Last week’s article on running was pretty long. This one will be considerably shorter. I mentioned last week that I was going to write about higher intensity anaerobic training for the next edition to the newsletter, but after some contemplation I decided I would go a different direction and get to anaerobic training next week. If you didn't read last week's article, follow the hyperlink above to read it before moving on. Also, for those of you who didn't read last week's article, understand that this newsletter series is meant for beginners. If you are an avid or intermediate runner and you read this thinking "wow, this is really elementary information," you are correct, and it is designed to be.
This week I’ll be talking (ranting) about something I have found to be a limiting factor for many folks when they get into any sort of exercise program. That concept is progression. Ask yourself the question, what are you working towards?
Aside from operating the Be Well Chiropractic facebook and instagram pages, I don’t have much interaction on social media anymore (something I strongly recommend). I have a personal instagram page with very few people I “follow,” and few people who “follow” me, no facebook page, and still don’t really know what twitter is. Even with the relatively little amount of social media bandwidth that I occupy, I have been over run this New Year with ad after ad about random fitness and nutrition programs and “challenges.” 30 Day fix this and 21 day challenge that, reboots, and resets galore have managed to occupy my otherwise bare instagram feed. Ten years in practice including several years of being an owner of a crossfit gym has provided me ample opportunity to interact with thousands of people on a daily basis, many of those interactions have centered around developing a better lifestyle including eating better and exercising. The limiting factors that I have noted time and again in developing a healthier lifestyle deals with a lack of tangible goals and lack of progression, especially long term progression. These New Year fitness fads lack any real long term change. Sure they can act as a great starting point, but the long term progress is up to the individual. If i had a dollar for the amount of people I have met who have done numerous whole 30 challenges (etc) numerous times, my student loans would be paid off.
First, let’s talk about lack of tangible goals. Keep in mind that this newsletter series is being directed towards people who are just beginning running as a fitness pursuit, not the intermediate or avid runner. Running is often times the entry level to a world of fitness. As I discussed last week it is the most accessible means of exercise and requires only shoes and some will power to start with. As a result of this ease of accessibility, many people enter into a world of running by saying they will run “X” miles per week or a certain amount of time spent running each day. While we all have to start somewhere, I encourage people to have some type of measurable goal with a completion date. It makes the entry stages of running far easier and more enjoyable. Not to mention, it provides an additional level of accountability. I have found that performance goals far outweigh aesthetic goals for the beginner. “I need to start running to look better in my summer clothes,” only takes you so far. “I signed up for my first 5K on March 12 and I have to finish it because I told everyone I would,” tends to produce more meaningful results.
Weight loss and aesthetic goals can be incredibly fickle. When you start running there is a possibility that you will build muscle in your legs. That will be reflected as weight gain on the scale. This upsets people who live and die by what the scale says despite the fact that it is a positive result. Rather than a weight loss goal I recommend a performance goals. Athletes have performance goals, and as a result, they have lean muscular bodies as a result of the habits required to get them to their performance goals. When you train towards a performance goal of some sort, you are forced to eat better and less likely to skip workouts.
What does a performance goal look like? Well, it should be somewhat intimidating but not impossible. If you’re just beginning start looking at local calendars for 5K or 10 K races and get yourself signed up. Pick one that is about 8-16 weeks away to give yourself ample time to train, then tell everyone you are doing it, or better yet, sign up with a co-worker or friend who has some running experience. They will hold you accountable and help you train for your first race. Don’t do what I did in my first foray into running and sign up for a marathon right out of the gate. That was dumb. A first race should be somewhat intimidating but you should still be able to do it. The vast majority of people have no idea what their bodies are capable of accomplishing. Just because you haven’t before doesn’t mean you can’t.
Don’t want to enter a race? It doesn’t have to be an organized road race. In the past few years Dr. Anna and myself have hiked pikes peak, run through the grand canyon, hiked turtle head peak in Las Vegas, and will soon be doing an overnight backpacking trip through the grand canyon. We love the outdoors and will often times choose an outdoor activity that requires us to train for it. I love these types of challenges because they offer us the opportunity to explore parts of the country that few people have a chance to experience despite the relative ease of getting there, and still motivate us to train for it to ensure that it is an enjoyable experience rather than a weighted forced march.
Having a measurable goal with a time element attached to it (ie complete my first 5k on March 12) is the starting point towards success. "My goal is to run more this year," is not tangible, measurable, and will not produce results.
Next, let’s talk briefly about long term progression. So you have run a 5K or 10K. Maybe you have completed a couple. Now it is time to see if you can improve on your times. If you have fallen in love with running as a fitness protocol and have entered and finished a couple distances, now it is time to train to improve performance. Let’s say you have done a couple 5K’s and really enjoy that distance, and finish around 30 minutes. Take some time and periodize your training and find someone who can help you cross the finish line in 25 minutes. Working towards improved performance measures will cause you to modify your training, eating, and general lifestyle habits. In my opinion, this is when you transition from running enthusiast to athlete, and now you have to start living the athlete lifestyle (this is also the time when well meaning relatives will try to warn you about the dangers of excessive running. I usually respond by telling them the dangers of excessive couch sitting).
Long term progression in performance require you to prioritize not only training but also recovery and lifestyle factors such as amount of sleep, dietary protocols, and taking care of the musculoskeletal systems. On a personal note, this is what keeps me going. I’ve heard my entire life that the things I do only get harder with age. At 35 I have learned that is true, but it has become a game for me to see how far I can push myself and what I’m capable of doing. I’m 35 years old and leaner, stronger, and faster than I was at 18. When I’m 70, I won’t be able to do what I’m doing at 35, but it doesn’t matter because I will still be attempting to do as much as I possibly can for my ability level at that time. THAT is long term progression. Not just improving upon your capabilities for the next 8-12 months, but for the next 20-30 years of your life. Developing habits and progression now will serve you in the future.
To sum up part 2 of this series, it may have been a weight loss or aesthetic goal that brought you into the world of running, but it will be a performance goal and long term vision that will keep you running. Challenge yourself. As I mentioned before, most people don’t know what they are capable of. Beginning a journey of discovery towards breaking through mental limitations will provide the motivation necessary to develop life long habits rather than a two month fling with running. Next week, I will talk about mixing high intensity anaerobic training into your running and how to avoid the specialization that ends up slowing recreational runners down.