On motivation

On one hand I don't really want to write about this because it feels like whining and complaining and is all the me I don't really want to be. But it's the me I am right now, and if nothing else I can look back in a few months or in a year or whenever my next slump hits and remember, Oh, that's right, I've felt this way before, and it ends.

As I mentioned in my last post (nearly a month ago!), motivation has been a struggle for me lately. It's been different from the summer lull I usually experience. After dedicated training for Dirty Kanza and with most of my partners in adventure working full-time jobs while I'm off fo, my lack of self-discipline manifests in lots of oversleeping and computer time, and very little training.

My past few winters have been full of training and fun.  12 inches of snow? Let's go (try to) ride bikes! 6 degrees? Let's go practice orienteering! I'm not a morning person until I'm on the way somewhere fun, and then I'm so happy to be up when I'd otherwise be buried under the covers. I'm the very embodiment of that fitspo we've all seen a thousand times.

That is, I was. Now, not so much. I'm at a weird place where the motivation is lacking but the commitment is there.  I'm going, I'm training, I'm doing things that I love to do, and as often as not in the past month or two, I'm not really enjoying it.

I thought Pere Marquette was a turning point, and it was the beginning of a great weekend.  I met up with friends the next day at Castlewood Park and spent several hours and 20 miles mountain biking and exploring.

20 miles of singletrack and good times with a great bunch of friends. This weekend was just what I needed. #mtb #cyclingstateofmind #cycling #mountainbiking #castlewood #teamvirtus

I had a blast and felt great on the bike, a far cry from a post-PMETR mountain bike ride I did a few years ago. If you look at the whole ride time, our miles per hour were pretty anemic, but maybe that's what made it fun. I wasn't so much "training" as playing in the woods with my friends.

The next weekend featured a Saturday orienteering meet at Queeny Park, where I pretty much put on a clinic on how to not clear a course but had a good time wandering around aimlessly.

It was beginner-time today at SLOC's O meet, but im@now prepared to put on a clinic in How to Not Clear a Course. Topics will include: losing your clue sheet, the fine art of wandering in the correct general direction, east and west are tricky, and taking

I know I have this self-deprecating thing down to near art-form (that wasn't very self-deprecating, though, was it?), but I was seriously bad.  How bad? The redline (distance if you go point-to-point) route was about 5 miles for the two-loop course; I did just over half of the first loop and not quite a quarter of the second and had almost 6 miles on my Garmin.  That may set some kind of record in navigational inefficiency.

The next day I joined friends for mountain biking and had another fun 13 miles.

Singletrack Sunday! #cyclingstateofmind #mtb

That same week I made it back to the gym for the first time in more than two weeks (attitude: let's just get through this) and went for a short run with my dog.

My body said "It's cold and starting to rain. This is stupid." My dog said, "Run? Yes!! Let's go!!" And my brain said, "you have new running clothes. And you ate a chocolate and caramel bar for breakfast." Touché, brain. #runaddiction #scexperts #running
He was happier about it than I was, but it wasn't terrible.
All of this had me feeling more or less positive about things being back on track, just in time for my last race of the year, the Little Woods progressive ultra. Last year, this free race was a blast.  This year...the only thing that got me out of bed was FOMO and the unwillingness to miss out on a FREE race that was practically in my back yard.

The format was the same as last year: racers had an hour to run a 4.1 mile trail loop. The next loop started at the top of the next hour, and the race continued until the last man (or woman) was standing. We'd gotten some recent rain, so trail conditions were questionable and in retrospect the race should have been to run on an alternate course. Instead, it was run as planned, the trails were damaged, and I feel lousy about my part in that.  Luckily, GORC has two SIUE trail workdays coming up, which will at least give me a chance to help in the repair work or building new trail, whichever the goal for the day is. I participate in as many of those as I can, but these will have additional meaning for me.

