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How to Stay Motivated Without Start Lines

By Karen Parnell, 04/28/21, 12:00PM EDT


If you feel like your mojo is waning, try one of these strategies to get back on track.

We train for races and fix our goals on events, “B” races, and building up to our big “A” race, but what happens when these races disappear? We are all in this strange situation where races have been cancelled, likely for the rest of the year.

My own goal race has been postponed until 2021 so my focus has disappeared. I felt a bit lost and lacking in focus.

First, it’s OK to feel like this. It’s OK to step back and re-evaluate. Not only have we lost our races but many of our training venues and access to training camps. That lack of motivation, mental health experts say, is understandable and completely normal in the short term.

“Life in general has slowed down a lot right now,” Gregory Scott Brown, M.D., director for the Centre for Green Psychiatry in West Lake Hills, Texas. “That kinetic energy we have from waking up in the morning, darting out of the house, and going to work motivates and inspires us, but now that routine is broken up, making it more difficult for people to find motivation.”

So how do we will ourselves to put in the miles? Or do we at all? Like under normal circumstances, it’s all about balance, Brown says.

Why Don’t I Feel Motivated Anymore?

Runners are creatures of habit and when those habits are broken, it can be a shock to the system. You may feel a loss of purpose and having your routine disrupted may also lead to increased stress.

If you have stopped training completely or reduced your training substantially, then one of the keys to getting back to training is to identify why you are not getting out the door (or on the treadmill). You may be used to running in a group or running and strength training at a gym. Sometimes this is not only sociable but holds you accountable. You may also be falling into the guilt cycle and it’s a vicious one: Feel guilty about not being motivated, skip a training session, feel guilty about skipping a training session.

There’s nothing wrong with skipping a handful of workouts—you might even need the break But there’s no question that regular physical exercise can significantly improve mental health. Numerous studies have found that people who exercise vigorously were much less likely to feel depressed or have high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Now, how can you get back to training with purpose?

Break it into manageable chunks

You don’t have to get out every day or match your pre-coronavirus mileage. Instead, commit to one or two sessions per week at whatever distance you feel like in the moment. Or don’t run or walk, and instead, try at-home yoga or a living room strength workout. Maybe go for a walk outside once a day to top up your vitamin D. (Important for normal growth and development of bones and teeth, as well as improved resistance against certain diseases.)

Keep in mind that home schooling, working from home, and other worries may be adding to your stress levels and draining your energy bucket more than normal. So, don’t worry if you aren’t hitting PR’s when you go and train and just enjoy the experience.

Create a new routine

If you’re finding it tough to write your own new training schedule, then maybe consider using one from a qualified coach. Many coaches would be happy to write you a maintenance plan, so that when we do get back to racing, you’ll have a good base of fitness from which to train from.

Focus on a weakness

Have you ever seen a fellow runner charge past you on a hill and find yourself wondering why they’re so fast? Or someone sprinting for the finish line, when you’re barely hanging on? You now have the space to practice the skills you could never find the time for in the past, such as:

  • Flexibility and mobility. This is the ideal time to work on the mobility and flexibility of the performance areas such as the IT band, piriformis, hips, glutes, calves, and quads. Grab a roller or a set of tennis balls and get to work releasing those tight muscles!
  • Hills: This can be done via hill repeats on a local steep hill or a treadmill if you have access to one.
  • VO2 max. Having a higher VO2 max means that your body can take in more oxygen and deliver it to your muscles, enabling you to run faster for a given effort. There are training plans out there that can increase V02 max and help give you structure to your training. A great way to increase V02 max is High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) which has proven to aid with increasing this. HIIT workouts don’t need any equipment and can easily be done at home.
  • Run-specific strength: This may be the ideal time to work on your glutes, core and general overall strength, which will help you when you race, increase your mileage, or just want to be a more durable runner overall.

Go virtual

Another way to set goals is by joining a virtual race or online challenge. Make sure to check out the popular Rock ‘n’ Roll Virtual Running Club with its virtual races and challenges.

If your event has been cancelled, the event organisers may be offering the possibility to do the event on the same day wherever you are and still get rewarded with the race memento. This is a great way to stick to your race training plan and get a medal or t-shirt to mark your achievement and remember this unusual time.

Dive into data

Consider using a Heart Rate Variability (HRV) monitoring app to keep track of your body’s ability to train. Stress, both training and emotional, can drain your resources and mean that resting some days is better for you than logging yet another sweat sesh.

Go inward

Mindfulness and being in the moment can help with anxiety and stress so if you are new to this practice and want to try it, consider trying apps like Headspace or Calm.

If you have fallen off the training wagon, then the key is to ease back gradually—maybe start with something you know you enjoy. Dust off the tennis racquet, the stand-up paddle board, or the mountain bike. All these activities can be considered cross-training so can be ticked off on your training schedule or plan.

Whatever it is, find something to keep the fire burning—when start lines open back up again, you’ll be glad you did!