3 Fixes for Flagging Motivation

By Andy Jones-Wilkins, CTS Coach

No matter an athlete’s experience level or talent there are invariably times when motivation wanes, focus is lost, and discipline sidelined.  Many times this is a perfectly normal reaction to training load and can be easily remedied with a bit of time off to regroup and recharge. But what about those times when motivation wanes at the wrong time?  What can you do when the will to train fades right when the need to train blossoms?  How can you regroup and recharge when your goal event is just a few weeks away?

In my years of running and coaching I have found three ways to help boost flagging motivation and get myself or an athlete I’m coaching to the starting line ready to race:

Mind Games

I recall a time about 10 years ago when I fancied myself a competitive runner and trained hard day after day.  Invariably, somewhere in the midst of a hard training block, I would lose a little of my edge and when morning came I would roll over, turn off the alarm, and go back to sleep instead of heading out for a key workout.  To combat this I developed a habit.  Just before I turned off the alarm I imagined Hal Koerner, Erik Skaden and Graham Cooper, three top runners from those days, doing the exact opposite. I imagined those guys hopping out of bed and hitting the trails within minutes, running fast up steep mountain passes and leaving me in their dust. Most of the time, that mind game got me out of bed.

The mind game that works for you might be different. Maybe it’s not your competitors that will conjure up motivation, but perhaps another version of avoiding negative consequences: “I’m going to train today so X doesn’t happen.” You can also use positive rewards: “I’m going to train today so I can eat/drink something special tonight.” It doesn’t need to be anything elaborate, just something valuable enough to you that it will get you through your moment of malaise.

Switching Things Up

An athlete I coached a couple of years ago had a tendency to get caught in ruts.  Typically, these rough periods were short lived but they could be disruptive if they were not addressed.  Just about every time one of these ruts started forming the best way to get her out was to re-direct her to a different type of workout, a different training venue, or simply a different daily routine. Once she experienced something that felt new (even if it wasn’t even all that new) she emerged with a new spark of inspiration.

Athletes need to be careful with the idea of switching it up, however. With the athlete mentioned above, I modified components of workouts and daily routine, but the underlying structure of her training stayed consistent. Switching it up doesn’t mean upending your training plan and going a whole new direction a month before a big race. It means manipulating the timing, intensities, durations, and environment to put a fresher face on the sound training principles you know are effective.

Positive Visualization

An athlete I coach came to me a month before his goal 100 miler last year and told me he wasn’t ready to race and was thinking of bailing.  After 5 months of rigorous training he had lost faith in himself and his goals.  In the moment I just winged it and said “C’mon man, you’ve wanted that Buckle for years, you’re so close!”  Then I sent him an email with photographs of the race belt buckle, the awards ceremony, and the race finishers t-shirt (as well as a couple other beautiful scenery pictures from the race).  After 48 hours to let it sink in I called him back. “Well, you all good?” I asked.  And he was.  The positive imagery was enough to get him back in the game.

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In the case above I provided the imagery to kick start his motivation, but you can do it for yourself, too. Visualize specific places and scenarios you’re looking forward to in your goal race. Maybe it’s the view from a certain point in the trail. It could be running into an aid station to see your crew after hours on your own. Visualize the final mile. Think about how you want those experiences to unfold and how good it will feel to bring those experiences to life.

I am sure there are other ways to boost flagging motivation but these are my big three.  And, come to think of it they come in handy in life as well as running!


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Comments 4

  1. I’m going through that a bit right now, training for a 200 mile short ultra bike race that is now just 23 days away. I’m 65 and self-coached, it’s a tiny event so there’s not much hoopla around it, and the only racing I’ll be doing is against the clock, trying to make the cutoff time. Thinking about the satisfaction of beating that time and getting the official finisher jersey helps keep me going. Trying to avoid thinking of missing that time is difficult…I am rather a pessimist.

  2. Good article. I am sending some pictures of a race to a friend. Great suggestion. I would also have to look at diet, following some peak building efforts. Carb depletion seems to be a big factor.

  3. Pingback: Ultramarathon Daily News | Tue, Aug 15 | Ultrarunnerpodcast

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