The race started on time and began with most of the pack immediately missing the first turn. I ran with the group past the cone marking the entrance to the trails, thinking to myself, This seems further than last year...oh well..., only to have to turn around with everyone else who'd gone too far.

My plan was to run a nice, steady, easy pace that I could keep going for a long time. That's exactly what I did, but it wasn't easy; the first four miles seemed like a really long way. Though I'm sure the trail conditions played into that, the bigger issue was heart. As we started the second lap, I mentioned, "I bet I could almost walk the whole thing and get back in time" and started wondering if 8 miles was enough running to call it a day. Halfway through the third lap, my knees and hips were sore and I knew I was on my final lap.
I'm smiling here, but it was probably faked for the camera.
Photo credit: IronGirl Photos

I did have fun, but the part I enjoyed was talking to friends before and afterwards rather than in running and competing, and the day left me pondering the same types of questions that have been bouncing around in my head since November.

Is it getting too easy for me to quit? This whole SuperKate title is totally tongue-in-cheek, but if there's anything super about me it's been my willingness to try outsized things, keep going when it's hard, and find joy in the attempt rather than only satisfaction in a particular result. If I lose that, then who am I?

Is it what Mickey says, that I let a bad day (or two) get into my head? There's some truth to that. Things were fine until a bad race at Skippo, and maybe that put me into Chicken Little mode, crying that the sky is falling when it was really just a walnut that hit my head.

It could be that after my race-heavy November what my body really needed was to sit on a couch for a week or two, but the memory of how hard it is to get fitness back kept me afraid of that.  For the past two months I've been trying to go out and still do things and hang in there until I come out the other side and things are fun again.

But at the same time, it's so much more fun to succeed than to fail, to reap the rewards of hard work. So if my focus is fun, am I sabotaging that? It makes me think back to a quote I read several years ago in the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother:

... nothing is fun until you're good at it.  To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.  ...things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where [people] tend to give up.  But if done properly, the...strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice practice is crucial for excellence...  Once [people start] to excel at something--whether it's math, piano, pitching, or ballet--[they get]...satisfaction.
What it comes down to, though, is that I can't sustain something I don't enjoy. And things don't necessarily need to be easy to be fun. We did a lot of really hard training rides last year in prep for Dirty Kanza, and I never felt burned out. I did occasionally feel like killing Mickey if he led me up another hill, but those times were rare.  So what made the hard work fun, and what is making things not fun now?

Maybe it's that when you train with stronger, faster people, the most visible measure of your progress -- how long they're standing around waiting on you to catch up -- isn't visible to you and so the sensation is one of no improvement.

Maybe it's that I've reached the point where I've gotten all the returns on my half-ass training that I'm going to get, and if I want to see improvement I'm going to have to up my dedication.


For now, though, it's winter; I don't have any big races on the schedule for the next few months, and I'm going to take the pressure off.  The Monday after Christmas I went out for a gravel ride with Mickey. I'd committed to two hours and was enjoying myself but also watching the clock, and when he asked me 1:35 in how much longer I wanted to ride, I said, "25 minutes."  He (semi) jokingly called me a wuss, and I explained that as long as this burned-out feeling persists I'm going to do things for fun, and I wanted to quit while I was still having fun.

Gravel biking in freezing temperatures still fits my definition of fun, at least on Monday.
I planned that same "cut out early if necessary" strategy for Thursday's New Year's Day ride with some of the Momentum guys.  Being the slowest one in a new-ish group of people (two I've ridden with, two I hadn't) is kind of intimidating, and I haven't ridden as far as the 50ish miles planned since October (I think). I was excited about the route, though, because it included parts of the hilly ride Mickey and I did last year that my Garmin dropped.  I wanted credit for those climbs, even if it was a year late.

Shaun, Mickey, Joe, Chris, and I met at the Mound and started with a loop of the Lost Valley gravel where, despite my not feeling at all speedy, Strava assures me I had several PRs. (Incidentally, if you ride with people way faster than you, Strava can be a nice way to judge your progress against yourself.)  From there, we took the Katy to Defiance and rode towards Callaway Fork Rd., a lovely out and back that meanders along a creek.

