As athletes we are psychologically motivated and inspired by a unique mix that fuels our ambition and keeps our noses to the grind stone. It is important to regularly re-examine your motives and to keep them in the forefront. In the absence of an internal purpose we become like plow mules; slogging along simply because we always have. Without a purpose your enthusiasm to train and compete will eventually fall off and your sport may become drudgery.
The first thing you must realize is that your motivators are distinct and personal. You may train for social reasons, personal validation, adulation and recognition, or perhaps because you were simply inspired by something or someone. But no one can make you do anything, or motivate you, or bring that extra 1% to your training which may put you over the top. You must have an internal purpose to rise before sunrise and great that day with a dose of discomfort. For instance; you may enjoy the support of your parents, but can not compete for them. This is one of the reasons children who are pushed too hard by the imposed ambitions of overzealous parents often lose interest in a sport. The child has lost the internal motivation to participate (fun) and generally does not stay involved long term. Make sure reasons you train are your reasons, not those of a friend, parent, or spouse impressing theirs upon you. It is also important to make sure that your personal validation is not singularly wrapped around your sport. Athletes that are not well rounded often burn out much sooner than those that are multi-faceted.
The more specifically you define the reasons behind the effort, the more likely you are to achieve your goals. The growth of endurance sports has been partially fueled by charity training groups such as Team In Training. To compete in honor or memory of a loved one and to raise money for the cause, is a very powerful and specific motivator. Don't be afraid to write your motivators and goals down and keep them in front of you. Visualize the purpose and pay off for the hard work you are putting forth. If one of your reasons is fitness or weight loss, visualize yourself as the fit and hardened individual you will become. Perhaps you have set a specific personal goal. Constantly remind yourself what that goal is, and how the work out you are performing now will get you there. Setting specific short term objectives leads to long term (dream) goals. You may one day want to complete an Ironman, but a sprint triathlon is the first stepping stone.
There are so many positive aspects to being an athlete beyond the physical benefits. I personally believe the characteristics of a successful athlete transfer to many areas of life outside the competitive arena. Characteristics such as discipline, overcoming adversity, risk taking, personal sacrifice, sportsmanship, consistency, and hard work reinforce good character. These reasons may not be as concrete as winning a race, but they will carry you even farther in life.
Understand that motivation is not a constant and that it ebbs and flows, sometimes as simply with the changing of seasons. You will be more motivated to train on a beautiful spring day versus a cold rainy winter morning. And you may wake up one morning and realize that what you are doing no longer holds personal satisfaction or simply is no longer fun. If that is the case it may be time to take a break, or move on to a new challenge. Don't be afraid to explore another sport; something new and interesting and challenging. This may just what you need to reinvigorate your motivation. Change in motivation are as natural as the other changes in your life, and is not a result of deficient character. Change can be difficult for some and they never realize the new adventure just around the corner.
Endurance athletes are unique animals. The training takes more hours than most sports, and it is usually solitary. Successful training for endurance sports requires consistency through all seasons, terrible weather, and early mornings when you would rather be in bed. Even the pros make little money relative to other sports, and receive less recognition beyond the endurance sports community. If fame, fortune, and adoration are your motivators you are likely in the wrong sport unless you are at the very top. However, endurance sports arguably require greater fortitude, discipline, and perhaps internal satisfaction. By Understanding the payoff for the effort will make you a more motivated, successful, and ultimately happy athlete.