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Mountaineering Training | The Motivation Factor

A crux for improvement in most any athlete lies in maintaining motivation; maintaining the drive to begin, practice, and persist at a task until you have reached your goals.  In a 2009 piece in Psychology Today, Jim Taylor wrote that there are three factors that affect performance: Ability, Competition, and Motivation.  Motivation is the only factor over which you have control.  Ability (both physical, tactical, and mental) is something that you are born with.  Other outside factors influence performance as well such as the away game crowd in sports, or temperature, weather, wind, and conditions in mountaineering.  Again, these factors are all beyond our control, and can only be anticipated and dealt with as they appear. 
This leaves motivation as the key component to success. When we are motivated, we train and practice in order to maximize our given abilities. This probably isn’t news to anyone, but how do you maintain motivation day after day in a training process that can take well over a year to reach its culmination?  How do you maintain your motivation in the face of cold and wet conditions in the winter, hot and muggy in the summer, or when other elements in your life are pressing in and tempting you to skip a day of training? This is the point that sports psychologists refer to as “the grind”, the point at which training and practice cease to be fun or pleasurable and begin to sap at your motivation.  How you respond to the grind is what separates a top performance from a mediocre one. 
When you feel your training and motivation beginning to suffer, be willing to admit it and decide what direction you are going to take.  You can continue on your current trajectory, or you can redirect yourself toward your goals and redouble your efforts.  Once you decide on a path, dedicate yourself to it and recognize that your training needs to hold a place of priority in your daily schedule.  At the same time, take a moment to evaluate your training and decide what is working and what isn’t.  If running is hurting your knees and causing you to dread your workouts, reduce the number of running workouts in your training and shift those workouts to a lower impact activity such as cycling.  When the gym becomes claustrophobic, take your core workouts outside to the local park or woods. 
It’s something of a cliché to say that the difference between athletes and great athletes is their dedication to the game.  Pelé once said that, “I used to train very hard. When the other players went to the beach after training, I was there kicking the ball.”  While most climbers don’t have the time to dedicate themselves singularly to climbing like Pelé did, try to practice that same mental dedication.  Ask yourself in the morning what you can do that day to improve and give yourself the best chance on Rainier or any other peak. Before you head to bed, ask yourself if you did everything you could that day to achieve your goals.  Finally, if you have a novel trick that you use to stay motivated, post it in the comments below.  Your trick may be just the ticket for another climber! 

Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!

Comments (4)

First, I just want to say I am looking forward to meeting everyone on this climb! I hope we will be able to summit and the weather doesn’t stop us from achieving that goal.

Kevin M.-when do you and your brother fly in to Seattle? I live in Washington and might be willing to pick you both up at the airport if you arrive at a decent time. Let me know.

See you all in July. Safe travels to you all.


Posted by: Steph on

Hello all, My brother and I are coming from out of town for this climb but we are running into issues with getting out to Rainier. I’m curious, How are the rest of you reaching the park? and also, would any one be willing to carpool?

Posted by: Kevin M. on

You don’t want to be the reason why your rope-mates have to turn around halfway up the mountain just because you are not fit enough. The dread of being THAT GUY still is motivation enough for me to train even harder.

Posted by: Roland on

For my July Mt Rainier climb I’m avoiding “the grind” by adding doing this I find fun and enjoyable. For example, I like listening to books on tape and it’s very hard to find time to listen to a 14 hour thriller! But, today, I drove 1.5 hours to hike to the top of the highest peak in Connecticut (in the northwest you would be consider this peak a “hill”). A six mile loop with an elevation gain of 1,600 feet. Add a 40 pound pack. Walk the loop each direction for a 12 mile jaunt. And I enjoyed the book on tape, David Baldacci’s True Blue, so much I never once thought about it being a “grind”. My second suggestion, is sign up for a local race 5K, 10K whatever works for you. Now you are getting your heart rate up with a shared challenge with 100 or 1,100 people. I suggest looking for a trail run. I was fortunate to find one in a state park 15 minutes away - http://trail2trailseries.com/kettletown-state-park/. This allowed me to hike the route a couple weeks before, then enjoy a 10K run though a beautiful state park. As mentioned above, this last item is about cross-training. Treadmill, Elliptical, Cycling, Hiking, Running. Last thought, I also like watching movies so I now place my PC on the treadmill and elliptical and literally watch a movie while using them. Bottom line, I’m motivating myself by making time to do things I enjoy (books on tape, movies) and I just happen to be working out very hard while I’m doing it.

Posted by: Chane on

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