How To Stay Motivated To Workout: When You Are Alone

Estimated read time: 16 minutes

1) Have a goal or vision

We’re all different when it comes to finding what inspires us. The best way for me to stay motivated is to have an upcoming race: this reason answers all the questions about why I should remain active.

If you ask anyone that plays sports or plays in a league, there’s usually one annual event that keeps them fired up. For the past two years, my OCR (obstacle course race) season highlights were taking part in a 12-hour endurance race called “Europe’s Toughest Mudder”.

As a kid, I grew up in Lincolnshire, England. A county that is well-known for agriculture and natural countryside. In my youth, football was meaningless. My heroes were Arnold Schwarzenegger, the legendary Hulk Hogan and He-Man! We didn’t have expensive computer games consoles or Satellite TV. Our fun was made by building dens, playing in the mud and riding mountain bikes through farmer’s fields. Being outdoors has always been enjoyable and getting caked-up in mud was the most fun!

During the early to mid-nineties, there was a TV show called “The Krypton Factor.” The show is known for numerous challenges including quizzes, puzzles and a military-style obstacle course race. As a kid, this looked like the most amazing experience and I thought you had to be a Soldier to get involved. Luckily, the popularity of OCR events has exploded, and anyone can take part.

What’s interesting, and I could be wrong, hobbies and activities that you were passionate about as a child, often follow you into adulthood.

With the world of technology, working with computers and being in digital marketing, I find that getting outdoors allows me to forget everything. When I’m hanging from an obstacle, I’m focused on the race and living in the present. Nothing else matters! Training and competing in events are an excellent form of escapism and allows me to experience some nostalgia from years past.

I appreciate that we may know this, for those that might have a “strong enough purpose” to do something will more likely to succeed. When times are hard, and usually by having a “white-hot” purpose can help us battle on through those tough times. I’m sure everyone has encountered a stumbling block when learning something new. Don’t worry. It’s part of the process! The same applies to when training for an event or race.

It’s taken a long time to discover a hobby that I’m genuinely passionate about that gives me purpose. For some, it may take some time to find. Trying new things and thinking about who you’d like to become can help.

Once you’ve discovered your “purpose”, it’s essential to nurture and embrace your beliefs by finding on-going inspiration to fuel your ambitions.

2) Role models and inspiration

It’s essential to have a rock-solid purpose for doing something that’s tough and important to you. It’s equally important to feed your mind with positive encouragement to keep your ambitions alive.

Picture a scene; you’ve had a long hard day at work, and you’re tired. The easiest thing you can do is put the dinner on, switch the telly on, have a bath and go to bed. I can empathise with this has happened plenty of times.

When I have this argument in my head, to either watch TV or get a training session in: I go to YouTube and watch highlights from the “Europe’s Toughest Mudder 2017″ event and remind myself why I train. Of course, having done an event like this, you’ll have your own memories and be able to relate to your experiences on a much stronger level. As a result, this will amplify your reasoning even more.

If you can find a piece of music, a video or someone you idolise this can help you to stay focused. You know when you’ve discovered an impressive piece of music or an inspiring video when it gives you goosebumps or gives you chills. Anything that triggers an emotional response or offers sentimental value will be a winner for you!

As a fan of 80’s metal and rock music, there are hundreds of songs that can help me get fired up for a workout. For strength training, it’s always metal and hard rock music. For running, it’s either dance or trance music. During the running sessions, I found dance music more comfortable to get into and when I’m 5 or 6 miles into training, this helps to maintain a deliberate pace.

To summarise if you’re struggling to find inspiration, YouTube is an excellent place to start. Think back to your childhood heroes or go on Social Media and find some new ones. If you’re into Netflix, you’ll likely find plenty of documentaries of sportspeople that have achieved startling accomplishments.

3) Set a Deadline

When you have a goal, it’s crucial to have a deadline. Since School, we’ve had to deal with deadlines through homework. Let’s face it; we’re programmed to work towards deadlines. For many, it’s the only way we get things done!

Often, with a deadline, there’s a penalty or consequence for not hitting a goal, for example, paying interest on a late credit card payment or feeling some degree of emotional guilt.

Without having a penalty for a missed deadline, it can be challenging to keep ourselves motivated. By having some risk of not achieving your goal can help you to stay more determined.

For some, this risk can be paying for an event or telling loved ones you’re going to do something and using the fear of failure as a motive. By having some “skin in the game” will no doubt help you to succeed.

If you have an upcoming event, for example, say 12 or 14 weeks in time, you can reverse engineer your plan and calculate where you want to be before the event.

Whatever your goal could be, for example: losing weight, getting in shape or learning a new skill, having a deadline can assist. Setting a time frame is all well and good; however, sticking to the plan and following the process, as we know, is the real test.

