Triathlon Blog | Triathlon Training

Everyone is familiar with procrastination and faces it on a daily basis. Most people tend to procrastinate activities or tasks that they don’t look forward to for some reason. Possible reasons include fear, lack of motivation, boredom or avoidance of some sort of pain or unknown factor.  Usually, we manage to overcome procrastination in the areas where it counts…things like preparing meals, getting out of bed, going to work and so forth.  Even a well planned sprint triathlon training plan won’t keep you from experiencing moments if feeling unmotivated.

Procrastination prevents forward Progress

Some people however chronically procrastinate their workouts, especially workouts that call for some intensity. The problem is that as long as there is procrastination, one cannot move forward. 

What do I mean by moving forward? First of all a periodized or progressive training plan will call for gradually more difficult workouts in order to build your fitness to a peak level.  You can’t move forward to each level of fitness without first completing a workout at the beginning level.  As you complete each step you can continue moving forward. But in the case of interval workouts, particularly ones that may cause some discomfort (hill repeats anyone?) it’s extremely common to procrastinate either by skipping the workout, or by substituting an easier workout. All this results in is a lack of forward progress in your fitness and training plan. In order to move forward, we must stop procrastinating these moderately uncomfortable workouts. Go out and embrace the work you are putting in, because it will pay off in future training and on race day. 

A second reason is fear of failure. As your triathlon training plan begins to include progressively harder work, many athletes fear that they may not be able to complete the workout. They begin to engage in very black and white thinking…If I don’t complete this workout as written, I’m don’t have what it takes to be a triathlete/duathlete.  Or they fear that if they cannot complete the workout, they will let their coach down, or let their teammates down. This fear of failure results in paralysis and procrastination!  And as we discussed already, procrastination results in a lack of forward progress. It is far better to attempt the workout and complete as much as you are able. More often than not you’ll find you were able to do much more of the workout than you thought, if not the whole thing!  Congratulations…now you are moving forward.

Other reasons for procrastination include fear of success and fear of what others may think of you.  Common, but unfounded internal dialogue an athlete may have include, 

  • What if I’m faster than I realized…will I have to cat up?  Will people accuse me of sandbagging?  
  • What if my progressive improvement stops or slows down? 
  • What if I try this workout and I don’t continue to see improvement in my next race?
  • What if I can’t keep up with my friends? What will they think of me?

You can probably see that these questions seem irrational when written on the screen in black and white. But I bet you can relate to having had similar internal dialogue in the past. 

So how can you overcome procrastination?

How can you overcome procrastination and break through your fears?  The first step is to simply “let go” of your worries. Look at your internal dialogue…write it down if you need to or journal it or blog it.  Look at your fears, identify them and then simply…let go. When you realize that your fear is nothing more than a limiting thought preventing you from moving forward you’ll find it much easier to let go.  Unless you get out there and ride or complete your workout, how will you ever improve?  Let go of your limiting thoughts and just go out and ride (or run, or swim)

Other situations when people have difficulty moving forward are when people are feeling sorry for themselves or feel that achieving adequate fitness is simply too big of a challenge. Again, recognize that if you don’t start now, when will you start?  Is it worth more to you and your fitness to go out on a group ride and possibly get dropped or is it worth more to stay  home making excuses not to go out and ride? Every difficult challenge can be broken up into small pieces. Coming back form injury or time off is a scary time that is frequently plagued by procrastination. 

Simply recognize that this fear of facing the challenge is nothing more than a thought that is blocking your forward progress. You don’t have to hammer the group ride, or even finish it with the group. You don’t have to complete all the intervals…but you must go and and workout in order to begin or continue the process of moving forward.  If you don’t do it now, when will you start? 

Focus on what’s important

Realize that there will be many times when you’ll get sidetracked by things that just aren’t that important. You’ll find reasons not to workout like not being able to find your iPod, having to share a lane at the pool if you are used to having  your own, the bar tape on your bike is slipping, you can’t find your power meter,etc. These are all details. Your body doesn’t care if you swim with tunes or without tunes…in your own lane or someone else’s… with comfy stylish bartape or without.  Your body only cares about getting out there and doing the work. 

Focus on what’s important…getting out there and doing  your workout.  Details will all take care of themselves in time, but you must prioritize your time to give yourself the opportunity to fit fitness into the rest of your life. Once you’ve gotten that far, recognize and let go of your limiting thoughts so that you can defeat procrastination and move forward with your sprint triathlon training, or with any training for that matter. 


If you’d like to receive regular motivational workout tips, a free sprint triathlon training guide and a free 12 week sprint triathlon training plan subscribe to my Forging the Athlete newsletter. With the support of a a community, you’ll reach breakthroughs in your triathlon training plateaus.

Suzanne Atkinson, MD is the founder and head coach of Steel City Endurance, LTD a triathlon and cycling coaching company based in Pittsburgh, PA and Estes Park, CO. She is a USA triathlon and USA Cycling certified coach.

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