21 September 2012

When there's nothing left to prove

I read a comment from a very accomplished climber the other day saying it was getting difficult to find the motivation to train, or most specifically to find a reason to keep training. This is an interesting question for older athletes who have done all they ever dreamed of doing in their sport. Why would you want to spend huge amounts of time and effort chasing tiny gains when there is so much more to life there in the background?

In competitive sports I can see why it would end up being an ‘all or nothing’ relationship with training. But in climbing it’s a lot more complicated than that. For young climbers, competition and proving yourself might well be a strong motivator. Training is essentially easy when you are in your twenties too unless you really have some badass goals and don't accept less than getting them. It mostly feels like a flowing river of improvement. All you have to do is jump in and you flow along from training to results. So there is enjoyment just from going with the flow and gaining the gains that are there for the taking. Later, it becomes more like trying to swim upstream and takes a lot more effort for less gain. So you really have to want it.

So why would you? Motivation is obviously a personal thing and everyone news to have their own mindset. For me, training for competitive reasons has long dropped off the bottom of my list of reasons to do it. There are 2 reasons why I like to train these days.

First and foremost, it’s to climb the lines I’ve seen and want to climb. So it follows that without the lines to fire the inspiration, the motivation to train dries up. So it’s quite important to live in a place where there is one line after another to try. 

Second, it’s because training itself is, or at least can be, enjoyable in itself. In recent years I’ve become more and more aware of that small changes how you train determine whether you really want to do it, or it becomes a chore. For instance, if I go for a run, I want it to be on a new mountain I’ve not explored, not a treadmill. So it kind of comes back to matching the training with my original motivation for starting climbing - to explore impressive and nice outdoor places. If I train indoors, I want it to be on nice holds, in a good temperature, with good people, and sometimes, on my own. To me, the feeling of having made a gain in training and having that sense of feeling light and strong is one of the most powerful feelings in sport. I still like it just as much despite the fact it’s more fleeting and much harder won than before.

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