Photo courtesy of puuikibeach‘s Flickr account.
When I was in my twenties and living in Brooklyn, a good friend of mine by the name of Sam, a guy who was putting away eight cups of coffee and two packs of cigarettes each day like it was clockwork, told me time and again how he needed to change his habits.
He said he would change, that he would kick the daily smoking and coffee binges, so I encouraged him when I could to make sure he would actually follow through on that infamously over-uttered, under-delivered promise.
Starting out, Sam would take a walk around the neighborhood we were living in at the time (I with my wife and he with his faithful canine companion, Maggie), week by week increasing his walking speed and distance until eventually he was able to work his way up to running the shorter part of the block while walking the longer part. About two months into this campaign, he realized how incompatible smoking was going to be with his newfound hunger for healthy living, so he gradually weaned himself off cigarettes until finally quitting for good. A year later, he raced in and completed a half-marathon, translating that caffeine and nicotine addiction into a running addiction that continues to this day.
Sam’s transformation from a chain smoker to a serial runner took time, determination and a patient dog for a running partner, but the most obvious part of the whole equation to me was (and still is) the fact that running is completely cost-free. After the initial shoe purchase, the doorknob is the only barrier remaining between becoming a healthier individual and thinking about being that type of individual. Taking on equipment-heavy activities or signing up for gym memberships that pump you for money you don’t end up spending come with cost prohibitions that do not exist in running, while the benefits remain the same.
Not only does running come at no cost, but it rewards on so many other levels: socially, mentally and physically. To go for a run is to explore the world, to see the neighborhood you live in and actually engage in the space instead of seeing the same however many feet it takes to start and finish the daily commute from the train to your home. Running is bound not by playing fields, but only by the limits you place on your potential.
A common misconception about running is that it should be a sport of isolation where it’s you against yourself, over and over again until you get to race day. As a matter of fact, running can be a more social sport than any other, as not only are you not face to face with your competition, vying for opposite ends of the field, but you can converse, egg each other on or simply enjoy the presence of a friend beside you as you reach a common goal. Mentally speaking, a social preoccupation will squash any attempt the mind makes to draw out negative ruminations while running. We all have those days where we get out and start thinking almost immediately about stopping and turning around. Instead, partner up to create an interdependence that will prevent this from ever happening.
Not to be neglected is the ‘getting it over with’ mentality that plagues those who have trouble discovering motivation. Either lay your running clothes out the night before or establish a routine surrounding your run; drink a cup of coffee, brush your teeth, and little by little the running portion of your morning routine will be as natural as waking up. Once you’re out the door and on your way, you’ve already conquered the hardest task.
The caveat with getting to your goal, once you’ve conquered the negative aspects of your thought process and the will to move out the door, might end up being your own lofty ambitions for yourself. Increasing your distance by no more than 10 to 15% each week will give you results. However, some people push themselves too hard in the beginning without allowing time for growth and find themselves injured or overworked. Easing into a routine will prevent your body from reacting harshly to an excessively difficult run, and will in the end benefit you more than taking it to the limit every time you go out.
Jeff Galloway, a former Olympian in the 10,000 meter run, developed a run-walk program that teaches a philosophy of patience that many novice runners need before they hit the trails. His realistic approach to training offers the entry-level runner the steps leading up to training, and a comprehensive guide to structuring a successful and manageable program to suit the needs of each runner’s goal. Galloway’s progressive methodology maintains that each runner is unique, and that the marathon should not be viewed as the be-all and end-all to everyone’s vision of him or herself as a runner. Taking running in stride is a point he hammers in throughout all of his advice.
While programs and training guides are nice, the biggest question on people’s minds is: “When am I going to do this?” If you have several jobs, or you’re a young person trying to scrape together a living, you may not have the luxury of free time to put together a meaningful workout. Oftentimes, you may find yourself returning from work, exhausted and dreading any extra bit of physical effort, or excusing yourself due to the heat outside or hungry rumbling of your belly. Mornings, though harder for some, are the ideal time to run. The morning is the ignition for the rest of your day; a poor start might indicate less productivity, while a jumpstart by way of a morning run will power you through the rest of the day like an alternative form of caffeine.
If you are the type who draws motivation from numbers, charts or technology in general, you will be pleased to find a great array of affordable devices on the market that are geared for runners. These devices feature either Google Maps or GPS technology, employ heart rate and run pacing monitors, view the topography of your route, or time and store your intervals so you can measure progress throughout your training.
The greatest motivator of them all, if you can successfully imagine yourself in the future, is thinking about reaching the finish line and saying what my friend Sam was able to say: I couldn’t even run a hundred yards at one point, and now I’m able to do this. It is such an enormous accomplishment that describing it with any kind of understatement would be a disservice to anyone who has started from square one and ended up on the other side of that finish line. When you can achieve something like that, you would be surprised at how easy it is to carry that mentality over into the rest of your life, giving yourself the tools to change the course of your life for good.
Written by: Cal Rifkin