How to find motivation for training without races

By James Phillips | 4 Minute Read

It goes without saying that lockdown restricted the way we train but it also offered an opportunity to explore and find the positives. With that in mind, I’m going to talk about a change in my personal outlook to training that I’m going to try and carry forward into the 'new normal' (I can’t believe I just said 'new normal', apologies...).

Contents:

  1. What was my focus during lockdown training? 
  2. Changing how I structure my training
  3. Exploring new trails
  4. Trail running tips
  5. Further reading

 

What was my focus during lockdown training?

We were lucky in the UK that even during the strictest phase of ‘lockdown’ we were still allowed outside to exercise once a day. I can't imagine what everyone truly locked down went through and I’m sure my experience would’ve been significantly more negative if I'd been in that position.

Where I live in the New Forest, I'm only 500 metres from forest trails and a further 2 miles from the coast, but I'm ashamed to say I had never truly explored these trails and bridleways to their full extent pre-lockdown.

I’ve always enjoyed exploring, whether that’s by foot or bike, but over the years my ‘training’ has largely been focused around performance and upcoming races - I'm sure it's a focus that many of you can relate to.  

I’ve found myself doing more adventurous forms of racing over the last couple of years, from trail ultras to long-distance swimruns, and that’s helped get me comfortable with going off the beaten track.

 

Andy and JP at OTILLO Swimrun World Championships
Credit: dryrobe ©

 

But I would still always go somewhere to get the ‘best’ training, whether that was a more gnarly trail or coast path, a lake to swim in, or simply jump on the stationary trainer to make sure I got an ‘effective’ session in.

And don’t get me wrong, doing all of those things was great, and arguably I wouldn’t line-up for an event as prepared if I hadn’t done that. But with all racing wiped from the calendar for the foreseeable future my motivation to get out the door had to change.

Since I’ve been forced to explore the trails on my doorstep more, I’ve relished every run and ride.

I’ve had very little enthusiasm to spend my limited exercising time pedalling on the indoor trainer and going nowhere whilst looking at the same four walls of my house.

 

Changing how I structure my training

Apart from a general structure to try and avoid doing too much of any one thing, I’ve taken each day as it comes and gone out with no more than a rough idea of time in mind.

Not a day has gone by that I haven’t laced up my trail shoes or jumped on my gravel bike and that opportunity to explore has helped prop up everything else in my life.

It has become my way to escape the madness and briefly forget that the world around me appears to be falling apart at the seams.

 

James Phillips trail running
Credit: Jake Baggaley ©

 

It's a mindset that ultrarunner Hannah Campbell can relate to. She’s based in the Brecon Beacons which is a hill runner’s dream and she’s compared her experiences on those trails to those of running in the more built-up town of Gloucester, where her partner Gareth lives.

“Running in Gloucester feels more like a chore and less like an adventure. When I run in the Brecons I don’t look at my watch, I just experience the hills. I’m there for the day, I don’t necessarily have a route in mind but I’ll find new little trails and go and explore those. Even at the weekend, I went out from my house and found trails that I’d never run on before.

"I think that’s the most exciting part of running for me, the sense of adventure and exploring new places."

 

Exploring new trails

I’ve been fortunate enough over the years to explore some beautiful locations whilst training and I thought I had to go somewhere far away to get the sense of adventure that I love, but I’ve felt it every week in recent months as I’ve found trails and paths that I didn’t know existed.

I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve popped out from a new trail and thought ‘I’m here, really!? How did I not know that was here!?’.

A conversation with Andy revealed that he had enjoyed a similar experience...

“I’ve really enjoyed being creative in finding new routes close to home. Before lockdown I thought I knew most of the trails I could access from my door but that wasn't the case. Necessity is the mother of invention as they say and when I needed to do it I got the maps out and found new tracks to link up and make some great new routes.”

During my increased time pounding the trails my overall enjoyment has gone through the roof.

The trails force me to focus more on how I feel and much less on what the GPS says. It’s less about chasing and more about letting the environment dictate when I can go faster or harder, and sometime you’ve simply got to hike it out – some of the toughest KM’s I’ve ran all year have also been my slowest!

Ultimately, when proper racing comes back into the picture, if I want to ‘perform’ then I'm going to need to bring some structure back into my training, but for now I'm going to keep exploring the paths less travelled. 

Catch you on the trails.

 

JP's trail running tips: 

Music or no musicPodcasts when I’m running easy (most of the time), music when I’m running hard

Solo or with a group/friend– mainly solo but company on a long run is very welcome!

Shoe of choice – I couldn’t choose just one...

Most useful bit of kit – AfterShokz headphones or a decent hydration vest (I’m a sweaty guy!)

Mountains, forest, or coastal path – All three?

 

Further reading

James Phillips - Sports Scientist and Customer Service Manager

James Phillips

Sports Scientist and Customer Service Manager

James Phillips is a Sports Scientist with a BSc Honours degree in Sports and Exercise Science from the University of Exeter. Formerly an elite age group triathlete, James continues to compete in swimrun and ultra running events.

More articles by James

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