Maintaining Your Motivation During a Pandemic

Maintaining Your Motivation During a Pandemic

Everyone runs (or cycles, or swims, or does any sort of regular exercise) for a different reason. But the pandemic has been a demotivating force for many of us. There’s no (live) racing, we’re eating more and moving less (those jeans are tighter, aren’t they?!?), and for much of the year, group runs have been severely restricted, if not banned altogether.

Most of us aren’t in a position to help end the pandemic, so while we wait for a vaccine and a return to ‘normal’, we need to figure out how best to maintain our mental and physical health.

If you’ve struggled at all with your motivation this year, and I’d be astonished if you haven’t, relax – everyone struggles with motivation from time to time.

A Danish friend of mine who was a fast marathon runner told me that during Danish winters he committed himself to running as far as “the red house on the corner” whenever he went out for a run in nasty weather. It was only a few hundred metres away, and he found that once he’d gotten to the red house, he never turned back; he always continued on the run he had planned. Nice trick.

My problem would have been getting off the couch, and down the road to the red house, but what would have done the trick for me back in my competitive days was the thought of my friend, logging a tough workout while I sat at home eating donuts, watching TV and falling behind him in terms of fitness.

Competition was my motivator (which is why – older and creakier – sometimes I struggle today), but everyone has their own reasons for getting out the door. Here are a few ideas for staying motivated. Some won’t work for you. Some may be worth a try.

1. Find a training partner
If you can find a like-minded training partner, someone whose company you can tolerate (a good friend is even better), whose ability is comparable to your own, you’re set. It’s a lot tougher to blow off a run if you know your partner is down on the street waiting for you. And good conversation makes the time fly.

2. Pump up the volume
Some people run with music, or listen to podcasts. Sports psychology studies have shown that music can be a strong performance motivator; make a playlist and see if it works for you. [Note: Running or biking while listening to music can be dangerous if you aren't aware of your surroundings. If you’re cycling in traffic, or running in a busy area, consider running with one headphone out; if you regularly exercise in busy areas, consider bone conduction headphones that allow you to hear external noise.]

3. Join a club, even if only virtually
With limits on social gatherings the choices are not as good as they were last year, but Strava offers a lot of interesting options. You can connect not only with friends, but also with clubs and communities all around the world.

4. Enter virtual races and challenges
Most of the world has been unable to race in person over the past 6-8 months, but race organizers and sponsors have moved a lot of events online. I know people who have done things that last year they would not have dreamed of doing, but now they have the time, and no other way to scratch their racing itch.

5. Figure out your own challenges and try new things
How far can you run in 24 hours? How fast can you run 100 kilometres (or 50)? How many days in a row can you run at least 5 kilometres? Can you run a marathon a month until the pandemic is over? Have you tried to make Strava Art? Have you heard of Everesting? All these challenges (and any others you can think up) can be even more fun with friends.

6. Expand your world
Sure, it’s easy to run the same route(s) every day. But why not switch it up once a week? See someplace new? Snap a few different photos for your Instagram. Stop in a different kopitiam when you’re done. And do it with your training partner.

7. Reward yourself
I don’t know about you, but when I knock out a goal I feel extremely justified in rewarding myself. A piece of chocolate cake? Go for it. A new pair of running shorts? Why not? Think about all the money you’re saving not traveling overseas to race.

8. Plan ahead
If you have a routine, you’ll be more likely to carry through, e.g. if 1:00-2:00 p.m. is your normal time to stop work and go for a run, or swim, or to spend an hour napping on your couch, lock it in to your calendar.

If you’ve struggled with your running (or other exercise) motivation this year, you’re not alone. But even if you’ve had to postpone your racing goals, or you’re avoiding your bathroom scale, it’s worth trying to figure out how to get back out there. Exercise is good not only for your body but also for your mind. And when this pandemic finally is over, what hasn’t killed you will have made you stronger.

[First published on RUN Singapore, December 2020]

Roberto De Vido is the Social Media Director of Red Dot Running Company. He was once a reasonably competitive runner, but old age and injuries ended all that years ago. He now runs mainly in order to fit into his clothes.

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