The Often Overlooked (and Most Important) Training Variable – Fun!

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It goes without saying that training for endurance sports can at times be grueling and sometimes, downright painful. Whether it be the 4am wake-up to get in a workout before work, or suffering through a hard set of intervals, training isn’t always a walk in the park – nor should it be. However, and the end of the day, we voluntarily chose to partake in endurance sports because we love it! Some love the competition. Some love the feeling of accomplishment. Some love the camaraderie. Some love the intensity. Hell, some even love the suffering! However, despite this, an often overlooked training variable is having fun.

But through it all, the one thing that we can say should be a constant is fun!

Metrics

There are near limitless metrics for performance these days, all promising the next generation of performance analytics and human performance. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not Debbie the Downer when it comes to technology or data – not at all. I embrace the value of well correlated data and the technology that enables it. However, like Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), fun is not quantifiable using technology – and this is perhaps why it’s so often left off of the checklist of athletes and coaches.

The fact of the matter is that ‘having fun’ is critical to longevity in any activity, including sports. As such, ensuring that a sport is fun and enjoyable should be just as, if not more important than any other quantifiable performance metric.

How Important is ‘Fun?’

Fun. Enjoyment. Having a Blast. Whatever you want to call it, having fun is really important! The fact of the matter is that most all of us don’t earn our paycheck by how well we run, bike, swim – or for you triathletes, all three! So if training and racing isn’t fun, why do it? I would also say that even for elite/professionals, having fun and enjoying their sport is extremely important.

Training for and competing in endurance sports takes a lot of time (yes, I’m looking at you ultrarunners!). This time could also be spent chilling on the couch watching Netflix, bowling, playing board games or even going for a relaxing walk around the neighborhood. But no… you choose to spend it riding in 30 degree weather in a long drawn out paceline biding your time for the lung-bursting sprint to the town line sign. But why? Because hopefully you find this fun.

With only so many hours of free time, why would you spend it on something that you didn’t deem as fun?

What To Do When The Fun Is Gone?

To be fair, like all aspects of life, not every part of endurance sport is going to be rainbows and sunshine. There will be some crappy times. For example, when you’re still 10 miles from home on your long run and it starts pouring down rain. Or when you’re on the last 800 meter repeat and it feels like your lungs are about to burn out of your body.

Imagine if you will that the fun to non-fun ratio is a balance beam. If you find that for extended periods of time, there is a much higher ratio of non-fun to fun, it may be time to reduce your workload, take some time off, or even find something else to do (more on this in the next section).

No One Cares

All too often, endurance athletes base their identity of themselves around their sport (ex: I am a triathlete), especially long time endurance athletes. Therefore, when they feel like their love for their sport is waning, they still feel compelled to continue as they view the sport and themselves as one. Here’s the thing though, no one cares – except the individual.

Even pro’s step away from their sport (ex: Marcel Kittel, Tom Dumolin) when they no longer have the passion for their sport. Some never find the passion again and some do. Either way, if a pro can take a break, either temporarily or permanently, so can you.

You’re Not a Quitter!

Stopping because a sport is no longer enjoyable is not quitting – it is smart. Would you ever tell someone to continue to do a recreational activity even though they no longer found enjoyment in it? Hopefully not.

As noted above, maybe you don’t stop a sport altogether, but find ways to make it more enjoyable. Below are some ways how this might look.

  • Take a break
  • Reduce the workload
  • Experiment with other training strategies
  • Cross train
  • Do more workouts that are social in nature (ex: group runs)
  • Use races as training and race more
  • Only register for races that mean something to you so that you’ll be highly motivated
  • Don’t view training as ‘training,’ think of it as just going for a nice bike ride, run, swim, etc…
  • End your run/ride at that new coffee/donut shop you’ve been eyeing

Why So Serious?

To quote the always ‘quotable’ and 3-time world champion cyclist, Peter Sagan, “Why so serious?” Despite being (and winning) at the highest level of professional cycling for many years, Sagan never seems stressed out and is always having fun. Whether it be pulling wheelies during the Tour De France or toying around on his mountain bike, it’s clear that Sagan gets a kick out of riding his bike.

For many of us endurance sport athletes, it’s hard to not take our sports really seriously. And while of course there are moments when we need to take our sports seriously, being ‘serious’ should not be confused with not having fun or not enjoying ourselves.

Summary

No matter your experience or ability level, if you’re not finding your sport enjoyable, something needs to change. Life is too short to do something that you don’t enjoy!

_________________________________________________________________________

Rick Prince is the founder of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA), a science-based endurance sports education company. UESCA educates and certifies running, ultrarunning and triathlon coaches (cycling coming soon!) worldwide on a 100% online platform.

Click on the one of below links to learn more about our certifications and to get $50 OFF the purchase price!

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Click here to download the UESCA Ultrarunning Course Overview/Syllabus

Click here to sign up for information and launch alerts for the UESCA Cycling Certification

Rick Prince

Rick Prince

Founder/Director of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA).

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