At some point it happens to every endurance athlete; the feeling of lower motivation together with a stagnation or drop in race or training performances. Everything suddenly feels harder than it should and the higher intensity training become something that is dreaded rather than an exciting and fun challenge. Athletes begin to doubt themselves and lose confidence in their form and completed training; instead of a feeling of self-satisfaction in their training process, they become disillusioned, and wearily go through the motions of their program.
The best way to avoid this scenario is to minimize it’s likely-hood of happening through careful prior planning especially if it has been an issue previously. Building into a training program a regular period of mental and physical recuperation, either as single recovery days within a weekly routine or as a whole recovery week following several weeks of consistent training load. These recovery opportunities serve as an important mental release to consolidate and reflect on training done and give an opportunity to recharge and re-fire motivation for the next training period. Another method to prevent training staleness is to add training variety, whether that is through changing the training emphasis, introducing unfamiliar workouts to the program, changing the training venues, training partners or terrain.
Sometimes though the slump persists despite trying all the psychological tricks and training variations; so what now? In this type of situation remaining objective and detached is crucial to achieving a successful outcome. Someone who is healthy, uninjured and who has been training consistently for many weeks will not lose fitness overnight, but if they continue down the road of low motivation and training weariness, then this potentially could spiral into a further loss of confidence through the consistent feelings of struggling and failing at unrealistic training targets. The risk of injury also increases as athletes typically are less technically sound when they start to over reach themselves.
Above all in this situation preserving the integrity of the training fitness already achieved becomes the main priority. Putting the athlete into a holding pattern until the motivational issues are resolved is often the simplest and most effective solution. For me, both as an athlete and coach, the most effective way to preserve and protect fitness is to switch the training to being exclusively low intensity training and then carefully monitor and record mood and general energy levels until you see an upward shift. This move away from high intensity usually works to correct the training balance and restore motivation to get the athlete back on top of their training, rather than the training being on top of them. Overall training volume doesn’t necessarily need to be reduced, but the overall training load will be reduced by eliminating all high intensity. The old saying that ‘a change is as good as a rest’ certainly can be an effective way to maintain forward training momentum even when things start looking to be going sideways.