There are numerous reasons why someone would choose to be more active. For some it is to lose some weight. Others may have friends who are into a sport like running and they’d like to give it a try. Whatever your reason for getting started, I want to talk about ways to keep at it and keep improving.
As a kid, I loved to run. For me, it was all about the competition. During gym class when we had to run outdoors, I would try to be the fastest. I didn’t often succeed, but I sure tried hard. This continued until high school where my circle of friends informed me that athletics weren’t very cool. If I wanted to be cool, I should smoke cigarettes and drive a cool car, so I did. I thought I was the Fonz or James Dean or something. I even had the black leather jacket. Once school was done and I entered the working world, I worked in the restaurant industry. Long hours, lots of cigarettes and now the addition of rich food and world-class wine. For a few years, I enjoyed what I thought was the good life.
It was during this time that I began to notice more of my friends and relatives developing heart disease, diabetes and a host of other ailments, many caused by “the good life”. It became very clear to me that if I didn’t change my lifestyle, I would be heading down this same path. So about fifteen years ago, I started making changes. I cut back on the rich food and alcohol. I stopped smoking. I started running.
Have I faithfully exercised every week since then? No. Have I eaten perfect meals every day? Of course not, but what I’ve managed to do through the advice of others and a lot of trial and error is gain a balanced lifestyle.
So what is a balanced lifestyle? Well it starts with a step in the right direction. You all have taken that step by signing up to train for a goal event. For that, you all deserve credit. What comes next is crucial in achieving balance.
It starts with something I call A.S.A.P. Appointments, Small Steps, Appreciation and People.
Appointments – Some people employ a personal trainer or coach, because they know the trainer is expecting them to show up on certain days at certain times. The trainer designs an appropriate program for them, but beyond that, they know someone is checking up on them. My wife, when she first began her running career, hired a personal trainer. She admits to being a naturally lazy person when it comes to exercise. So she hired a personal trainer and met with him twice a week. She knew he would expect her to be there and to have done her homework. In time, she was into a routine and didn’t feel she needed a trainer. She had developed new habits that she was able to stick with. You could accomplish a similar effect by promising to meet a friend or co-worker for a run on a certain day every week. They are expecting you and you are expecting them. That’s an appointment worth making.
Small steps – Once I tried abruptly switching to nothing but undressed chicken breast, unbuttered vegetables and brown rice. I wanted to eat perfect meals. It lasted about three days. Then I tried an approach that has actually worked. I took small steps with my diet. I printed a copy of the food guide for Canada. I started with eating a couple pieces of fruit a day. Once I was used to that, I increased a serving of something I should be eating and decreased something I shouldn’t be eating. I changed slowly over a few weeks. I allow myself occasional treats. I enjoy food and I try to eat well eighty percent of the time. I’m still making minor modifications all the time, but the bottom line is, I’m balancing my food lifestyle, not dieting. The same goes for how far and how fast you run. I lined up for my first Ironman triathlon in 2002 having trained appropriately and feeling ready for the distance. For those who don’t know, Ironman is a 4-kilometer swim, followed by a 180-kilometer bike and then a full marathon. I met someone before the race who had never done an Ironman. He hadn’t even done a triathlon before. He said he hadn’t trained all that much, but he was signed up and was going to “give it a shot”. I only hope he actually knew how to swim. He would be a good example of too large a leap. So remember, small steps.
Appreciation – Running is an enjoyable thing to do if you let yourself enjoy it. Several years ago, a friend of mine, worried that I was working too hard, told me I should “stop and smell the coffee”. I think she meant roses, but I actually like coffee too so what the heck. Her point is a good one. We live in a beautiful city with countless scenic running routes. Enjoy them all. Plan coffee shop runs with your friends where you end up at a café for a post-run treat. Stop in the middle of a run to look at the scenery. We always seem to stop only when we are near a bathroom. Next time, stop in the middle of the Lion’s Gate Bridge for two minutes (don’t do this in your car). It’s a gorgeous view. Appreciate it.
People – Surround yourself with people of like mind. Is there someone at work who also runs? Seek them out and maybe you two can run together. Socialize with people who are also athletes. Encourage your family to stay fit. Join a running club. Find out about what group runs your local running store offers. These are all ways to surround yourself with people who will encourage you and inspire you to stick with a healthy lifestyle. These same people will congratulate you and share in your joy as you accomplish all your fitness goals.
So live a balanced lifestyle. You need to do this ASAP.