Motivation. It’s that most fleeting qualities. With it, you have the power to dig deep in training. Every day is another opportunity to work toward a better you. It is the savings account from which you draw the fortitude to bury the needle for another few seconds, to refuse the slice of cake, to head out for the ride in the dark.
It is as mysterious in its presence as it is in its absence. Its switches are nonsensical, ironic. One bad run can light a fire that melts the asphalt beneath your feet two days later. Or it can lead to a sense of futility causing you to skip runs, fall off the program, pig out, even.
When the well is empty life is duller for it. There’s no spring to your step, 2 kilometers in the pool can seem long and cleaning the bike when it looks like the dogs breakfast is just a chore that can be put off for another week. Forget about intervals. Why go hard? What’s the point?
And there’s the mystery: We know why. We know that the feeling that comes from doing anything (beyond triathlon, all physical activity fits this discussion) well can kill office stress, melt daily disappointments and enable us to ride with the lead group in Kona. Okay, maybe not that last, but you must admit, when the well is full you feel totally pro. You ride with wattage to spare.
But the empty well can be depression itself. It is the cycle of disappointment that feeds on disappointment, the snake that eats its tale, but instead of winking out of existence, it grows. How we reverse that vicious cycle is anyone’s guess. A blue sky that moves one human back to the saddle can fill another with shame for the days missed.
For those who’ve had the well run dry, you know the revulsion you feel for the big ring, the empty pool or the cold run, a stomach-turning horror that makes overtraining seem like simple recovery between intervals. The dry well is the existential crisis that causes you to ask the unthinkable: “Why do I even bother?”
And yet, the reprieve is always around the corner. Whether it’s the ’89 Kona race, a rerun of the Olympics watching Conrad Stoltz break away on the bike in Sydney or a warm day too beautiful not to ride, we all have our triggers. Thank heaven. And for all the heartache of the empty well, we can suddenly find ourselves seeing once again the natural order of the world. Sport is a thing of beauty, a potent antidote to the world’s ills, an eternal E-ticket to happiness.
As if we were hawks out there on the thermals, one good experience begets another and another. We’re easier to live with, if utterly verbose about our exploits. We conduct our days more efficiently as we divide the day between being out there and the activities that support it, and all the rest.
So powerful is the full well that we find cues to even more motivation in elements as simple as the open road/field/pool. That shouldn’t strike us as a surprise, though. It was always thus: Half our love of sport is a love of the open road/field/pool itself and that ribbon of real estate is life unfolding in an ever unexpected way.