To succeed with your goal, you must have a strong enough motive to keep you going. Always referring to your purpose will help you stay on track, even more so in times of doubt.

4) Sign Up For A Virtual Fitness Challenge

During late 2019, I wanted to find a way to keep myself occupied on the cardio side of training. For OCR training, I love the aspect of battling through the obstacles. By challenging myself with the pull-ups, monkey bars, rope climbs, box jumps, and all the things associated with building body strength is my forte.

When running on the treadmill, I’ve tried listening to podcasts, inspiring speeches by Arnold Schwarzenegger and even watching highlights of World’s Toughest Mudder, as I try to visualise the grit and determination just to be in the annual 24-hour OCR extravaganza!

Then, I discovered a Virtual Fitness Challenge by “The Conqueror Virtual Challenges”.

The concept is simple:

  1. You sign up for a virtual challenge ranging from 21 to 2,000 miles. These virtual challenges represent a real challenge including, The English Channel (21 miles), Lands’ End to John O’Groats (1,083 miles), Route 66 (2,280 miles), Hadrian’s Wall (90 miles) and many more.
  2. You can complete the challenge by doing any of the following: swimming, cycling, walking, running or rowing. You set your deadline to complete your race.
  3. Once you’ve finished, your exercise, you can log this on the Virtual Mission App, and you can see the distance you’ve done over time. Just like a regular race, you can see other’s that are taking part by using the virtual map.
  4. Once you’ve completed your virtual race, you get a stunning high-quality medal sent to you in the post.

The craftsmanship is truly out of this world! These medals have some of the most amazing detail you’ll ever see. After completing my second Virtual Challenge – I can’t wait to start another.

For someone that loves to collect medals, this is something for you.

For more on virtual events, visit The Conqueror Events website.

5) Have A Support Network

Follow people on Instagram that inspire you, such as fellow athletes, your peers and role models can help to keep you motivated! There is something contagious when you follow people that are achieving your goals or dreams.

For instance, if you’re inspired to run more follow runners on social media. If you genuinely reach out to people and start a conversation, most of the time you’ll get a response back.

People love to talk about their interests, their ideals and themselves. By taking an interest in people, you’ll be able to build rapport easier. Over time, people will be more than happy to provide useful training tips and ideas.

On Instagram, I love to see when someone’s done a jog or a run, as when I don’t feel like it – this inspires me on to get off my ass and start training.

True story! 90% of the races I go to, I start alone! Initially, there were no mates or buddies to tag along with, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

If you do go solo to an event, referring to a Tough Mudder, I can guarantee that you’ll leave with the experiences of:

  • helping others
  • having good meaningful conversations
  • getting to know people
  • if you’re lucky you may have a good old-fashioned mud fight
  • and most importantly, finish the race as part of a team!

It’s safe to say that hundreds, if not thousands, of mud runners, would say the same. There are some fantastic people within the obstacle course racing community. At an event, we’re all in the same boat, people want to help one another, get through the challenges and press on!

By doing obstacle course racing, I’ve managed to be part of a following, where you build solid friendships, not just on race season, but all year round.

Thanks to social media, you can keep in touch with your fellow runners.

There are thousands of groups on Facebook for all sports including triathlons, mud runs, cross country runs and loads more.

Whatever hobby you’re into, it’s likely there’s a community of like-minded people that you can connect with, share ideas and learn from each other.

There may be opportunities to have social gatherings; some of these meetups can even be during the off-season. Where people meet in a pub, go camping and so on.

One of the benefits of using Instagram is you can build up an online visual fitness diary. As your account grows, remember to scroll through, pat yourself on the back, and see the progress you’ve made. You never know who you’re going to inspire when you post your training results online! So, get posting! 🙂

6) Tracking

If we don’t track basic metrics, it’s going to be more challenging to see those small systematic changes that end up making significant results. As a full-time digital marketer, I need to create a monthly report to see how well things are going. Tracking and reporting allow us to know whether we’re getting closer or further away from our objectives.

The same principle applies to our fitness goals. Now I appreciate tracking can be a little bit of a cumbersome task; however, you’ve got to see the big picture. Coaches for top athletes can be paid handsomely as they track every single micro-nutrient that can help their competitor win Olympic Gold! Without tracking, it’s just a guessing game. Having data that’s backed up by mathematical evidence is key!

Even on a more fundamental level, if you get your bank statements for the past three months and saw where your money was going, you may be surprised to know what adjustments you need to make. By tracking, you can adjust and focus on what’s working.

Now apply the principles to training; one of the easiest ways is to get a running app on your smartphone and start building an online training log.

