How To Stay Motivated To Work Out, According To Ironman Athletes

Get moving.

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Upon arriving to Kailua-Kona Hawaii for the 2022 Ironman World Championship last month (as a guest of event sponsor HOKA), I felt pretty content with my current fitness routine and status. I was working out at least four to five times a week, alternating hot yoga and outdoor running, getting into a nice rhythm that was doing wonders for my mental health and confidence. That said, nothing will knock you down a peg (or inspire you to stay motivated to work out) like witnessing a triathlon of this magnitude.

For context, the race consists of a 2.4-mile (3.9 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.2 km) bicycle ride, and a full marathon 26.22-mile (42.2 km) run — to be completed in that order, bringing the grand total to 140.6 miles (226.3 km). Yes, you heard that right. But, perhaps the truly astounding thing about the World Championship event is just how many athletes participate and train for months upon months (or years, in some cases). The 2022 event brought some 5,000 athletes to the Big Island, ready to take on the choppy waters, hilly scenic roads, and humid Hawaiian heat for a chance to be called an Ironman.

“Training is all consuming,” explains professional triathlete and past Ironman World Champion Mirinda “Rinny” Carfrae, who’s been competing in triathlons since 1998. “It’s around 30 hours a week of actual training, 12 to 15 hours of cycling, seven to eight hours of running, and the rest is swimming and gym. And then, on top of that, you have to make sure you're getting massages.”

And many of these athletes are juggling training and a separate full-time career. In addition to being a professional triathlete (and past Ironman competitor), Sika Henry also balances her work as a corporate analyst. And, according to her, it’s about as easy as it sounds — not. “I think the balance is hard,” she says to me. “But at the same time, I have never liked being overly focused on one thing. I have a kind of obsessive personality, and I think if I just focus solely on sports and my performance, if I ever have a disappointing result or something, I feel like that's the end-all, be-all. So it's nice to decompress from triathlon and have my job — and vice versa. If I have a really stressful day at work, it's nice on my lunch break to go out, go for a run, and then go back to that. So I think it makes me better at my job, actually.”

Over the course of the two-day competition (which was split between men and women for the first time in the race’s history), I observed the current crop of men and women pushing their bodies to unfathomable physical and emotional limits. I couldn’t help but feel humbled by their commitment to such an event. Many of us (read: me) won’t go to the gym if it’s raining outside, and these athletes are training for some 30 hours a week come hell or high water.

Ultimately, the burning questions on my mind throughout the race weekend were all about motivation. How does one stay committed to such a rigid routine, and how would these women advise a fitness peasant like me to stay consistent with my fitness routine, even when my mind is telling me to stay on the couch with my dog and a party-size bag of potato chips?

Ahead, Carfrae and Henry offer invaluable (and practical) advice on how to keep yourself moving, even on your most unproductive of days.

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Just Get Yourself Out The Door

Sometimes, our lack of motivation is literally all in our head, and simply taking that first step to walking out the front door is all you need. “I think they say the hardest part is putting your shoes on to get going, so it's not actually the physical activity itself, it's really to get going,” says Henry. “I try to remember how good I feel once I do get moving. I've never regretted a workout, but I've regretted not doing a workout, so I try to keep that in mind.”

Also, never underestimate the power of retail therapy. “Sometimes, it's just something as simple as getting a new pair of shoes,” says Henry. “I'm like, ‘Oh, I got a new outfit on,’ or something. So for me, it's like I just try to find little things that motivate me to get me out the door.”

Have A Goal To Work Toward

Both Henry and Carfrae agree that having goal or event in the future to work towards is imperative to keep you motivated to move. It can even be as small as a charity run with friends or maybe a 30-day challenge at your local fitness studio. “I think it's really nice to have an event on your schedule somewhere,” says Carfrae. “That really helps motivate and keep you on a schedule. I think that having an end goal is really important.” Henry adds: “If it's just registering for a 5K, it's like, ‘OK, I know I have 5K in a couple months, so I'm actually training for something.’”

Create A Fitness Community For Yourself

Yes, there’s safety in numbers, but there’s also motivation in numbers. Having a group of friends or a community surrounding you that’s working toward a similar goal can be crucial to keeping you pumped about your fitness routine. “I think community is really important,” says Carfrae. “Find a friend that you can get to meet up with and run with. It's a social session as well as getting some fitness. Have a good community, find maybe a good coach if you want to train at that level or really are serious about a race that's coming up.”

Henry says she swears by her running club to get her out the door on days she’s feeling particularly unmotivated. “I have a group that I train with at home and I know like, ‘All right, I got to meet them at 7:00 a.m., so I can't just sleep in,’” she says. “So having a commitment, like a partner in it that I'm committed to and we're all doing it together [is key].”


Often the biggest culprit of losing motivation is burning out. Make sure you slot out time to rest and recharge. Or perhaps use is as a reward. “If you're in the [fitness] grind and maybe you have a big running week coming up in advance of a race or an event you're getting prepared for, knowing that after that you are going to take two weeks off or you're going to go on a holiday or having things like that in the back of your mind, can help you through moments [where you lack motivation],” says Carfrae. “Because, you know that if you get through this moment, you'll be proud of yourself and you will obviously race better. But you will also have earned that holiday. And if you have that in the back of your mind, I think you just generally get through it easier.”