Fitness Motivation: Appearance vs. Accomplishment

As I was completing a treadmill workout recently, I was thinking about my lack of motivation lately when it came to exercise–especially running. I’ve only run outside once since my move to South Carolina, and I run on the treadmill at the gym about once a week. This is a huge change for me considering the fact that, a year ago, I was beginning training for the Columbus Marathon. I pushed through my run while pondering why it is that I just haven’t loved running lately.

And then I realized that I’m not really working toward anything.

My motivation lately has been based on my appearance. It’s summer, I live a lot closer to the beach than I used to, and I want to look good in that bikini. Is that enough to motivate me through several workouts each week? Eh, sometimes. I’m sure it’s more of a motivation in the summer when the fear of wearing next to nothing in front of strangers creeps into my mind, but it doesn’t last long. I think this explains the people you see in the gym all the time in the summer, and never see again until the following spring. Once summer is over, their motivation to “look good” disappears.

This led me to thinking about what really motivates me–what makes me push myself to go that extra mile (or ten), what forces me to go to the gym even when my muscles are aching–and that thinking brought up one of the best feelings and memories I have to date: crossing that marathon finish line. A little history for all of you that don’t know me: I was a gymnast for 12 years of my life. This meant mastering skills that could likely paralyze me on a somewhat regular basis. Of course there was a sense of pride that washed over me every time I accomplished a new skill, but I don’t remember ever feeling the way I did when I finished the marathon last October. Even though my joints were aching and I was on the verge of tears for the last few miles (having your car totaled four days before a marathon does not bode well for lack of pain during the race), all of that disappeared in that last stretch before the finish line. Both sides of the street were lined with people cheering us on, and when I crossed the finish line the most amazing feeling overwhelmed me. I had accomplished a goal I had been working months to achieve. I pushed through the pain and the doubts in my head and I finished. It’s a feeling that words cannot properly describe and one that I would absolutely love to feel again. As I trained for the marathon, long runs often became boring and I would start to lose motivation halfway through. During those moments, I would imagine what it would feel like on race day to cross the finish line. My daydreams pushed me through those runs, and even my imagination could not compare to the actual feeling I had on race day.

Since the marathon I have only run one 15k and a few 5ks. Needless to say, my motivation to run hasn’t been as strong as it was during marathon training. Though I still go to the gym multiple times each week, I often go because I feel like I have to instead of because I want to. I’ve come to realize that I really need something to work towards if I want to maintain my motivation, and I’m struggling somewhat to come up with ideas. I know that registering for a longer race would definitely motivate me to run more, so that’s something I’ve begun looking into. In terms of other fitness goals, I haven’t come up with anything yet, but I am definitely open to suggestions! I’m somewhat of a competitive person, which is part of the reason I think races (and training for races) are so motivating to me!

The conclusion I’ve come to is that working out for the sake of appearance only takes me so far. Working out for the sake of accomplishment, or working towards a goal, is what really motivates me. Again, this is something that I’ve noticed about myself personally, and may not be the same for everyone. So now on my “to-do list” is coming up with goals to work towards in order to keep my motivation high. I will be sure to update with what I’ve come up with, and please feel free to share ideas in the comments section!

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