There is an abundance of apps available for running, jogging, walking, hiking, cycling, swimming and even lifting weights. Some of the most popular apps include Strava, Run Keeper, Garmin, Fitbit, and one of my favourites is Map My Run.

The beauty of using these apps is, once you’ve done a workout, you can submit your daily activity to social media and this shows people in your support group that you’re active, and you’re paying your dues.

Scheduling and tracking go hand in hand. Put it this way; you go to work you do a good job and you get paid. With training, you schedule the time in, do the work and see the results accumulate.

After seeing the positive training results, you’ll more than likely start becoming addicted. Then the process of tracking will become a lot easier. The best way to look at tracking is to see it as a return on your investment in time and in effort.

To get started with some basic tracking here’s some ideas:

  • Track and benchmark your daily water intake
  • Measure your waist, hips, chest, thighs and bodyweight weekly
  • Time yourself to run a mile or km and then work on efficiency
  • Benchmark how many press-ups or pull-ups you can do in a row.

Benchmarking is a great way to motivate yourself to beat your personal best. Having a fitness journal can be one of the most empowering tools that you can have.

7) Dress Rehearsal Training

When it is getting closer to an event, it’s essential to have several dress rehearsals. When it’s getting closer to an event, it’s vital to have a few dress rehearsals. People in music and entertainment do this all the time.

For my first Europe’s Toughest Mudder race, I needed to gain some night running experience. Night running helped tremendously. Granted, this was a discipline where devoting three nights a week in the cold and dark did pay off.

During a dress rehearsal, I will wear the following:

  • A wet suit layered with shorts and a T-shirt
  • A beanie hat and a headlamp
  • Knee support
  • Gloves
  • A High-vis vest
  • On some occasions, glow-sticks, a hydration backpack fitted with a bladder
  • Bluetooth headphones
  • A Tough Mudder headband
  • Hilly Twin Skin running socks
  • Trail running shoes.

All this gear helped to see if I have any underlying issues during training. For example, during these sessions, I had enough time before race day to assess whether the footwear caused any blisters; any layers of clothing caused chafing or if I was suffering from any niggles, aches or pains.

A 12-hour race is a mammoth challenge for anyone, fit or not; being unprepared and getting out the event too early would have been a travesty.

For motivation purposes, it’s always a good idea to have a good luck charm or something that gives you pride or courage. For He-Man, he had his magic sword. I wear a finisher headband, it provides a sense of accomplishment and knowing whatever comes my way I can tackle these obstacles once more!

When running longer distances, you also need to understand how your body reacts to certain foods. One of the biggest fears for runners, across the board, is getting into a race and have a desperate need to empty their bowels!

I’m not a doctor or medical expert and don’t claim to be. So, I don’t know the exact science behind runner’s trots. All I know, there is a lot of pressure and stress on the body when running. To avoid a highly embarrassing personal accident, it’s always best to understand what your body likes and if it can cope within your training sessions.  From my experience, it’s still best to eat light before a race. Sticking to what you know is vital!

Before any event, peanut butter and a banana in a tortilla wrap has been my go-to meal. When I’m out on course, Haribo’s, jelly babies, wine gums and sweets full of sugar have kept me going.

Before doing my very first Europe’s Toughest Mudder, my friends asked if I wanted a Double Whopper with cheese, onion rings, super-duper sized fries and a gallon of coke? I politely declined, because I knew this would make me sluggish and extremely likely be running my race to the toilet.

For any big event, rehearsals have helped to train and prepare. Even if you’ve not got an event coming up, training like you’re taking part will help keep you focused.

8) Have everything ready the night before!

Getting ready for a workout first thing in the morning is much easier said than done. By doing your prep the night before, can you save a great deal of time and frustration!

When I go running, I must have music. If not, I lose my mojo! From a technical point of view, if my headphones or phone are having a “hissy fit” moment, this does impact my performance and puts me in a foul mood.

Music is my fuel and momentum, so I’m very selective over the technology that I use.

There have been mornings where I wanted to go for a jog or train like a beast. Then I wake up, get my gear on and grab my phone out of the charging cradle and realise that the phone hasn’t correctly charged. A classic schoolboy error! The same applies to Bluetooth headphones – if you’re a heavy user of wireless tech, it’s handy to make sure there’s plenty of battery life in these.

Get your clothes together! 

If you work out daily, it pays to have multiple pairs of sports clothing available. As I live on my own, it takes some time to have enough clothes to justify using the washing machine; however, it’s usually a good idea to wash stuff on the night before a rest day.

If you have an early start, it’s best to get your clothes ready the night before, so you can get straight out the door and on with your day.

