A Guide to Longevity in Endurance Training
With all the attention given to how athletes can optimize training schedules for performance, the Loving Your Sport series is instead meant to cover the topics that often stand in the way of athletes getting the most enjoyment, fulfillment, and satisfaction from their sports.
In keeping with our mission at Treeline Endurance, the topics discussed in the series are not unique to running or endurance sports. A lot of what we learn and do in sport can be translated to, and thus potentially improve, many other parts of our lives. In Volume 1, we covered how to identify and avert Performance Plateaus. This week we’re taking a look at another common problem athletes face: Commitment Issues.
Anatomy of Commitment Issues
Is something new always better than something familiar? Imagine a hypothetical athlete. Let’s call them Parker.
Parker is 12 weeks into a 16 week marathon training cycle and seeking a new personal best over the marathon distance. The workouts are hard, long runs are long, and the goal is still just a bit too far out for Parker to feel motivated by the pull of an impending finish line. Parker meets up with the local run group, and a friend invites them out for a 5K race that’s only 6 weeks away. The prospect of 5K training is exciting. No more 2- and 3-hour long runs on the weekends. Instead, Parker would be doing a new speed session every couple days, seeing big gains in fitness compared to what they’ve seen on the marathon schedule. Right?
When we become distracted by new goals, we stand to lose more than we stand to gain. In some cases, distraction from the original goal may be a sign of looming burnout. In many cases, it’s as simple as getting excited about a new prospect.
"The chance of achieving anything is reduced when we change the goal."
Distractions like this are particularly dangerous, due to the precedent that they set. If you get distracted and change focus when you’re 75% of the way to your goal, the psychological barrier to getting distracted again in the future is lower. Said another way, what’s to keep Parker from switching to an ultramarathon goal 3 weeks into their new 5K training block?
Distractions set us up for disappointment. The chance of achieving anything is reduced when we change the goal. First, we eliminate any chance of succeeding in our initial goal by abandoning it. Then, by jumping into a new goal without thoroughly examining the implications, the result is usually that we fail to achieve the new goal as well.
The problems don’t end there. In this case, we not only increase the risk that we fall short of our goal, but we also increase the consequence of missing the target.
Failures in themselves aren’t a bad thing. They happen to any athlete that is regularly testing their limits. The issue emerges when we abandon one goal for another, because if we do miss the new target, it can no longer be dismissed as a one-off. Instead, it’s the latest in an emerging trend of failures.
Keeping Yourself Committed
Purpose is the foundation of discipline and intrinsic motivation. A lot of work can be done up front, and articulating the purpose in your goals when you set them will help you to see them through. Ask yourself why a goal matters to you, and write down all the reasons it’s important to you when you first make the commitment to it.
"By following through in your process, you’re already achieving goals, building momentum and confidence."
Challenging moments are inevitable with any ambitious goal. Identifying the purpose behind your goal is the first step, but those challenging moments are also why process-oriented goals are so important. If you’re setting goals in the day-to-day of training that are satisfying, it’s harder to get distracted. By following through in your process, you’re already achieving goals, building momentum and confidence.
Look at it this way: in order for a new goal to steal your attention, it has to feel more appealing than the goal you’re currently working towards. If you’ve set the right process-oriented goals, and you’re loving your day-to-day routine, there is a much higher barrier that the alternative goal needs to overcome in order to grab your attention.
To really bulletproof your process and make sure you see your goals through, you can go a step further. Beyond articulating the “why” behind your goals to yourself at the outset, you can also plan for some of the common obstacles that might eventually lead you to distraction. For example, you can remind yourself that you won’t feel fitter or stronger for every long run. Even if you’re doing everything right, there can be days, maybe even weeks, where training just isn’t all that fun.
These are the moments when it is easy to become distracted, so plan for these too. Think about the things that could go wrong and might leave you questioning your resolve. Even though you won’t think of everything, the exercise of planning for challenging moments will help manage when they do appear.
Making The Change
All of us will become distracted at some point and de-commit from a goal. For everything you are doing, there will be ten other things that you’re not doing. Recovering from commitment issues requires the recognition of past encounters so that you can identify it the next time you’re at risk for distraction (whether it by distraction by another race, goal, training methodology, etc.).
Success in anything comes down to the discipline to be consistent and see it through to the end. Make a goal, articulate why it’s important, set goals for the steps along the way, and plan to face some moments of uncertainty.
The good news is that inertia is on our side when it comes to commitment issues. It’s as simple and as hard as sticking to the path we’re on.