Between algae and ice, this was a seriously sketchy low-water crossing.
Nestled in a valley, the road protected us from any chilly winds and made for a very comfortable ride.  I was keeping up OK on the flats until stopping to take a picture of this cool frozen creek, and then I fell behind.

Iced-over creek under the low-water crossing. #gravel #dk200training #cyclingstateofmind #hellowinter

 I'd remembered the road as having a difficult climb, but it only got steep towards the very end, and even that part wasn't so bad. The guys were cruising downhill as I was still going up. On a nice day, it's not such a big deal to wait at regrouping spots, but it's worse on cold days where you really need to keep moving to stay comfortable, and I felt a little bad that the guys had to wait on me and a lot appreciative that no one seemed to mind.

Finished with Callaway Fork Rd.  Chris, who'd hurt his back the previous day, opted to head back early.
I had considered going back after Callaway Fork Rd, but I still felt good and was looking forward to Femme Osage Ridge Rd, the next big climb on the route. Turning back onto the highway, we found that the wind had picked up. The lovely headwind made for "fun" riding, and I once again dropped back from the guys.  Mickey circled back, giving me the option of drafting or being towed. Since we were on roads and I have a hard time making myself ride close enough to benefit from drafting, I opted for the tow.  On one hand that makes me feel lame, but I'm hopeful that it'll also help me get more comfortable with riding in close proximity to other bikes.

Climbing Femme Osage RidgeRd.
If Callaway Fork Rd. was easier than I'd remembered, Femme Osage Ridge Rd was the opposite.  I didn't make it far on the steepest part before I had to do some walking, but once the incline eased up a little I rode the rest of the way to where the guys had stopped.  "If I remember right," I told them, "now we've got a great paved downhill coming up."

My memory was correct, if by "now" I actually meant "after four more miles of rolling hills". I may have done progressively more cursing with each subsequent climb, but the eventual downhill (where I hit my new speed PR of 43.8 mph) was a glorious reward.

I jumped on the tow one more time on this stretch, on a short, steep climb that tested the amount of stretch in the tow tubing and had Mickey asking the guys at the top, "Is she even pedaling??" Even with the pedaling I was (truly) doing, the amount of stretch made me nervous enough that I slipped the tow strap off my bike, making the very entertaining discovery that if it's stretched far enough, when I let go it'll give Mickey a pretty good snap when it hits him.

On the way back down to the Katy Trail, where I was expressing my displeasure about being in Augusta rather than 9 miles closer in Defiance.
We headed back to the Katy, and I for one was not thrilled to see the sign for Augusta.  I'd been thinking we were in Defiance, which is considerably closer to where we were parked. My unhappiness was briefly forgotten in the fun downhill to the Katy, much of which I spent happily bunny hopping over the cracks in the road, an activity I heartily regretted once we got back to the flat Katy and my legs decided they were finished for the day.

Homeward bound
My quads started cramping up again, giving me visions of the ride back from Hermann and the December gravel ride that ended in an early pick-up.  Jumping back on tow for a few miles helped a ton, but once I dropped off and we hit the Hamburg Trail it was pretty miserable again. I wanted to walk, but I also wanted to be finished. I started counting, deciding that I could walk for a while once I got to 1,000.

Almost to somewhere around 800 or so...
 (Un)fortunately, by the time I got to 1,000 I was also at the top of the hill with just a mile or so to go and it didn't make any sense to walk at that point, so I picked up the pace a bit and cruised happily into the parking lot. 49.1 miles done, and a great start to the new year.


  1. You are doing so much and not being a wuss. You should do things for fun and not worry about training if that is what is causing you stress. You are amazing in all you're doing. I am excited about running for a change - I guess cuz I can't bike. Well, I don't bike now. I am liking being on a training plan again - no thinking involved. I am enjoying trying new routes. I am not enjoying how slow I am but I am enjoying running alone. I like taking my time and taking pics when I want. I hope my enjoyment continues! Keep up that great start.

