In the closing scene of “Finding Nemo,” the “tank gang” from P. Sherman’s dental office finally pull off the escape they’ve dreamt about for years. After Dr. Sherman places them in plastic bags to change the tank water, they roll their bags across the counter to an open window, freefall into the bushes below, then traverse four lanes of traffic before plunging over the wharf and into the welcoming waters of Sydney Harbor.
After hitting the water, they all let out a triumphant cheer. But as they continue bobbing on the waves inside their plastic bags, they suddenly grow quiet and pensive. Just before the credits roll, Bloat the pufferfish (voiced by Brad Garrett) asks the question on all of their minds: “Now what?”
It’s the same question that runners have often ask themselves after finishing a big race.
The tank gang had focused so much time and energy on accomplishing their task, they hadn’t really considered what to do once they completed it. Similarly, runners often spend weeks and months preparing for a single event, and don’t really care what may happen after they cross the finish line.
It’s simple human nature (and since the Nemo characters felt it, maybe it’s fish nature as well) to feel directionless, or suffer through some doldrums after a big event. It’s tough to find inspiration for continuing our workouts.
Luckily, there are many strategies that can kick-start your motivation, and summer is the perfect time of year to try them out. Here are some suggestions:
- Thank you sir, may I have another: This seems obvious, but the easiest way to stay focused on training is to sign up for another race. Find a race that looks interesting, pay your entry fee – and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll feel compelled to start training again.
One caveat here: if you’re a marathon runner, allow yourself a couple of months to recover from the first race and train properly for the next one.
- Change your game: If you’ve been focused on primarily one race distance, take on the challenge of an unfamiliar distance. Being a good 5K or 10K runner demands far different strengths and skills than marathoning does, and the variety in training is guaranteed to keep things interesting.
Conversely, if you’re in a rut of doing the same 5K/10K races all the time, try stepping up in distance to the half- or full marathon this year. If you’ve already got the speed, building endurance is usually a lot easier than you think.
- Get spiked: Summer is when many informal track meets take place, and when many runners lace up their spikes to build speed with short distance races.
How fast can you run a mile? How about a quarter mile? If you dedicate yourself to track workouts for a whole season, you might be amazed at how quickly you improve.
A fun bonus of track racing is that you can compare your times to local high school meets, to see how you stack up against the young guns. Just don’t get too depressed if your best 800m time would only place you 6th in the “C” heat of the girls’ JV meet. It’s true what they say about aging, you know.
- Play in the dirt: Summer is the most popular time of year for trail running. Trail races usually cater to beginners, with short race options and a laid-back attitude that doesn’t emphasize speed—for example, many don’t even give awards afterwards.
The trail running experience is too good to miss—in fact, many runners enter their first trail race, and never return to roads again. Why not go and see what all the fuss is about?
- Try to Tri: If you’re really looking to supercharge your training, think about making the transition from a runner to a multisport athlete. Many runners already cross train with cycling and swimming—so it shouldn’t be too much of a leap to consider entering a sprint- or Olympic distance triathlon.
The timing is perfect. Long summer days are ideal for warm bike rides and finding easy pool access, and August and September are popular months for triathlons. Find a race near you, and start to diversify your training.
- Wait it out: Sometimes lethargy is just your body’s way of telling you that it needs a break, dummy. Runners often get so preoccupied with achieving certain goals that they ignore signs of cumulative fatigue until they become overwhelming—for instance, after finishing a marathon.
If this is the case, just pamper yourself with a few weeks of lighter activity and extra sleep, and you may rediscover your motivation for getting back on the horse once your body has recharged its battery.
The tank gang from “Finding Nemo” eventually get out of the bags and enjoy their new life in the ocean. Likewise, most runners usually snap out of their doldrums without doing anything unusually drastic. But if you’re looking for a quicker solution, try one of the ideas above to keep training strong all summer long.