If you’re a hardcore runner, it won’t surprise me if some people sleep in their running gear.

All in all, having a stumbling block can be a detriment to your training. So, give yourself a fighting chance and prep the night before!

9) Diversify your training activity

Mixing up your fitness regime, not only helps to target different areas of the body and makes it more exciting! The body can adapt quickly, so it’s important to mix things up.

When it comes to obstacle course racing training, you’ll be blessed with a wide range of activities you can do to keep you fit, including:

  • Running or jogging
  • Cycling or mountain biking
  • Walking or hiking
  • Swimming
  • Strength training, using your body weight or weights
  • Online classes
  • HIIT classes (high-intensity interval training)
  • Stretching exercises, pilates or yoga
  • Rowing
  • Cross-training
  • Mountain climbing
  • Kettlebell training
  • I’m sure there are plenty more ideas.

In my opinion, obstacle course racing is probably one of the purest sports that you can do. Not only you have a mixture of aerobic exercise; there’s upper body strength exercises, quickness training, agility exercises and building up endurance. Whenever people go and do an obstacle race, you will be using every single muscle group going. You’ll also be digging down deep and pushing yourself mentally through obstacles that you may have never done before.

If you have a diverse range of activities to do, your training will be more enjoyable. Any form of physical activity is going to help, but ultimately running, hiking, strength training, pull-ups, box jumps, HIIT training, press-ups and deadlifts will be more beneficial.

When running, if you are doing several laps or loops to make up a certain distance; it’s essential to try and diversify that route. For example, you and your body will get used to that route and it may become too comfortable. What you do can is run the course in the opposite direction.

Try mixing it up a little bit to keep it exciting and more importantly, the body will need to work harder.

If you’re lucky enough to live in the countryside, you’ll benefit from using public footpaths and bridleways. These paths usually are surrounded by farmer’s fields, beautiful scenery, various levels of terrain.

If you like to go out early in the morning, you’ll notice plenty of wildlife. Recently, I went for a walk around 5:00 am one Saturday morning. There were squirrels, geese, ducks and on two occasions I’ve seen a small herd of deer.

With some bridleways, you’ll experience mud tracks made by the tractor’s tires that give a different feel to trail running. Use what’s available when it comes to training.

The great outdoors is an excellent place to get away from modern-day life.

It’s funny that 20 something years ago; technology was a form of escapism from modern-day life. Now roles have reversed. It’s not very often you will see anyone else on public footpaths and bridleways – it’s just you and the countryside – most of the time!

So, if you can, get out in nature, make some memories and start training.

10) Finally, see training as an investment in you!

We invest time and money into our careers, making a living, studying, raising a family and so on. There’s nothing wrong with that! However, sometimes when we’re focused on something, we may sacrifice our health to do so. Ultimately, our health and our time are two of the most valuable commodities that we have!

Think about it; our health is something that we can’t buy, and it’s easy to make excuses for not doing something we don’t like. We impose limitations on ourselves, by saying “I don’t have time”, or “I’m too busy”. If there’s anything that we can do to look after ourselves is to see training as an investment. See yourself as an asset because you are!

When we’re healthy, we’re busy doing what we need to do. However, when we’re sick, our top priority is to get better!

One of the best ways to avoid feeling low and sorry for yourself, and it’s worked for me for years, is to train; there are times where I can’t be bothered, but the results always outweigh the short term discomfort of getting started.

I’ll do whatever it takes to get in the mindset to train. As mentioned before, I’ll wear a finisher t-shirt and a headband, listen to some empowering music; whether it’s some heavy metal, listen to Arnold Schwarzenegger talk about success or even watch Europe’s Toughest Mudder video highlights.

Do what it takes to keep yourself going and determined. People love and admire someone that is focused and works on their goals. If you have a strong work ethic and disciplined to train, just think about what you can achieve in other areas of your life?

Ultimately, training has so many benefits; from being conscious of what you’re eating, learning new exercises and techniques, meeting some fantastic and inspiring people, having access to mentors and by taking part in OCR races, it’s inspired other’s to do the same.

I offer you a challenge. From reading this, what can you take away and apply in your own life? Think about it and see what you could be of benefit to you! Equally, if you find this to be valuable, let me know in the comments below. If you think this content is useful, share it with a friend. Sometimes reading someone’s journey is enough to get started.

James King has competed in multiple OCR events including Europe's Toughest Mudder from 2019 to 2022, multiple mud events, 10k runs and currently for his first marathon. James includes useful tips and experiences about OCR on his blog

James King has competed in multiple OCR events including Europe's Toughest Mudder from 2019 to 2022, multiple mud events, 10k runs and currently for his first marathon. James includes useful tips and experiences about OCR on his blog