An athlete I mentor approached me recently with a question about motivation. She found herself hating her recent rides and struggling to finish them, and wanted me to weigh in on whether she should force herself to complete the workouts. My initial response was to tell her there are two options:
1. Listen to her body/mind and give herself a break.
Riding shouldn’t be torture and forcing it could lead to her hating the bike even more.
2. Suck it up, get on the bike, and get the workouts done regardless.
Motivation ebbs and flows as a natural part of being an athlete, and the most important thing is to remain dedicated enough that when it returns, fitness isn’t lost and it’s not even harder to restart.
Personally, I always go with the latter. Unless I am injured, deathly ill, or fatigued to the point of physical failure, I don’t skip rides. “Want to” or “feel like it” are not parts of training; they can’t be or I’d often never get going. I can’t say I’ve ever jumped out of bed and felt like I wanted to get on the trainer, but I always want to have the ride done. That’s what drives me: an addiction to the endorphins that come from having just finished a ride. When motivation is lacking, addiction is a sufficient driver to get moving.
This is the time of year when many of us are struggling with motivation. It’s likely not the race season yet no matter where you live (assuming you’re in North America, and if you’re not, I envy you), but it’s been long enough since the last season ended that you’re tired of training, tired of poor weather, tired of being stuck indoors.
Without the carrot of an upcoming race dangling immediately ahead, it can be hard to muster the motivation for yet another workout. This is like saving for retirement – you keep doing it now knowing it will pay off later but sometimes later feels too far away to be worthwhile.
So when do you give into the siren call of the couch? How do you know when pushing yourself to do a workout will lead to even greater demotivation?
First, I’d recommend assessing if you are physically well enough to train. If you’re unmotivated because you’re still recovering from the flu, just had an appendectomy, broke your leg last week, or have chicken pox, it’s probably an okay time to skip the ride. If you’ve ridden 30 of the last 31 days and are so fatigued the sight of your cycling shoes makes you gag, today should probably be a rest day.
But otherwise – if you’re healthy and relatively rested – then take stock of your mental state. If thinking about riding makes you cringe because you’ve been training hard for a while without interruption, then that might be a good reason to take a personal day. Eat a cake, take a bath, binge on Netflix, go out to your favorite taco shop. Step away from the pressure of training and reset for a moment.
Otherwise, my advice is to go find your bibs, fill a bottle, and get on the bike. Force it. Even if you’re stressed or crushed from a breakup or angry at your boss or so completely and totally opposed to riding that you’d rather have your wisdom teeth put back in and removed again. Because more than likely, you WILL feel better when you’re done. You’ll have a sense of accomplishment, you’ll be glad you overcame your lack of motivation, and you’ll be high on endorphins.
Don’t give yourself excuses, don’t let yourself off the hook. If you give into quitting the ride today, what’s going to keep you from quitting again tomorrow? But on the other hand, if you prove to yourself that you can get it done today, then you know you can get it done tomorrow as well.
I ended up telling the rider I mentor to take a few days off if she hadn’t had a break in a while, but otherwise to get back on the bike and complete her workouts no matter how much she didn’t feel like it. I reassured her that motivation would return in time and she would be glad she’d stuck with training when it did. I ended by sharing that I’ve almost never regretting getting a ride done, but I’ve almost always regretted skipping a ride.
Nobody is always excited to train all the time; that’s not a natural human state. We all struggle to get motivated at different points, and winter is one of the most common. Don’t let yourself give into demotivation. The couch will still be waiting for you when the ride is done.
General Manager and racer for the Hagens Berman | Supermint professional women’s road cycling team. She has raced her bike professionally for the past six years across North America while spending significant time riding the trainer to balance the demands of a busy work schedule and to combat rough winters.
She welcomed a daughter in February 2018 after training indoors on her Hammer throughout pregnancy, and then pedaled her way back to race shape to take on the rest of the 2018 Pro Road Tour calendar, ending the season with a win at the USA Cycling Gateway Cup races. After a winter logging hours on her Hammer, she's ready to take on a full race calendar in 2019.