Find something that makes your heart beat faster. It doesn’t have to be the great passion of your life, or anything grandiose, just something that starts a little fire in your soul. It doesn’t have to be running the NYC marathon; it can be completing a local road race, trying ballroom dancing, or taking a road trip to Tofino. For those of us used to lowering our expectations as life’s rough patches and responsibilities have taken over, this small spark of a fire reminds us of our true nature, that feeling we had as kids when we were in our element, and immersed in flow while playing. Do not wait for motivation to miraculously happen: take action and you will create your own motivation. From my own personal life experience at finding passion and setting goals and from coaching others for two decades, here are some things that I have discovered to be helpful in finding motivation and creating joy.
PUT IT IN YOUR HEART
Visualize the end goal, not the details just yet: the wonderful feeling of crossing the finish line, hugging your best friend after the race because you did it together, or the view of the vast Pacific ocean as you come over Pacific Rim Highway after Kennedy Lake. Really lean into how that feels and create an imprint of that raw delight in your heart. This is the engine of your dream and also the back up fuel tank.
MAKE A SPECIFIC GOAL AND SET A PLAN
Make a goal that is clearly stated, achievable, and measurable. Last year I wanted to take a strength training clinic. That was my goal. After years of running, learning how to be strong and getting strong got me excited. I also wanted to train with a coach at a gym, and with a class of people, as I do a lot of training alone. I found a class that worked for me at Victoria Hardstyle Kettlebell Club. I signed up. I had one class a week that I showed up for and I got coached and I followed through. Nothing sexy, but I did exactly what I intended to do. I enjoyed it immensely.
This is where training clinics are great for runners. You can set a goal of running or walking a 10K or a half marathon, and sign up for a running clinic. You will be given a clear break down of week by week training, a clinic night each week with leaders, companions and a plan, and clear measurable short term goals (training sessions) to get you to your overall goal.
HAVE A GOOD LADDER
This can be anything you do that helps you move upwards to your goals. Like climbing rungs on a ladder, this support continually moves you in a positive direction. It can be as simple as setting reminders and filling in your calendar so you have a visual of your steps and your plan. It can be getting the proper equipment, as it was for me in investing in several more kettlebells for my home gym so I could practice effectively between sessions. Maybe it’s getting the unconditional approval from a loved one or your kids, or taking a friend to the clinic so you are accountable to each other.
TURN DOWN THE VOLUME ON "RNV Radio Negative Voice"
Don’t for one second believe in your own BS; the voice that says you can’t, or won’t or that you are too old, slow or not the right shape for whatever your dream is. Our built-in negativity bias can save us from getting hit by a car while crossing the road, but is completely useless when it comes to following up on a dream. There is no perfect. No perfect time to start anything, so ignore the inner critic and do it anyway. Recognize your thoughts as just thoughts and don’t believe everything you think.
EVERY STEP IS PROGRESS
Keep at your goal, by following your plan, and don’t second guess every step of the way (see step above again). One of the biggest hurdles for humans, seems to be expecting massive results each and every day to affirm that they are on the right path. Some days are simply, small steps. In fact, most days are simply, small steps, and it is in remaining calm day by day and doing your own best practice, focusing on the process not the performance that matters. I drew this process out for running training once.
KEEP TAPPING INTO THAT FEELING IN YOUR HEART - IT IS REAL
Keep reminding yourself of the heart feeling from step one. Why you are doing this and how satisfied you will feel at the end of this journey. Visualize this often. This is creating resilience that you will use over and over again.
BE GOOD TO YOURSELF
Find ways to celebrate each step of the way and acknowledge your progress. Let yourself be pleased for accomplishing a session, attending a class, checking off boxes for the week. Even to this day, after thousands of training sessions, I give myself a ‘pat on the back’ for completing as best as I could that day. There will always be what I call the ‘positive failures’. Not reaching a pace time, not lifting the weight in a deadlift, failing to complete reps in a set. The positive failures are part of the progress, and recovering physically and mentally from these are what makes you stronger. And for crying out loud, don't compare your goals, your journey and your life to what you see on social media.
Lucy Smith is a retired professional runner and triathlete, a coach and motivational speaker. She is the Lead Coach for the TC 10k run clinics in Victoria, British Columbia and will be writing weekly articles for the training leading up to the April 26th race.
A little personal story -
Last fall I set myself a goal of competing in a strength challenge called the StrongFirst Tactical Strength Challenge (TSC), which combines scores from a max deadlifts, repetitions of bodyweight pull ups and repetitions of a kettlebell snatch. I finished 4th amongst women over 50. My personal goal for the event was to complete 10 pull ups. I completed 9. Not to be defeated, I kept going after the event and 2 days before Christmas I completed 10 in my garage, with the cheering and support of my 14 year old son!