  2. It's not a helpful comment, but I really enjoyed that Tiger Mother book. I sure hope you get your mojo back soon!

  3. For "unmotivated" you are still doing a lot! When I get that way with running, I generally cut back a little, or go sign up for something. Both work :)

  4. I've been struggling with motivation for some time, but I'm just doing what I want to do and trying not to feel bad about the things I don't. Profound huh?

  5. I don't know. I still see you taking on a crap ton of adventures so don't be too hard on yourself. Having fun is what counts, right?

  6. It's impossible to stay motivated all the time. This cold weather doesn't help either. Keep doing what's fun and your mojo will return in due time. Any races on the schedule for 2015?

    43.8 mph is FAST (and scary) on a bike!

  7. You have the most epic adventures of anyone I know. You impress and inspire me. Here's to an awesome 2015 my friend!

  8. I agree with everything that the others have said...You'll ALWAYS be Super Kate to me no matter how fast or slow you go or how many activities you get yourself into!

    Also, IMO, you're like the energizer bunny cuz you just keep on going going going. And Isn't it ok to do things for fun vs competition...

    BTW I have yet to get to the Katy trail...maybe sometime Tammy and me can tag along?

  9. I seriously can't imagine you ever lacking any kind of motivation. I am amazed by what you do. If it gets below 60 I'm doing cycling yet there you are braving these crazy temps!!

    Are you doing the Rocheport Roubaix? Sounds right up your alley!

  10. I have suffered the same and sometimes it is (for me) just lack of interest in what I am doing, sometimes it is the blues or being tired, and sometimes just a thing. What has worked for me in the past is changing what I do (swim for a while, that reminds me how boring it is), buy a new gadget (this really worked recently, completely re-made my running mojo) or just give up and pootle for a year. Or if you love the people and want to give the training a break, why not just volunteer for a few months? Whatever, you are still pretty cool. :)

  11. Sometimes you need to step back and take a full and complete break to regain a love for something. I took Thanksgiving to New Years off because I kpe thalf assing my off season and it was doing more harm than good. I wasn't really helping myself physically and I was definitely hurting mysefl mentally.

    And I can't believe you are still outside in these temps! You are a braver woman than I!

  12. Oh SK....

    If I had a dollar for every time I felt unmotivated and had to start from scratch, I'd be filthy rich (don't you have it when people say that??? So annoying! :)). I've been in this ballgame for so long, I just come to expect the lows to hit. Last year that low hit the hardest it's ever hit and I sat there for about 10 months with just zero desire to really train for anything, yet still throwing myself into races I had no business doing. Resulted in my first ever DNF and to be honest, I didn't care one iota. Had that been Leadville last year, I probably would still be in a mental institute. Just sort of solidified that I really have to want something pretty badly to get motivated to train...and sometimes that motivation comes quickly and other times not. Usually when not, it's because I'm spent from pushing too lard earlier. So it's no surprise that last year was a total waste for me racing (with the exception of a couple race), but I also feel those down times are much-needed...because when you do come back, it seems to come back with a much clearer picture. I hope you find your mojo, SK....but until then, have a blast doing what you do best - being awesome!!

    And remember, you can always hike up Mt. Whitney with a cooler on top your head for added awesomeness - and fun!

    Love you, my friend. Hoping 2015 is a really great year for you ... maybe (hopefully?!?!) our paths will cross for reals reals reals!!!


  13. You know, some of this stuff is pretty hard, and I think we mere mortals are subject to going through troughs of low motivation from time to time. I think the soul has a hard time with repeated visits to dark places.

    It's hard to be patient, but it does seem to go away after a while, especially if you let up for a while. I like Mercy's suggestion above that you just do some different stuff for a while.


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