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Keeping the spark alive

I admit I struggled with motivation after I completed the Ironman Malaysia race in Langkawi last November. That was my first full Ironman and I was very excited and nervous about it. I am so happy that I finished it, but boy, the race was long, hot and exhausting… and it emptied out my tank – mentally more than physically.

I ran the half-marathon at the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon (SCSM) four weeks after IM Malaysia and I thought I would be ok, since I would have had some time after. Physically I was fine, I got back into training, but mentally I just wasn’t there. I dragged my feet to training, I groaned at the training plan my coach gave me, I just didn’t feel like pushing.

On the morning of the SCSM, I was trying to psych myself up and see if I could attempt a PB for the half-marathon. The first 5km went alright and then my pace started dropping and I just didn’t feel like pushing. Something in my mind switched off and I just wanted to go back to sleep (the flagoff was 4.30am!!). Eventually I finished the half in 2:02 and I was like, damn maybe I could have gone #breaking2 LOL. But really, the mental wasn’t there and this was something that stuck with me for a while.

I had my off-season after SCSM, with reduced hours, easy runs/swims/rides, but I still struggled with motivation. I still have my goals that I wanna achieve in this sport, so no I’m not ready to quit yet. But after such a big high from my first full Ironman, I really needed a mental overhaul.

One of the things I could have done was take 1-2 months off the sport completely and just have a break, travel, get busy with other stuff. BUT I signed up for the Ironman 70.3 in Bangsaen (happening this weekend!) and I didn’t want to miss this trip because I was racing with my friends and it’s a half, so training is more manageable.

It was hard to get back on my feet because I would wake up and not want to train, I would feel so blah and I questioned myself a lot. But I managed!

I got through the training and also found back some drive and confidence. Leading up to the race this weekend, I had a few solid sessions and I felt like I unlocked something within me finally. It took me time to get here and I still have some way to go to get back that burning raging fire in me, but it’s progress!

Getting back the motivation after coming off a huge race is certainly not easy and something I didn’t expect. The mental aspect is so important! So what did I do to help me regain some motivation?

Take a proper break

Just stop training! Don’t be so quick to get back to training – your body needs a rest so it can be pushed to higher levels. It’s normal to feel like you would lose your fitness if you stop training, but there is no point pushing the body continually because you will end up being very tired, or worse, getting injured. Go for a holiday, get back your social life, spend time with important people – this post-season break is well-earned! Switch off mentally and don’t think about training!

Break the structure/routine

When training for the big race, I followed a structured training programme from my coach. There were days with fixed sessions, eg. swimming on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; long rides on Sunday etc. One thing that might help is to break the routine – talk to your coach and ask if you can mix things up. Wake up in the morning and decide what you feel like doing! If you want to run, go run; if you want to sleep in, just sleep. The whole point here is to break the routine so your body doesn’t get stressed. Give your body a chance to recharge instead of forcing yourself back to a routine and waking up with dread every morning.

Train with friends

It’s always better to have company! When you’re training for a race, you might have your own programme to follow from your coach so it’s harder to find people to train with you. Thus this is the best time to work out with friends! At the same time, doing this with friends help you to keep the joy of the sport. A lot of times we train until we lose the joy for it and we forget how enjoyable it can be. Go join a running club, cycling in groups… keep everything social!

Find other activities to do

You’ve been doing the same types of activity repeatedly for the past few months in the lead up to the race. You’re so tired that you don’t have time to do other things. Now is the time to go and try that rhythmic cycling you wanted to, or go for barre with your friends, or get some boxing in. You’re still keeping active!

Don’t pressure yourself

Some people will say, go sign up for a race so you will be “forced to” or “obliged to” keep training. BUT if you are feeling sick of training, it’s a sign of mental exhaustion or a risk of burnout. By signing up for a race too soon, you might end up feeling even more sick of training because it becomes something you have to do instead of something you want to do. So don’t give yourself pressure and just take the time to refill the mental tank! That’s something I learnt – it’s not the physical, but the mental that takes a longer time to recover.