5 Ways to Stay Motivated Without a Race on the Schedule

This blog post is by special request from Instagram—this one took me a while to start writing, mostly because I don’t know what I would do without my workouts! A workout is my idea of a good time! I have just always been this way: I truly almost didn’t know what to do with myself once I was out of my college running eligibility and didn’t have my regular afternoon practices anymore. When I was even younger than that and on a swim team, occasionally the coach would give us a set where as a “reward” you got to get out of the pool early. I always thought this was the worst idea ever: why would I want to get out of the pool? I’m here because I want to be! “Sure,” I would think to myself, “I’m going to 100% try to make this ‘get out of the pool’ set, but then I’m also 1000% going to stay put and finish practice!” A workout offers a satisfying combination of physical movement and a chance to meet a challenge, both of can make you feel instantly a bit better about life, no matter what age you are…and I definitely haven’t grown out of my love for endurance sports as I’ve gotten older.

I am pretty much always motivated to do my workouts. In fact, I am more likely to have the opposite problem: I am not the best at resting, because resting is quite frankly a lot less fun and a lot more boring than working up a sweat. (My least favorite parts of marathon training are the necessary taper and the couple weeks right after the race why I just physically can’t move and thus do indeed not run.) So, when I first sat down to write this, I was a little stumped: how do I explain that I just feel how I feel? Or, how do I explain motivation, when this sometimes is just a state that “is”? I was never that kid who “forgot” their suit or shoes to get out of practice.

After a little pondering though, I arrived at a few reasons as to the deeper why of my consistent love for workouts. I also remembered that I also have successfully continued my workouts through some challenging times in my life when both time and energy were at minimums: I am actually very proud of having been in better shape at the end of my Ph.D. than the beginning (this is NOT an easy feat, let me tell you, no matter how innately motivated you are!!!), and of managing to train while helping care for ill family members (also not easy, but necessary for your own mental and physical survival!).

So, I here attempt to explain ways to increase motivation, but also come up with some general strategies for staying motivated throughout the year, for times when you don’t have a race on the horizon—and for perhaps more importantly, for times when it may feel as though life is throwing you nothing but curveballs, which quite frankly, it can do quite a bit of the time.

My joy in exercise is one very real reason why I always do my workouts, so let’s start there.

1.       Enjoy what you do.

This is really the number one point here, more than all of the others. If you like doing something, you will do it. If you don’t like your workouts, figure out what to change so that you would enjoy them more: do you like running more when you have company? Do you like the convenience of running at that park near where you work so that you don’t get home and get distracted? I don’t really enjoy track workouts—and I find they’re more likely to get me injured—so I’ve basically eliminated them from my routine, as crazy as that may sound. Where there’s a will and a little creativity, there is most definitely a way. Enjoying what you do is the reason why a lot of New Year’s resolutions are unsuccessful: if you don’t like going to the gym, you’re not going to stick with it. What kind of training do you want to include as part of your current overall lifestyle, rather than just as a phase to be shed at some point? The answer to this is where you’ll find the training and workouts that you most enjoy, and that you will naturally stick with over time. (The same could be said of “diets”! Hence, I heartily enjoy my cookies and baked goods on a daily basis! More on that here by the way.)

2.       Prioritize your workout time.

Similar to point one above, if you like doing something well enough, you will make the time to do it. Those who know me well know that nothing messes with my workout time---if something even comes close to interfering with this, I will find a way around whatever that is. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. In the rest of my life, I give a lot of myself to other people—the least I can do is ensure I have my own workout time in my day to do as I like. As they say, put on your own mask on before helping others! You owe it to yourself to devote some time in your day to your workout. Don’t feel guilty. ENJOY!! Have fun! ENDORPHINS!


3.       Have a schedule and stick to it.

Having a plan goes a long way towards actually carrying out what you’ve dreamed about in your plan. Develop a schedule for yourself and stick with it. Make your schedule realistic as to what you are really able to do, and take into account your harder and easier days of the week—not just in terms of workouts, but also life! I literally draw a 7-box map of the week and write out my intended mileage per day and any other workouts from classes I’ll be teaching so that I always have a roadmap of where I am going. This planning in advance really helps because no matter how busy anything else gets, I can just follow my little guide I’ve built for myself instead of wondering what in the world I should do that day. (After a while, if your schedule stays relatively the same, you’ll find you will really kind of know what to do each day too: “This is a Tuesday, so this is my second longest run of the week” etc.) I also try to do this weekly planning for a few weeks at a time: you can even just buy a basic calendar for this purpose. In addition to my much more detailed training log, this “at a glance” weekly and monthly method of mapping workouts helps me to keep better track of the big picture of my training. Lastly, especially if your schedule is fairly packed already, you may find it helpful to always “stack” your workout up against another commitment to make it easier to do: so, I commonly run immediately after teaching, and this is an easy way to build that into my schedule. I know that I teach, and then I go run!

4.       Have a contingency workout plan for surprises.

I know that inevitable life events come up that you may not have any control over. This is where you need to have a backup plan, so that you can roll with the punches. Have a workout—even if it’s not running—that you can easily do in your own home. A few easy suggestions: this earlier blog post details an at-home circuit workout that requires little equipment, you can do yoga with me anytime over at the Runners Love Yoga TV site here, or at the very minimum, you can always jump rope, do core twists with a med ball, or even just some sun salutations! Whatever your backup workouts are, just make sure they are easy to actually do with the equipment and time that you have. Leaving that med ball or yoga mat in plain sight is also a good idea!

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5.       Ask yourself how you will feel if you didn’t do a workout.

Endorphins are real. Other things that are real: 1.) your body’s dislike of sitting in a chair for too long or doing household chores or homework or caring for only other people for too long, 2.) your mind’s need to have a break from daily life. How will you feel if you did your workout versus if you did not? I can’t recall a time I have regretted fitting a workout into a busy day. It makes me more able to manage that busyness and quite frankly makes me feel happier and more alive—how I was intended to feel. Try to channel some of that great post-workout feeling if you find yourself questioning whether to head out the door or not, and you will make the right decision every time. By the way, sometimes the right call is to not do the workout too, but more often than not, you will be happier that you did something, even if it was only for 10 minutes! Remember that you are doing a workout not just for a race, but for your long-term physical, mental, and spiritual health.

Without my daily workouts, there is just too much time in the day even if I am actually quite busy. Maybe I am addicted to endorphins—fine by me!—or maybe I just am naturally one of those antsy people who can’t sit still—I am not a fan of plane rides!—but I need my daily workout(s) to be a happy camper. Find what you love, prioritize and plan your valuable time, stick to your schedule, and always have a backup plan, and you’ll find your consistency only grows in strength over time.