Resilience is something you build through experience. It’s not about bouncing back so much as it is about recovering from challenges and setbacks, adapting to life, and moving forward. It is about building confidence in knowing you can recover when things are hard, challenging or difficult. I talk a lot about developing positive habits in training as a way to build resiliency to the inevitable discomforts and failures of sport. Resiliency becomes a skill and a choice: will I be resilient in this moment?
Here’s how to build resiliency in training. I’m going to use the example of running near threshold – which is both mentally and physically challenging. It’s physically challenging simply because physiologically you are at or near the edge of what your body is capable of. It’s mentally challenging because the mind doesn’t stick to facts much when it’s under duress – it likes to make up lots of stories about what’s going on, and what might happen. These stories basically run along the same three themes of:
Doubt: “I am not sure I can keep this up, it’s so hard!”
Fear: “I have to keep this up or else I’m just slow as a runner; I’m never going to run as fast as I want to!"
Despair: “I’m having such a bad day!”
We get so overwhelmed by the sharpness of both our physical and mental discomfort that we lose our ability to focus on what’s necessary in that moment. We need absolutely, good self-coaching, which is just another name for self-compassion.
In these moments, we need to train ourselves instantly to recognize what’s happening, and we need to stop that behaviour, or our thoughts from taking control of the ship. We need to focus on the process of running: what are our arms doing, our feet, are our hips loose and fluid, are we tall, and relaxed in the face and jaw and shoulders. We need to draw power, strength and love for what we are doing from anywhere in these moments. Maybe it’s how beautiful the day is, an encouraging word from a coach or a fan or a team mate, or telling ourselves ‘I am so strong!’ and doing this repeatedly until it sticks.
When I am watching races, I often yell out specific cues to people in the race – I can’t help myself. I can instantly tell which athletes are practicing resilience, because they smile, get taller, relax or do something positive with my encouragement. Athletes who are stuck in their pain (and their head) often grimace and grunt or throw out an excuse for why their day is going poorly.
Resilient athletes are ones that are using whatever positive energy they can to deal with discomfort, recover, adapt and learn. This is practice. It’s not innate, you aren’t born with it, and you learn it. It is why practicing steady state, tempo and fast intervals in training is more than just teaching your body to run fast. The reason that you do these sessions, are that they demand you run fast (which is fun, by the way), and they demand that you are mentally sharp. How you reacted to, adapt and face the discomfort in these sessions is a critical part of training as an athlete and translates directly into how well you will race when the stakes were high.
Of course, the bonus is that you develop confidence and resilience for life.
Run For Joy!
To run at a steady sustained effort, you’ll have about two hours of stored energy, before your legs turn to jelly and you hit the wall. If you haven’t replaced any carbohydrates during this time, this is the point at which your body turns to its fat stores and you have to begin the slow and painful hike to finish. Finish you will, albeit slower than you wanted, and probably with some emotional turmoil over your efforts. You can mitigate this physical and emotional distress by planning out a hydration and nutrition schedule for yourself. Like always, it’s all about practicing good habits and setting yourself up to succeed.
By the time you hit the half way mark in a long distance race (anything over 3 hours), you will have gone past what your body has stored as readily available fuel. Nutrition planning is a lot about taking care of the last half of the race, when you are fatigued and any major calorie deficit is going to make the day really hard. When you start going into calorie deficit, you are more prone to being emotional, irrational and not coping well with your fatigue. Keep on top of calories, and the late stages of the race will be much more comfortable, your brain will be sharp (better for negotiating tough terrain), and you’ll finish tired, but in one piece.
The energy sources your body will use for racing long distance will come from the glycogen stored in your muscles, and fat. This glycogen is formed when the body breaks down carbohydrates into sugars for energy. Even with the best carbohydrate preparation, your body only has about enough stored glycogen for ninety minutes to two hours. You will then be using your fat stores as energy, a process that is much slower and which requires you to reduce pace considerably. You must constantly ingest carbohydrates and fluids during an event in order to maintain a steady stream of sugar to your muscles and to handle the optimal pace of racing.
You should note that your caloric intake and heart rate are inversely related. As you start to exercise, blood is diverted from your stomach to your working muscles and skin to sweat and help cool you. As your heart rate rises, you are less able to digest the calories you ingest. The food will sit in your digestive system instead of being used: this causes discomfort and gastro-intestinal stress for athletes. Your race day nutrition plan is intimately bound to your racing heart rate.
Fuelling properly means maintaining (as much as possible) your balance in caloric deficit and constantly refilling depleted glycogen stores. Eating or ingesting calories from the beginning is critical. If you wait until you are tired and hungry, you will never catch up.
