Speaking of Motivation

Feb. 18, 2014

A friend of mine recently asked my at a Friday 2-hour spin to do a post about WHY I do triathlons, and in particular, why I want to do an ironman. I will need to do some thinking about that, and in the meantime I went looking for an article to help me shed some light on it. Yes, I know, that’s nerdy. And it’s totally me, haha!

The article I’m reviewing today is:

A Qualitative Exploration of Participant Motives Among Committed Amateur Triathletes


School of Tourism and Hospitality Management Southern Cross University Lismore, NSW, Australia


Department of Tourism, Leisure, Hotel and Sport Management Griffith University Southport, QLD, Australia

Much like the previous study I reviewed about hitting the wall, this study involved interviewing 21 amateur Australian triathletes to gain insight into their motivations for participating in triathlons, and then classifying their responses. The triathletes consisted of a good mix of ages, experience, and distances of triathlons done (e.g. Sprint, Olympic, half and full Ironman). The authors were triathletes themselves who recruited from their own networks of friends and training groups.

Psychologists have many theories of motivations, though it’s sometimes hard to talk about people’s motivations in view of so many different theoretical frameworks. By the way, the authors give a very nice review of other theories of motivation that was very much worth the read. (If you want a pdf of the article to read it, send me an e-mail and I’ll get it to you).  Perhaps the most common way to sort motivations is to divide them into intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, so that’s what these authors did. The motivations cited in the study include:



Challenge oneself, progression in challenge, test physical limits, sense of achievement, realize measurable improvements, goal achievement.


Add purpose/meaning to life, participation, fulfill aspirations, minimize risks of regrets, sensory pleasure, masochism.



Healthy ageing, discard unhealthy habits, live a healthy lifestyle, offset sedentary occupations, stress relief, physical fitness.

Ego Involvement

Competition, leverage personal strengths, event portfolio.

External Rewards

Opportunities to travel, equipment ownership, food as reward


Friendship, Enhance family relationships, peer pressure


Substitution, lifestyle enhancement

Enduring Commitment

Difficult to stop training/addiction, fear of losing fitness, fear of loss of a social identity they have worked hard to create.


Most triathletes participated in at least one of the sports beforehand, and viewed triathlon as a natural progression of their previous sports(s) or sporting lives.

The authors note that all the triathletes cited both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards for participation, but it was difficult to assess in a systematic way during this particular study as to which were the strongest and such for each triathlete or how much the motivations interaction on each other. For example, someone might have the intrinsic motivation of wanting to be healthy, but the extrinsic motivation of finishing and upcoming event may be what actually motivates them to get their workout done when they aren’t feeling it at that day. At least, this is how those two often interact for me!

They also talk about how motivations can change over the course of time, both shorter periods and longer periods of time. For example, after an event, a person may be more motivated by those abstract concepts of being healthy, and therefore still do their workouts, but as they begin training for another event, other motivations such as wanting to finish, or wanting to avoid feeling bad or letting down a training partner for not completing a workout, would likely become stronger.

By longer periods of time, they mean that triathlete’s motivations often change over the course of a triathletes “career.” For example

“For those new to the sport, motivations such as challenging oneself, progression in challenge, living a healthy lifestyle, and lifestyle enhancement were frequently cited. On the other hand, established and ambitious participants appeared more motivated by pursuing measurable improvements, testing their physical limits, achieving increasingly challenging goals, competition, and participating in events that leverage their personal strengths. This supports Ryan et al.’s (1997) contention that “initial motives may themselves change over time” (p. 352).”

In sum, people are often motivated by a variety of different things, and those different motivations often become more or less prevalent – or even change completely – over time.

To assess your own motivations:

1)    Read through the list above and see which ones you identify with most.

2)    Ask friends and family their perceptions of why you do it. We humans like to make sense of our world other people’s behaviors, and no doubt your friends and family have some theories about why you do triathlons. For example “I think it really gives her a sense of joy and accomplishment she doesn’t get otherwise” or  “I dunno, she has the delusion that spandex makes her look good and she can’t find any other socially appropriate reason to wear it.”

3)    Track your motivations over time. It’s likely they will change for you, and learning about your patterns may be helpful. For example, if you realize you do much better with regular exercise when you have an event scheduled, you might want to sign up for more events.


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