So, yesterday I got a direct message on Twitter from Debra, busy working mom, awesome musician, and dear old friend from high school. She’s looking for advice about starting her training for a four mile race.
I didn’t respond right away, because I didn’t think I could do it in 140 characters over Twitter. Also, I didn’t really know what to say. Part of me thought any advice I would give would be simple and obvious: just start and stick with it. And then I had a flash of myself, about 18 months ago, stalking the CrossFit York website and Facebook page, trying to find the courage to begin and not really knowing where to start. Turns out I do have some strategies for making a drastic lifestyle change, since I did it about a year ago. So here’s my advice about beginnings.
1. Find someone to begin with. For me, having a friend with whom I could share the experience was crucial. I’m not a solitary person, so I needed social interaction to create a more meaningful experience for myself. And by meaningful, what I really mean is disciplined. I tend to have trouble if I’m the only person I’m letting down (because I’m totally OK with letting myself down). But if I have someone ELSE who I’m responsible to, I’m less likely to bail out.
2. Be generous with yourself. Allow yourself to be slow. To walk. To suck. To just get through. Do your best, but be OK if your best — especially as you begin — is alarmingly bad. And I mean this. Again, when I started CrossFit, I could do NOTHING. I could not even do one good push-up. All my workouts were slow, ugly, and didn’t even look like what the other crossfitters were doing. So if you’re training for a run, but you have to begin by walking 3/4 of the time, allow yourself this.
3. Test your limits. So, while you allow yourself to suck, don’t settle for it. What I mean by that is: if you walked 3/4 of the distance the last time you ran, put it in your head that you’ll try to only walk 2/3 the next time. And only 1/2 the distance the next. Keep it in your head that as you continue to train, YOU WILL GET BETTER (you won’t be able to help it!!). And as you get better, allow yourself to expect a little bit more out of your body.
4. Run when you don’t feel like it. Here’s maybe the most difficult challenge: some (many, or most, YMMV) days, especially once the honeymoon of excitement is over, you will not feel like running. Or you will have a lot of other stuff to do that makes it seem like you don’t have time to go. You’ll find excuses: I haven’t spent any time with my wife today. I haven’t seen my kid. I’m tired. I have to make dinner. I must play with the dog. I must brush the cat. I need to detail my car. I really should power wash my house. Etc. BUT HERE’S THE THING: you don’t have time NOT to run (or exercise). The 40 minutes you spend running/moving means MORE TIME LATER. You dig? And more valuable, quality time later. And honestly, it means better time now. Being fitter means being happier. I have no data to prove this except my own anecdotal evidence, but it makes sense. Ask my family: they’d much rather me spend an hour away from them so that the rest of the time I’m around I’m pleasant. So find a way to make yourself go. Put your shoes on and tell yourself, “I’m just going down the street and back.” And then once you get out there, tell yourself, “I’ll go over a few more blocks and then turn around.” And then it will be, “Well, shit. I’ve got two bras on, why waste the effort of putting them on with a few crummy blocks? I’ll just keep going.”
5. When this race in September is over, find another one to train for. Goals are incredibly important for motivation. Find another race — a different one. Try to go a little longer, or maybe try to beat your last time. Or maybe find another thing entirely to do (take up CrossFit. *ahem*). Don’t get to the race and be done. Allow yourself to make serious athletic training part of your day. (Serious athletes rest! So it doesn’t have to be every day!). Let it be amazing. Let it change your life.
6. Watch what you eat. I don’t mean that you must count calories, or severely restrict food groups, or do anything significantly different. However, what I do mean is that running makes you hungry. Don’t use your new found running habit as an excuse to eat your cabinets clean. Don’t mentally calculate the number of calories you burned during your run this morning, and then decide that you “deserve” to eat that many calories in doughnuts at 3 in the afternoon (I’m sooo guilty of this; I looove me some doughnuts). Just continue to eat normally — which may be a little bit of a challenge as your body adjusts. But it will.
So, what’d I miss? Feel free to post advice for my lovely Debra in the comments. 🙂