo in our lives!