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How to find your motivation during a race-free season

Triathlete, know thyself! A little self-knowledge helps in uncertain times.

Photo by: Kevin Mackinnon

Have you ever thought about why you do triathlon? Some people have taken an intentional path to this sport, but, for many, triathlon is an accidental destination. Maybe you were inspired (or challenged) by a colleague or friend. Perhaps you were injured in your primary sport and took up the other two to cross train and found you liked it. Or did you start off by doing one event in a relay and got sucked in by the atmosphere at a race?

No matter why or how you ended up in this sport, now is a good to time to figure out why you continue to participate. Understanding what motivates you will make it much easier to create meaning and joy for yourself in this unusual, mostly race-free year.

People are driven to participate in sport for a few main reasons. The first one is affiliation – a desire to be with people and share experiences with them. The second is sensation – the enjoyment of the flow of the movement of cycling, swimming or running. The third is achievement – to get a personal best time, to go farther than even before, to lose weight or to raise money for a charity.

Most people are motivated by a mixture of these reasons, but tend to have a primary, secondary and tertiary motivator. Knowing which is your primary motivator can help you design a race-free season that nonetheless meets at least some of your goals.

If you are affiliation focussed, you should seek out group events like online classes or virtual challenges. Photo: Getty Images.

Is your favourite part of a race, or practice, the hanging out that goes on before or after? Do you struggle to leave the transition area after a race because you keep running into people that you “have to say hi to?”  Then you may be affiliation focussed. If this is you, I encourage you to seek out group events. Maybe online bike classes or virtual challenges with strong social components will work. As restrictions ease, it might be possible to engage in group rides, runs or swims, with socially distanced chats pre- and post-workout.

Is your favourite part of cycling when you get to swoosh around corners on fast descents? Is your favourite part of a trail run the concentration it takes to keep in a flow? Do you enjoy the feeling of weightlessness that comes from being underwater? You may be sensation focussed. Some ideas for how to spend your summer satisfying this need are to find a great hill on which you can practice descending; or spend your summer exploring for new great descents. Another approach is to find new lakes to swim in and trails to run on or to seek new sensations in sports like mountain biking or gravel riding.

Related: Monday Motivation – What’s your hill?

Do you proudly display a collection of all your race medals in your home office? Do you have a meticulously updated spreadsheet with all your race PBs and time trial results – organized by distance, with explanatory notes for weather conditions? You may be achievement focussed. For an athlete with this focus, one fulfilling way to spend the summer would be to seek out the virtual challenges and races that are out there. Or you can stretch your achievements in the “longer” not “faster” direction – see the “Embrace your base” article I wrote a few weeks ago.

In whatever way you end up spending your non-traditional triathlon summer, I hope that knowing a bit more about what motivates you in the first place helps you create a more fulfilling experience.

Darian Silk is a triathlon coach and Certified Exercise Physiologist based in Toronto.  Read more about Darian at www.teamatomica.com or email him at darian@teamatomica.com.