A new year, a new you? A promise to go to the gym every day, to eat clean and be awesome? Great! But are you over committing yourself with your resolutions? If these are new ways of living for you then you probably are and sadly, it’s these great intentions that often end in failure. Smart goals are those achievable, they make us feel proud and inspire us to do more. So how can you be sure that you’re setting the right tone for your new health and fitness regime in 2015? Let me share my ideas with you about this in the context of running.
1) Set yourself achievable goals
Ironically, running is not a race. We are all unique individuals that have different strengths and weaknesses and different abilities. It’s important to measure your training in one way and test in another and find a suitable time to fit your running in.
Measuring your training
I measure my training by setting myself targets of running for a period of time rather than distance. This allows me to run freely and let my body show me what I’m capable of at my own natural pace. If you’re just starting out you may find that 15 minutes jogging or running straight is tough and that’s okay. If you need to run a little and walk a little then do it. Then each time you come back to that same goal you’ll find you will run a bit more, until eventually you can do so without even thinking. Keep a log of all your runs too whether it’s using an app like RunKeeper, a spreadsheet or a notebook, it’s always good to reflect on your progress.
Testing my ability
To test my training I’ve joined the ParkRun community. ParkRuns are locally organised 5km runs which are professionally timed. Each run is supported by local volunteers who are on hand to cheer you on and give you the extra boost of encouragement you need to go that extra mile and push yourself a little bit harder. Plus, I’ve found that through joining a community of runners of all levels I don’t feel the pressure of competing in a ‘race’.
Finding time to run
Each of us have different times of day that we find are optimum for a run. I tend to find mine times vary depending on the day of the week. If it’s a week day I now use my commute home to run part or all of the way. This also helps me save time in the evenings. On the weekends I try to get up early and run so it’s out-of-the-way for the rest of the day and I can feel good about myself, awake and energised.
2) Always finish your training on a high
When you’re out on the road getting your mileage in you’ll find you have good days, bad days and better days. Sometimes you feel like you’re flying without trying and others your legs are like lead, your breathless and sweaty and you just want to home and curl up in bed. Before I tell you the next bit I must make it clear that I’m not a medical professional but I do know from experience that more often than not my body knows me better than my mind.
On the days that your runs are steady and you’re feeling good I’d strongly encourage you to run a few minutes or kilometres more than planned and reveal in the fact that you surpasses your goal for the day. It feels amazing, even when you only planned to go out for a 15 minute jog or a 5km run.
Not so good days
If you’re having a day where you really don’t feel up to running there are two things to remember:
Firstly, if you’ve just got out of bed and you’re lacking the motivation move around at home, get something light to eat and drink. Stretch, put on your gym clothes and if you still feel like you’re about to fall over then maybe today is not a good day to get out. If you feel yourself slowly waking up and energised however, get out and show me what you’ve got, even if it’s a baby run.
Secondly, if you’re out and on the road already and starting to suffer there are a few things for you to do before you call it a day. Slow your pace a little and try to breathe steadily, spot something on the horizon like a traffic light, a park or a building and tell yourself you need to reach that point. If you can get there and you feel no worse, pick a new point and continue this routine. Quite often what’s making us feel weaker is our mind telling us that we’re not up to it or we’re not really ‘feeling it’ today. To overcome this we need distraction. I have been known to give myself silly games such as naming as many animals I can with the letter B, trying to work out my bills in my head – the idea being that if I find something challenging in my head it keeps me from thinking about the fact that I should stop running.
There are times however when it’s okay to stay in bed cut your run short or stop in your tracks to take a breath and walk home. Why? Because we should try as best as we can to finish our training on a high so our self belief and confidence don’t get knocked and we stay motivated and driven. This brings me nicely on to my next item: Rest!
3) Rest is part of your training regime and burnout sucks
“But I have to” are four words that show you’re doing something you probably resent and you’re on track, if you repeat these words, to burning yourself out physically and mentally. On the whole, you know your own body, what it’s capable of and how far you can push yourself without falling down. Yes, it’s fair to say that we all need to push ourselves to get to the next level but we need to think of it more of taking the stairs than the elevator.
Training everyday is great if you have the energy and ability to do so but you always need to make time to rest too. More often than not we forget that we’re working full-time jobs, looking after kids, running back and forth to the shops or commuting for example. These are all things that keep us fit and active on top of our training regimes.
Earlier this year I was working and training pretty hard, traveling up and down the country to take part in races, running side projects that saw me sleeping a lot less than normal and then it happened… I hit a wall, pretty hard. Matching PBs started to seem impossible, my energy levels were super low and my confidence dropped significantly when it came to my running ability. After a slow and steady Great North Run, a nasty cough and doctors orders, I decided not to take part in the Great South Run – although my whole family were doing it for the first tim – and take a few weeks out of training altogether. It was the best thing I could have done as I smashed three PBs in just three weeks of training once I got back out on the road.
What I’m saying here is that training and life is all about balance. Only you will know what that right balance is and you’ll have to be the one to determine how often you work out, how much you need to rest and, one thing I’ve failed to mention yet which is also vital to your training, how well you eat.
4) Get involved in the social media running community
My final piece of advice to keep you on track is to get involved in communities not only in person at ParkRuns but also online. I’m part of three different kinds of communities at present which I find incredibly helpful, motivating and inspirational.
A Facebook group with 13,000 members that has been going for about 3 years now, created by the lovely Marc Dobson. It’s purpose is to unite runners from all over the world of all ages and abilities to share their successes, failures, burning questions and news. Not only do group members actively interact and offer advice and support to each other but they regularly arrange to meet in person at running events around the world. If you’re a runner of any level I highly recommend you join.
I track all my runs with the NikePlus app. I’ve tried lots of others but what I love about this app is that I can request ‘Cheers in my ears’ from anyone who likes my run on Facebook when I’m out and about. I can also track my pace, my progress and see how my friends and family are doing too. The community is two-fold here. The first is within the app where you can set challenges with people you are connected to and chat about your progress. The second is via Instagram and Twitter. On Instagram, I share a photo at the end of each run with the hashtag #NikePlus and I’m acknowledged by runners around the world with a ❤ or a ‘Good job’ type comment. It’s particularly rewarding when you’ve had a good run or encouraging if you’ve had an okay kinda day. I also find that the @NikeUK Twitter team are great at spotting my tweets when I’ve been out for a run and often offer their congrats and kind words of support.
The #WinterDuel is something I’ve blogged about a few times in my recent posts. What’s great about this is that it invites you to run virtually with a friend or user of the app, so you’re not on your own. It also ranks you on its leaderboard for the challenge in distance and not time so if you’re a beginner who does need to run and walk now and then, you’re not penalised at all.
So what are you waiting for?
Start writing or rewriting those fitness goals for the weeks ahead, not the whole year! Then listen to your body, tell your mind to ‘Shh!’ and work out how to get the right balance for you. That’s you the individual. Not you the person you must be because you read it somewhere or someone told you that you’re not good enough. Deal? Go get ’em!