Motivation tip: social connections

“Thanks for dragging my butt out of bed,” Sue said, as we parted ways after our morning interval treadmill run at the gym. It’s the same thing she says after every time we work out together — she thanks me for getting her out the door. Which of course is funny in that head-shaking kind of way since Sue doesn’t need any encouragement to do something active. But there is a sort of power that comes from working out with other people, a social connection that’s important in so many ways.

For sure there are times when I’m an exercise loner, when I want to run or bike by myself. There are times when I want to shut the world off, so I put on my headphones and wear a scowl on face to keep conversation away at the gym. But those times are rare.

Jessica and Karyn helped me get through training, and the finish, of my first marathon. They then helped me celebrate.

When I look at what helps me stay motivated and connected to my health, fitness and training goals it usually comes down to something rather simple: What do I value? If I can connect my workouts to what I value, I am much more apt to stick with it and stay positive than let it fall by the wayside. And one of my values is connecting with other people. This was sort of a revelation for me as I have never been very good at making friends, but there it is. And as I look back over my training history, I can see where I had friendships — some which faded and some which remain strong — which were created over the sweat of a spin class or the agony of a hilly long run. Knowing that my training helps to create deep, meaningful friendships, to give me the connection to other people which I value so deeply, keeps me chugging along at my workouts, even on dark and dreary winter mornings.

How do I make the connection between training and friendships to provide motivation? Here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Other people are counting on me. In all likelihood the run goes on without me. Still, I don’t want to bail on my friends, whether I’ve known them for years or for 5 minutes. They’re counting on me to show up. It might be for safety. It might be for how-tos. It might be because running 1200 meter repeats with a friend by your side makes it just a bit easier to endure. I want them to be there for me. And in turn, I need to be there for them.
  2. My friends give me perspective. They hold me accountable in supportive, nonjudgmental ways. They push me a bit further on my good days and ease my mind on days when I struggle. And sometimes pushing me further and easing my pain have nothing to do with the science of training but rather with another life challenge, the details of which often emerge during the run.
  3. Bonds grow deeper over pain. I have found myself sharing fears and dreams and goals with people I haven’t known for very long. This happens rather easily while running, because at a certain point of muscle fatigue and oxygen deprivation, I no longer care what other people might think. This is extremely freeing, especially when with the right group of people.
  4. Old friendships revitalize. When I dove into triathlon I discovered old friends of mine were also doing the sport, or starting to do the sport. We had drifted apart as friends over the miles often do, but training brought us back into more regular contact. Now, I plan races with some of my friends from high school and college.
  5. New virtual friends. To say you made friends online still has a tinge of creep factor to me, but that’s so old-school. Thanks to social media, I’ve been able to “meet” some fantastically cool and inspiring people. It can start by following someone on Twitter and striking up a conversation. It can also come through the growth of social fitness sites. While I haven’t figured out the best ways to use the “social” part  of the site Social Workout, I’m having fun playing around with it while taking the Yoga Journal Challenge. I started an online team for the challenge which asks participants to commit to three daily activities: one yoga practice, one vegetarian meal and 15 minute of meditation. There’s still time to join the blog team, Byline to Finish Line, if you want to play along … and maybe make some new online friends in the process.


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