Your First Triathlon: Motivate Yourself to Overcome Inertia


by Carrie Cheadle, MA, CC-AASP

You’ve been on the fence for a couple years now. Every once in a while, the thought travels through your mind, “Maybe I should do a triathlon…” and then it travels right back out again. You keep thinking about wanting to do your first triathlon, but you still haven’t pulled the trigger. What does it take to move a person from thinking to doing? What holds people back from going after something they want? If you are getting tired of the same old dialogue running through your head, here are some things to keep in mind to help you move forward.

What’s Your Motivation?

First things first; what is your motivation? Is this something you really want to do? Why do you want to participate in a triathlon? Think back to the last time the thought of doing a triathlon entered your mind. Did you feel excited? Apprehensive? A sense of dread? It’s important to make sure that your motives are your own. If while contemplating your triathlon motivation your thoughts include statements like, “I should just do a triathlon”, or “All of my friends are doing triathlons”, then it’s time to assess why YOU want to do one.

Your motivation to participate in sport can come from several different sources. Intrinsic motivation is when you want to do something because of your own desire to feel good about yourself and be accomplished at something. When you are intrinsically motivated, you race triathlons because you love the sport and enjoy seeing yourself improve. Extrinsic motivation is when you want to do something because of external factors; people will think you’re cool if you’ve done a triathlon or they’ll finally stop bugging you to do one!  If you are intrinsically motivated to train and race then you’re taking ownership over your choice to participate. If your only source of motivation is coming from the fact that “everyone else is doing it, maybe I should do it too” then you probably won’t have the motivation it takes to commit to the training to prepare for the race. If you force yourself to do it anyway, you will feel like you aren’t in control of your choice and won’t enjoy the process. You have to figure out what excites you about triathlon and if you find that you don’t have the intrinsic motivation for a triathlon, what are you excited about? Maybe you’re really inspired by adventure racing or cyclocross, or maybe you want to start with a 5K or duathlon to build your confidence. Having this internal drive and desire will help you feel more excited to take on the challenges of training and increase the effort you put forth towards accomplishing your goals.  But its important to “keep it real”, not everyone can expect to become a Dave Scott…but become a better swimmer, cyclist or runner? Most definitely.

Podium Sports Journal has featured some very inspirational stories on how people have found the motivation to succeed.  The Story of Brian Boyle is one of them. Mental toughness is a term that’s makes it seen that only the baddest dude in town can do it – but that’s far from the case.  Really all mental toughness is – is paying attention to the things that matter, that you control, for as long as you need to pay attention to them.  An outcome goal may be “complete a triathlon” – but its your focus on the process that will guarantee your success.  Research on what mental skills others used to complete triathlons might help.

Break It Down

Speaking of goals, once you have figured out what you are motivated to do, you need to figure out how you are going to do it. What can appear to be a lack of motivation is oftentimes a lack of confidence. You start thinking about doing a triathlon and then become overwhelmed when you can’t figure out where to start. From there you begin to doubt your ability to even do one. Questions and thoughts about doing a triathlon start rolling around in your head:

How would I train?  Do I have the time?  What if I can’t do the swim?

I don’t know if I have the right bike.  I don’t know how to change a flat tire.

What if I join a group and I don’t like it?

What if I come in last???

Where to Start?

Thinking about a triathlon in its entirety becomes overwhelming and can keep you stuck just thinking about signing up and never actually following through. You can’t get through the end until you get through the beginning; what are all of the steps you need to take in order to accomplish your goal? When you’re mapping out your plan to do a triathlon, start with the end and move backwards from there. Keep moving backwards until you get to the very first step and start there. That first step might be choosing which triathlon to sign up for and putting your money down, figuring out what kind of bike to buy, finding a training buddy, or finding a training program that will fit your needs. Here’s an example of what a list might begin to look like:

5.  Complete a Sprint Triathlon

4.  Swim, Bike, Run training – do I want to do it on my own or with a group?

3.  Figure out when I can train

2.  Get bike tuned up

1.  Buy running shoes

Setting a goal is just like going on a road trip, you need to know what your destination is and then you need to figure out how you are going to get there. If you’re going on a road trip from California to New York you probably wouldn’t drive straight through; you would break it down into day trips and figure out where you would stop along the way. Breaking down your goal into smaller steps helps it feel less overwhelming and more manageable. Right now all you have to worry about is buying shoes. Once you figure out the first step give yourself a deadline for accomplishing it. Once you’ve accomplished it, move on to the next step. With each step that you complete you will build confidence in your ability to move towards the next step.

Overcoming Inertia

If the idea of doing a triathlon is exciting and you even have a rough idea of what steps you would take, but you still haven’t moved forward… it’s time to assess the “L factor”. The laws of physics tell us that in order to have a change in motion you need to apply force. The same is true for overcoming your own inertia. The Latin root for the word inertia means “lazy” and sometimes that’s what it boils down to. The “L factor” doesn’t mean you’re actually lazy, it just means that you are in motion with the other aspects of your life, and not in motion when it comes to triathlon. An object not in motion will remain unmoving until something forces it to move, and in this case that force is you. The good news is that once you’re in motion, you’re more likely to keep moving!

Ways to overcome inertia:

Ÿ  Tell your family, friends, and co-workers that you are signing up for your first event

Ÿ  Invite a friend to join you and do your first triathlon together

Ÿ  Join a training group and get support from coaches and peers

Ÿ  Start with a 5K and let the momentum move you towards your next event

Ÿ  Be afraid and do it anyway!

You’re standing on the edge of the diving board, what will it take to get you to jump? You have to be willing to push yourself past the walls of your comfort zone that hold you safely in place. Sometimes you just have to force yourself to get moving in the direction you want to go. Push through your doubts and fears. Believe in yourself. Find out what you love, figure out how to do it, and go for it!

From the editor:  Thanks Carrie.  We sometimes forget the importance of breaking things down into bite-sized pieces – and – there is no better guideline for learning how to achieve the big things in our life than focusing on the small things, one-at-a-time until we’ve felt the confidence in readily completing enough of them to actually believe we can do it.  To learn more about process goals and how to set them, check out this short piece inspired by President Teddy Roosevelt and Dr. J. Morrow’s comprehensive & detailed article called Researched & Tested Guidelines for Goal Setting – guaranteed to help.

Carrie Cheadle, M.A., CC-AASP is a mental skills coach and provides mental skills clinics and team workshops across the country. Carrie works with athletes of all levels from competitive recreational to elite and professional athletes competing at national and international levels. Want more on mental skills training?  Follow her blog and join her on Facebook!

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