Monday, September 12, 2011

Where does motivation "come from?"

Recently a faithful reader suggested that I put a "button" on the blog so that if you had a question, you could email me with your question, and I could answer it or blog about it. I've never made a button before, but after doing some googling, I figured out the html code and walla! If you take a quick glance to your far right--there is now a cute envelope "Button" that you can click and you can email me! Pretty nifty huh.

A little while after I put up the cool envelope, my very first blog email arrived! It was pretty exciting. Kind of like when you get a package in the mail--but more virtual. So maybe a little less thrilling than a real package.

Anyways, the question this lovely reader had was a training and motivation question.
They found that they have two modes: Training and not training. When they know they have a race coming up, they are motivated and focused, but when the race is over, they have found it's hard to get out there and get their runs done. They wanted to know "How do you stay motivated when you aren't training for something specific?"

I would say this is a pretty common question. But, perhaps another question to ask is,
"What is motivation?"

Motivation is an area that is highly researched. A quick search on my college library of the term "motivation," puts out over 60,000 journal article results! I narrowed down the results to sports and motivation and got it down to a more reasonable 571 journal articles, but as you can see--if you want to know more about this subject there is a lot of research out there and ongoing.

Self-Determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2000) proposes that motivation can be intrinsic or extrinsic in nature. Intrinsic motivation can be described as coming solely from within and is not affected by any external rewards. It's really just the pure internal joy you get from the activity. Intrinsic motivation comes in three forms:

1) Motivation to know (The joy you get from learning)
2) Motivation to surpass YOURSELF (Motivation to run a little further than you did the day before)
3) Motivation for aesthetic and sensory pleasure (Running on a new trail or route) (Vallerand, 2004).
I like to think of intrinsic motivation as your personal motivation-it's like the little core of light inside...You know how E.T. had that little beam of light that showed his heart--and it glowed with love? That's what I think of when I think of intrinsic motivation. I know it's weird but it really helps me make the distinction.

When a person is extrinsically motivated they derive their motivation from an external source. It's not just the pure pleasure driving them (Vallerand, 2004). If you get out and run because you are looking for the "rewards," that is external motivation. Fame is external, but so is weight loss or getting first place in your age group. I think of extrinsic motivation as anything that really is not the little glowing light. It's all the things outside me that push me and get me going to run--but it's NOT the little light.

Extrinsic motivation can be a tricky thing because it can end up reading as pressure and actually drive down motivation and performance....BUT! When an athlete perceives it in another way--extrinsic motivation can have a positive motivation on performance. See how it's kind of confusing? I thought so too at first.

Extrinsic motivation has been found to be self-determined or non-self-determined (Mageau & Vallerand, 2003).
Translation: If the person has accepted that those external reasons for doing the activity are their own.. then that extrinsic motivation is self-determined--and that's good..basically--It's their choice!

Non self-determined motivation happens when an athlete feels pressure or guilt to do the activity. This can happen because of a coach, or they feel internal guilt ("Gah, why am I missing so many workouts!!?" "I HAVE to workout" )

What you want is to foster the little intrinsic motivation "light" and that self-determined external motivation.

So. Now that I've *hopefully* gotten you thinking about what motivation is (but possibly confused you!)..
We are back to the
"HOW do I stay motivated when I don't have a race to focus my training on?"

Remember a few seconds ago where you read that it's important to foster your intrinsic motivation and your self-determined extrinsic motivation? No--well I just said it again to remind you and I put it in the bold :)

When you get done with your training, and the race is do you continue?

Here are some suggestions:
1) Take a break: Yep. I said it. One way to look at training is a cycle, and within that cycle you have periods in which you build up the intensity both in terms of mileage and in workouts--then you enter a race phase--and then you wind down, and you rest. Rest is good. It's good for your body and your soul. If you have spent 12-16 weeks (or longer) preparing for a big race--take some down time and don't run. Do other things and enjoy the time off! Full on rest and recovery

helps prevent injury and burnout and it's an important part of the training cycle.
I'm not sure why, but in my own personal experience taking downtime has allowed me to rest and recover--but also remember my little light as to why I love running. It helps to miss it.

2) Explore your intrinsic motivation: Run for fun. Training for a race is an extrinsic motivator. When you aren't training--it's kinda down to the nitty gritty, asking yourself "WHY am I running?" Which can be kinda scary--if you love racing but hate just running--you might have to really work at some of these--and that can be HARD. But not training allows you to figure out what you love about the sport.
So--use this time to go out, and explore a new place--without the confines of "I gotta get in this much mileage!!" Or "I have to run this pace!" If a run is short but gorgeous, and you cleared your mind after a long day at work...well then. Good job.

3) Continue to set goals: goals don't always have to be based around a race. Goals can be short, medium and long term. Goals can set up your entire training plan (SMART goals) but a goal can also be very simple, "Today I will run 5 minutes longer than I did yesterday." or "today I will run up this hill I've never done before." These are extremely short term--almost immediate goals that are achievable and make the run interesting--and worth celebrating. I still remember the time I decided on a run in San Diego that I was going to run up a giant hill...I worked my way to the top and was rewarded with a gorgeous night view of Pacific Beach and the ocean. I wasn't "training" and usually balked at the hill--turning around, but this night I decided, "Why not?" It was so worth it.

