It was Jerry Greenfield, of the deliciously famous Ben & Jerry’s, who was quoted as saying, ”If it’s not fun, why do it?”
I don’t care who you are, who you think you are, how fast or slow you are, what you’ve done in the past, what you’re doing now or what you want to do – you’ve got to have fun.
Most of us are amateurs. We don’t get paid to train or participate in sport. In fact, we pay for our participation in terms of time, gear, coaching. Perhaps you like the sport that much, you love the fitness benefits or thrive on the thrill of chasing a goal. Whatever your reasons, if you’re like most amateurs, those reasons are fueled by the fact that despite the cold days, the hard workouts or the setbacks, you are – above all – having fun with it.
This isn’t to say that you need to enjoy every step of the process. Make no mistake, the cost of high performance is rather high requiring extraordinary time, effort and sacrifice. But that process must flow from enjoyment. Underlying everything you do should be a sense of I’m choosing this, I want to be here and I can’t wait to find out happens en route to the finish line.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that there comes a point in every athlete’s life where they’re not having fun. Things that aren’t fun: injury, illness, failure, life stressors. These are external things that we usually don’t have much control over. Our bodies breakdown, we catch a cold from the kids, life blows up or we fall short of a goal for whatever reason. At some point we get healthy, life settles down, we succeed and start having fun again.
There’s also internal reasons we stop having fun. The biggest is the pressure we put on ourselves. We take the sport or ourselves too seriously. We fear failure because we think it will mean something about who we are. We sacrifice our personal relationships and personal growth for our own ego needs. Yes, you can try too hard (take it from me!). If you’re forcing it too much and you’ve sucked the fun out of it, it’s hard to achieve anything of meaning. This is a direct path to not having fun.
Another reason we stop having fun is because somewhere along the way we lost perspective and began to believe our self-worth is wrapped up in our effort and performance. This afflicts amateurs, pros, fast, slow. Listen, your self-worth has nothing to do with either. Win or lose, slow or fast – life goes on! And what really matters in life doesn’t change: how worthy you are comes from the quality of your personal relationships. A hard-learned lesson for myself many times in life. Stay in balance with healthy and strong relationships and you will find many things in life naturally seem more fun and rewarding.
If you find yourself losing the fun in your training or racing, here’s a few questions to get to the bottom of it:
- Are you placing too much pressure on the outcome?
- Are you setting realistic goals for your experience level, age and time frame?
- Are you measuring yourself too often against yourself or peers?
- Are you training too hard too often?
- Are you receiving support from your family and peers?
- Are you burnt out from too many years of training/racing, especially in long course?
- Are you training too much with others or too much on your own?
Remember, there’s nothing wrong with stepping back to regroup and reflect on your reasons. If that means backing off for a week or a year – your sport will always be there when you come back. You can always regain fitness. There are plenty of others ways to regain and inject fun back into sports again, you just have to be willing to break free of old habits or take new risks. Perhaps it’s trying a new class, finding a different race format or training more with friends. Also, look to where you struggle or have less fun– the long workouts? Don’t race long. The intense workouts? You can gain a lot of fitness by just being consistent and going easy! Do you tend to struggle at a particular time of the year? If in the winter, plan a training trip to a warmer destination. If you don’t find running the cold fun – hey, don’t train for a spring marathon! If you struggle with motivation later in the summer, start your focused training later in the year. If you are challenged by the pressure of races – throw in some low pressure local races. There’s many ways to find fun again, you just have to decide to do it (and then take action!).
Recently, I read a great book entitled, The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. One of the chapters was on facing obstacles with cheerfulness and positivity. Seems counterintuitive but the most resilient individuals with true strength and endurance of character know this is the only way to navigate life’s challenges. In the book, Holiday explains:
To do great things, you must be able to endure obstacles and setbacks. You’ve got to love what you do, and all that it entails – the good and bad. You must learn to find joy in everything that happens. Learn that most of what happens to you is outside of your control and face it with unfailing cheerfulness anyways. Turn what you must do into what you get to do. You don’t get to choose what happens to you but you can choose how you feel about it. In overcoming obstacles, you emerge stronger and empowered. See the obstacles with gratitude not regret.
This is not to say that you need to be relentlessly positive. In fact, I think that’s unrealistic advice because feeling down or upset at times is a normal part of the human emotional experience. But the passage above hits upon something important: often times it’s the language we use or the way we frame things. How many of you wake up on a cold winter morning and think: ugh, I have to run today. What about I get to run? Or, I’m in such a great place in life that I get to pursue this amazing sport with this able body, I GET TO DO THIS! Changes your perspective, improves your attitude and you almost can’t help but feel some fun.
Whether it’s a “real life” challenge or a challenge you face in training, if you’re going to do great things, you have to walk up to that challenge with open arms, and open heart and an open mind. It doesn’t hurt to also have a smile on your face. Have fun in your life and a cheerful, can-do, grateful approach will naturally spillover into your training and racing.