BY RYAN JOHNSON AskMen
ďWhatís my motivation?Ē is a question actors sometimes ask before they get into character. They ask this because motivation is the foundation of character; without it, they have no sense of what drives someone to do what they do and act how they act.
Itís also a question that everyone asks themselves subconsciously, everyday, all the time. In fact, itís the first question we all asked ourselves this morning, when we were deciding whether to get out of bed or not.
What is my motivation?
The answer to that question, in fitness as well as in life, determines effort. If your goals are ambiguous, have no definite time frame or are too easy, they wonít properly motivate you and you will probably fail. Or sleep in.
But fitness goals also need a sprinkle of something more, a combination of drama, social pressure and the draw of colorful, shiny, super-lightweight gear.
This is why the ideal fitness goal is a race.
For many, the thought of racing harkens back to awkward high school gym classes, with ill-fitting shorts and the specter of repeated finish-line humiliation at the hands of boys who won the early-onset puberty lottery.
But you are older, and these days, commercial races are different. Where once your competitors doled out wedgies to the defeated, they now offer encouragement of the non-underwear-destroying kind. While victory is always a great motivator, most amateur racers are just looking for personal bests. They are looking to beat themselves.
Not only are races less intimidating, but as a fitness goal, they are also SMART. If you have spent any time in business or business schools, you know that SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. Using the SMART model makes for goals that are clear, unambiguous and very valuable to business. There is this specific, plausible thing that needs to be done by this time. Period.
Whether you sign up for a running or cycling race, a triathlon or an obstacle-course-type event, you know that you need to be in X shape to cross the finish line in Y time, or to cross at all.
Embrace the social pressure
Another great aspect of racing is the line you draw in the sand when you register. Since a lot of races sell out ahead of the event, you need to commit well in advance. Your goal is on the public record, and since you probably signed up with a friend, at least some of your circle knows about your commitment. Itís easy to shirk a bold New Yearís resolution that you made after a few glasses of bubbly; itís much harder to renege on a 10k that you are doing with buddies and that cost you $70 in registration fees.
Everyone needs some drama
A race, and the training that precedes it, has the potential for a Rocky-esque story arc, ending in either a personal victory or a meltdown that at least shows some personal courage and makes for a good story. In the former scenario, there is the effort that goes into training, the runs in the rain when bed would be the saner option and, finally, the race and the glory of the finish line. In the latter scenario (providing you show up for race day), there is possibly some injury that couldnít be avoided, a bad knee that hobbled you at the 29-kilometer mark of your marathon and forced you out, but you still have the story of the battle and, possibly, the sympathy from friends and wives. Depending on your friends and wives...
An added benefit: gear
As guys, we are wired to love gear. The notion of using equipment improve our performance is intoxicating. Whether buying a fast wetsuit to improve times in the swim leg of a triathlon, buying a feather-light full carbon-fiber bike for a cycling race or getting the latest trail shoe for a Tough Mudder, we all look for the edge that gear gives us. Plus, we love endlessly comparing gear specs. Itís innate, like our drive to shotgun beer and eat chicken wings in our underwear.
Remember the attainable and realistic part
For these reasons, a race is a great goal to strive for, but remember to be realistic. If you have never run a 5k and set a goal of doing an Ironman in six months, you are setting yourself up to fail. Itís important to consider your fitness circumstances as well as your other commitments before you sign up for a race as training can take a significant portion of your free time. Start first by signing up for something small, and if you like it, move to bigger races.
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