What to eat and how much to eat is a strategy that each athlete has to work out for themselves. Your training should include a method to work out what your race day nutrition plan should be. Every long training session should include a plan for nutrition and hydration, including how many calories, what specific foods and fluids to take and when to take them. You will have to try out your plan many times in training in order to figure out what works for you. Note that fuelling well in training is not just about planning for race day: eating properly on training runs means you optimize your output for that day and you ensure a proper recovery, both aspects to progressive improvement in fitness.
As a coach, I have seen many training sessions derailed and failed due to one totally avoidable factor: not planning nutrition and hydration.
Quick overview on nutrition
Formulating your personal nutrition plan – the numbers here are not set in stone but guidelines only, and I would have someone start formulating their plan months in advance. If you don’t have months, you’ll have to use some powers of recollection and deduction based on what you have done in training.
There are some athletes who prefer real food – dried fruit, bananas, sandwiches – for endurance events. While I avoid packaged food and eat simple, nutritious whole food in my daily life of training and living, I always stick with sport specific nutrition during races. Packaged bars and gels are easy to carry, easy to consume, have little fibre (way easier on the stomach), and is more precise and efficient when determining calories.
Once again, plan for success, and the success is more likely to happen. Long distance running is one of the coolest things you can do, so take care of the details and enjoy the trails!
Run For Joy!
You only get to do something for the first time once. A lot of those firsts come when we are really young – like our first breath of air when we are born. Or the first time you roll over, crawl, walk, and say a word when you are a baby. These are somewhat involuntary ‘firsts’, as you develop as a human, and later there are all kinds of firsts that are simply part of the process of growing up – first time you brush your teeth on your own, tie your shoe laces, ride a bike.
But the firsts don’t ever have to end when you are an adult, and they can become pretty cool moments to re learn the way you processed the world with such expansive freedom and lack of expectation as a young kid, before self-consciousness and anxiety took over. Choosing to do something you’ve never done before, as an adult, is a significant act of courage. You need to open up to failure, imperfection and simply getting out of your own way and expectations so you can just have a great time and use the event as a catalyst for learning.
I am not talking about chasing grand adventure or challenge of epic proportions, like running the Grand Canyon, or rowing across the Pacific, but the everyday mindfulness of noticing and loving the moment of trying something new. Doing something for the first time, especially as an adult, makes you feel brave and alive and is a moment to cherish.
Because you only get to do that new thing once!
I’ll never run a footrace for the first time ever again. I did that when I was 10 and so it’s done. I might run a certain type of race for the first time – like when I signed up for Finlayson Arm 28k and really had no idea how that would go, but I had enough of an idea of training and racing that I did train pretty well and knew what to do on race morning, and knew how to mentally and emotionally tackle endurance running. So I focussed on what I knew what to do, and embraced the uncertainty of the rest of it.
When I meet people who are running in an event for the first, I feel so happy for them, for this is a special moment in their lives. And I while I try to offer lots of guidance and support and help with logistics, only they can experience the event, on their own terms and however they choose to do so. And I hope they choose to do it wide eyed, with a sense of wonder and a little bit of humour.
Last year, I entered a deadlifting competition at the Forge, a local gym. I had started deadlifting in March, and the competition was in September, so I had only been training for five months. When I signed up I did that thing they always show in movies. I registered on-line and when I got to the page with the green box to hit send, I paused for a moment, my finger poised above the keyboard. I hesitated, not with fear, but to appreciate that this was a first time thing for me.
On the day of the competition, every single thing was new. I had never been in any type of strength competition and I was pretty stoked by the adventure of it all. I had never even set foot in the Forge before! I was learning moment to moment, observing what the other competitors were doing, listening to the judges talk, trying to figure out when to warm up for my lifts, feeling so darn ‘new’. I felt acutely aware of being ‘the runner’, being 51, feeling a bit on the small and not so strong side of the field. Then I realized that I had to lift in front of an audience because it was a fundraiser. In the competition, in which I had three lifts, I made a lot of mistakes. I hadn’t trained enough for my technique to be flawless under pressure, and I failed at a max lift I had achieved several times in training. I learned a lot. On my second try at 205 pounds, I couldn't even budge that thing off the floor, and I just laughed out loud at myself. It was an amazing day and I’ll never have that experience again, of being new, a rookie, of not really knowing what to expect.
So, if you have signed up for something and it’s your first time doing such a thing? I am full of joy for you. Don’t be scared: be amazed, curious, lighthearted and proud of yourself. You only get to do this for the first time once. Open yourself to the experience, be yourself, laugh at yourself and have a great time doing this thing for the first time. It’s not a dress rehearsal.
Run For Joy
Welcome to the place I write about sport, training and the love of the active life. Favourite posts are under 'Personal Bests', and TC10K week by week training support is under the Run Clinic tab. Thank you for being here - your comments always welcome!