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At some point with every athlete, the question arises - why? Why am I putting myself through all of this hard work, devoting all my free time to this endeavor? It doesn't matter what sport or level of competition, if you don't have a clearly defined goal for the event or race, it's going to be difficult to see the point of all the training. That's only part of answering the Why. Without understanding the reasons behind your goals - your motivation - it's easy to give up and tell yourself that the goals are meaningless and there's really no point in trying anymore. Questioning the Why can happen after a bad workout, when time limits ability to train or even when friends and family start asking about the events. It can happen after a race when comparing finish times. It doesn't take much bring out the "why I am I doing this?" and it can quickly become a downward spiral as more workouts get missed, esteem drops and so on.

At this point, I ask my athletes to reflect on their goals and the motivation behind those goals. Verbalize the goal and the event, even if its just writing it down in a journal. Having that goal written down makes it real and concrete. But that's not the biggest part of answering the "why" question." That is just the first step. Once the goals are identified, it's time to own the goal. As an athlete, without owning the goal - be it finish a marathon or win the local mountain bike race - the goal is meaningless. Owning the goal makes it yours. It forces you to identify with both the work required to reach that goal and understand the motivation for why you have selected that goal. As a coach, I can help with the goal setting and make sure the goals are SMART. But I cannot identify for the athlete their personal whys and motivation. I can guide the process, but at some point, each athlete has to discover it for themselves. Athletes have to understand the forces driving the goals and the differences between them.

Motivation is the primary force behind achieving most goals. It's the personal inspiration for doing everything leading up to and around the event or race. When it comes to motivation,  there are two different types and understanding which type is driving the goal is the key to owning the goal. Intrinsic, or internally driven motivation, is doing something because you love to do it. For an athlete, its participating in a running event because he/she loves to run. The pleasure and enjoyment of the activity is the inspiration for signing up for a race. I would also count doing something as a personal challenge as intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic, or externally driven motivation is doing an activity for the chance of reward at the end. Signing up for a race just to get the medal is the primary example of extrinsic motivation, but so is doing something to prove a point to someone else or because everyone else is doing it.When you are extrinsically motivated to do something, you aren't concerned with whether or not the action is enjoyable. That makes it harder to keep going when the "why" question comes up.

What does this mean to an athlete? When I'm helping with goal setting, I always encourage my athletes to identify the motivation behind the goals as they are building them. If many of the goals have extrinsic motivation, then it's a sign that those goals might be harder to reach. Setting a goal to finish a race because everyone else you know has done it is externally motivated. Doing a race because someone else said you'd be good at it is also externally driven - participation to meet someone else's expectation.  Approaching the same race with an internally motivated goal of challenging myself to ride every technical section makes the goal more personal. Saying "I might be good at ultras but I really love the speed challenge of the shorter races" and then working on those 10ks and 5ks while everyone else is doing 100ks and 50ks is personally driven. It is the same with every other goal. Make them yours - own the goal, identify the motivation and work towards as many intrinsically motivated goals as possible. I'm fond of say speed is relative - and with intrinsically driven, personal goals, it's easy to understand why. Because it no longer matters what everyone else is doing. Find the personal reasons as to why you train, participate and race and you won't feel as driven to compare yourself with everyone else. And you'll be able to look at a hard workout and smile, knowing that you have your "Why" and it's not a question you need to answer.