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Middle-aged, middle-weight, mother of 3 on mad marathon mission
Middle-aged, middle-weight, mother of 3 on mad marathon mission
When I started this blog, it was to track my progress from an occasional kayaker to taking on the Devizes to Westminster non stop 125 race. Little did I know that would start me on a long distance obsession which has resulted in my completing the 30th Marathon des Sables. It has been a strange and sometimes painful ... but always wonderfully challenging journey

This is my occasional account of a middle-age mother's attempt to take on things which are really quite beyond her.

Motivation and that competitive spirit - who has it and why?

crawlingkiwiby crawlingkiwiJan 8th 2011
While I've been languishing in my sick bed over the past week or so, I've been contemplating motivation and why some people seem to have it working in overdrive, while others leech apathy from every pore.

At school, I have students (primarily teenage girls) who would do anything rather than sweat and never want to go outside in case their hair gets messy. These students drive me mad - I've tried everything to motivate them, dance classes, exercise, boxercise, yoga - they'll often give something new a try, but I can guarantee that 10 or 15 minutes in, the 'this is boring' muttering starts. But I also have students (both boys and girls) who are so fiercely competitive and determined, that they will vomit rather than stop. And that's not an exaggeration, on a 12 minute running test I had 2 boys throw up at the end - I get that, I understand that, even at my level of competition (ie at the back of running races) I frequently push myself to the 'vomit-limit'.

Recently I was in the back of a K2 with my daughter and she was shouting for us to go faster to the line to beat a C2 (containing an ultra-competitive former Olympian) - as we crossed the finish line, I was heaving away in the boat behind her ... not so nice for my poor daughter, but we did get 3rd!

For all of those who just don't want to try or to push themselves on the sports field, can motivation be taught? Is it innate or does it come from your surrounding family? I suspect the truth is a mix of all 3. My eldest daughter used to compete in triathlon against another girl whose parents were top coaches and competitors. This girl was a phenomenal athlete and competed all over the place until she was about 14. At that point she disappeared and as far as I am aware, does no more sport, although her sisters still compete to a very high level and her parents' lives revolve entirely around sport and their coaching.

Another young triathlete has shown extraordinary motivation and competitive spirit since she was a toddler and this year, her motivation has never been stronger - having been named on the national squad. Her mother tells a story of when she was very young and was sledging against her father, rather than lose to him, she threw herself off ... she was something like 2 at that time. Since then I've watched her develop into an amazing young woman whom I have no doubt could make the 2016 team. Why does one child, with the perfect genetic make-up, top-level coaching and opportunities, step back, while another just goes for it?

When coaching (at the canoe club not at school), the motivated competitive children stand out against the 'giver-uppers'. They are the ones who are always last out in any running game, who will NOT stop doing the plank if someone else is still doing it and who generally just give 110% at all times. The 'giver-uppers' are the ones who try to cheat at exercises, get out of doing an activity and try to be 'first' out all the time. Since these children (or their parents) are interested enough to come down to training sessions in their own time, it mystifies me somewhat that they don't want to try. For us, it makes it easy to see who want to be 'social' paddlers and plod up and down the river and those who will want to race.

A word most commonly used about me is that I'm driven. Personally I think that's a good thing, although perhaps it can make me tricky to live with - but it's something I have definitely passed on to my daughters. It's not so great if I just want to do something for fun - I can't just go out for a gentle paddle, I have to go faster than last time, or at least to follow a schedule and do intervals.

One reason I love canoeing, is that I can actually be competitive in a race. In triathlon or running I am always at the back, never that good, but determined to finish and to get a slightly better time that in my last race. in canoeing however, by racing in divisions, I can race against others of a similar ability and be competitive. I have a chance of winning and if I do well, I get promoted to the next division. It's brilliant and has fed my competitive instinct beautifully.

So is motivation and a competitive instinct the result of nature or nurture? Or maybe a combination? If I can crack the answer, then school PE would be a dream.... I'd be able to coach completely focused and motivated young paddlers ... now there's an aim for the coming year!
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