4) Get creative with your workouts:
  • Try leaving your watch at home to run for fun--be mindful of the environment, your breathing and tune into your thoughts--and the feeling of the run.
  • Try running at a different time--I know this can be hard with schedules, but if you run in the evenings--try a morning or vice versa. The weekend is a great time to try this out.
  • Continue to challenge yourself--throw in speed or a hill or two into your runs. You aren't "training" so make it up--just don't be a loon and kill yourself--that is my disclaimer (okay--know thyself and what thyself can handle-there)
5) Do more than run. Being active is important! If there is another activity you would like to do--and you aren't feeling the run--do it. Cycling, skiing, swimming, soccer, ultimate frisbee, rock climbing, golf..the list goes on and on. It might be tempting to stay on the couch--but ask yourself "What else can I do instead of a run--for 20-30 minutes today?" And do that.

6) Race occasionally: It's okay if you aren't in your tip top shape every time you go to a race. You can use races for all kinds of practice. You can use them for a fun workout, a social occasion, or a way to practice other important skills. Try out a shorter distance. Go to a race with a goal to focus on your pre-race physical and mental routine--and evaluate how that goes. It's tempting to focus on the time as all that matters at races, but it's perfectly acceptable and good practice to focus on the process of the race--and celebrate that, because when you are ready to race again--those skills you practiced will be there for you to call upon.

A race is actually an external motivator. When it's over, the question becomes "Why am I running?" When you aren't training for a race it can actually be a special time. Time to rest and recover, have fun and switch up workouts and do more than focus on running and time goals.

What are some ways you stay motivated when you aren't training for a race?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Performance and Process goals to complete workouts

In the past month I have started running with a local training group and this has represented a bit of a new beginning for me. This group has been really great for me in a lot of ways. I really like the coach, he has a lot of knowledge about distance running and he does a great job of creating a fun and positive environment for the group.
I also am really liking the group members! Running with a group I think has been beneficial for me in a number of ways: 1) working with the group has helped me see where I am at in terms of my peers. I used to run alone a fair amount, and I really wouldn't be able to tell exactly where I was until I was racing, and that seemed to add a bit more pressure to the actual race. Working out with others allows me to see where I am in a practice situation, where the pressure is low; 2) in the same vein working out with the group helps push me. There are people in the group who are the same pace as me and of course faster than me. They all help me get the most from the workouts. I think it's important to have internal motivation, but that extra little healthy competitive push from your peers is great too! 3) Working out in the group lets me practice mental skills on the regular. For instance, I practice composure and focus to maintain the pace I know I need to do in order to complete workouts--rather than get caught up in a competitive moment and go too fast--and then not be able to finish the entire set or worse--the workout! This translates into the composure and focus on pacing at races. I love that I get to practice this now!

The last, and best thing about the group is that they are all really nice people, who are all encouraging and welcoming. I've enjoyed getting to know them in the past month and am looking forward to getting to know them better as time goes on. They all have a lot of knowledge to share on topics running related and not running related and that's been great learning about them.

I also appreciate that the group members can give good ideas for how to handle tough workouts.

This morning we met for a workout that consisted of a 4 Kilometer run at half marathon pace, followed by rest, then 2x 2Kilometers at 10K pace. Admittedly I went into this workout with the mindset of "hold on to the group," and running a specific pace for each repeat. This workout felt pretty difficult and the mentality of "just hold on," was pretty strong. With this type of mentality there really isn't much of a process either. It becomes almost more of an outcome of just finishing.

We completed the first 4K and the first 2K. After the first 2K, during the rest, one of my teammates mentioned that he had set a time goal for the first 2K repeat. Oddly, I hadn't even looked at my watch for the first repeats to see what my total times were, I was completely focused on finishing and what my pace was..the coach asked what my time was and I responded with a brilliant, "huh?" I decided to set a time goal as a performance goal for the final repeat, and see how that felt. My time goal was to finish in 7:30-7:40, with a goal to push the final 500 meters to the finish. We started out, and focusing on the overarching total time as something to shoot for really seemed to help. Suddenly I had more of a purpose it seemed. As I approached the final 500 meters, I reminded myself of my process goal to kick the final 500, and I used some cue words, telling myself "speed's the thing," to push to the finish. This actually worked! I dropped my pace in the final 500, and I made the time! 7:35 for the last 2K. What I really loved was that my teammate made this offhand comment, but it was so incredibly helpful.

Sometimes, it seems easy to get caught up in one way of doing something--or even worse kind of going through the motions. This can be heightened when you work out alone. In a way it can make you a bit inflexible--and can limit you. In this case I really had only thought of MY way of doing things (going by pace) and didn't think any other way was possible. It made me start to slog through the workout. Having other people around doing the workout with me not only provided that automatic social support (it's always nice to hear someone say, "good job," or "keep going!" and return the favor), but also when someone in the group--even in the offhand mentions a different perspective of how to get through a tough workout it really can change the outcome. In this particular workout, I never would have thought about focusing on a simple, short term performance goal, coupled with another simple process goal, but I'm so glad my workout partner had that idea and shared it!

What are some of the ways you get through tough workouts?

Do you workout alone or with a group?

What do you see are the benefits of your style of working out?