My first run of the year was not unlike many runs that you – if you leave the house – will experience in your life.
Why? Because it nearly didn’t happen.
Knowing how good exercise makes me feel doesn’t stop me sabotaging my own good intentions.
It doesn’t stop the constant weather app checks. Are the clouds getting gloomier? It doesn’t stop the agonising decision of what to wear. Am I in too many layers? Cold enough for gloves? It doesn’t stop the general faffing. Is my watch/phone/iPod charged? And, it certainly doesn’t speed up the pre-exercise fuelling. Have I had enough water? Have I left a long enough gap after eating?
I’m constantly fighting the voice in my head saying, ‘you’ll have way more energy tomorrow’.
And I’ve been doing this for years.
So how do you get started and form a healthy habit when you haven’t yet experienced the extra spring in your step that comes when you shut that door behind you, get out there and give it a go.
How? By taking a few small steps…
- Make a plan: Start each week by working out what is possible. Then block it out. There’s nothing worse than thinking you can fit in a 30-minute jog when you’re also supposed to be seeing the dentist, reading something for work and making lunch. Make it realistic and it’s more likely to happen, because you don’t have a built-in excuse.
- Celebrate your kit: This is not permission to run towards the nearest sports shop. This is permission to dig out the clothes that give you a reason to smile. If you actually want to wear exercise clothes, it’ll give you one more reason to get started.
- Start small: If your training ground is currently the living room, it’s best not to make your first attempt a hill run or a 10k, otherwise you’ll feel defeated before you’ve even got started. While it feels amazing to unleash your inner Mo Farah, it is important to remember you aren’t a top athlete (and if you are, this post isn’t going to do much for you). Set achievable milestones and you’ll surprise yourself with just how quickly you rack up the miles. And, whatever you do, don’t get excited and double your mileage. Your body will, at best, not thank you or, at worst, remind you who is really in control (I learned the hard way).
- Choose your path: Unless you’re committed to the treadmill (in which case your route is limited), pick a route that excites you, that gives you chance to savour the changing seasons and explore new details in your local area. I often run out of my way to hit to Thames path because I love the feeling that comes with being near water. Build in landmark moments along the way and exercise becomes sightseeing.
- Break it down: Whatever your distance, don’t rush to thinking about the home straight before you’ve even located your keys. I may have run 26.2 miles for my wedding, but I’ve never run a marathon. Just four 10ks (and an extra bit that’s not to be underestimated when your legs have checked out). Count lamp posts, head for that next tree. Making it home is a bonus.
- Find a friend: Knowing others are out exercising always keeps me going. My newly-formed #Milesbetter2018 group on Facebook (and Strava) is like carrying a group of virtual cheerleaders in my pocket. We’re all at different levels, nervous about moving forward. But, we all recognise we are stronger together. Join us – or build your own friendly community to help you stay on track. Public accountability is a wonderful thing.
- Reap those rewards: I should be saying here that exercise is reward enough. No chance! If incentives get those energy levels going, then use them. I once ran 30k just to get a Pret love bar. I appreciate this is extreme (the barista thought so), but it certainly did the trick, even if it did undo the hard work.
- Rest and be thankful: a rest is only a rest if you’ve done something to earn it (try a bath after a rainy day and you’ll see what I mean). We all need a chance to recover. But not too many chances. The key is habit formation. Then you won’t need to fight the voice in your head that says your time would be better spent eating jelly babies while cooking dinner.
The hardest part of your exercise journey won’t be making your first finish line. It will be taking the decision to just start.
I did make it out of my January 1st run. I did feel better. I took a photo of the view I wouldn’t have seen from the sofa. I took time to thank my legs for moving forward and my lungs for keeping up. And, I took a detour on my way home to the path where it all began.
When I first stepped onto that path, I couldn’t run the 109 steps it takes to get to the end. So I walked. Then I walk/jogged. Then I jogged/ran. Then I ran. Then I ran off the path to find a new route and new milestones.
Now, that path is my cool down at the end of a six-mile run – miles that are part of the 100+ miles I’ve done (cycling and running) in a fortnight.
That path is about progress. It reminds me how far I’ve come. And, when I need a boost, I return to it to remind myself how far I can go if I just keep moving.
I hope you find your path this year and, in so doing, find a little bit of yourself along the way.
Now, time to get going…