Why Wednesdays? – Why the Workout ‘Buddy System’ Isn’t For Everyone (And That’s Ok!)

A Note About This Feature:  Why Wednesdays is a Move Eat Create weekly feature determined to turn the mid-week doldrums upside down and celebrate things I love to do and blog about.  I have completed series on the topics of running, creativity, and food.  Now, I’m being a bit random and discussing whatever strikes me at the time!

 

I see a lot and I mean A LOT of articles and blog posts written about workout buddies.  A general theme present in these writings is the idea that working out with someone will keep you motivated, accountable, and provide an overall more positive fitness (and weight loss) experience.  Some of these articles cite studies that seem to support their claims.  Others rely on personal experience.  Through and through, though, there seems to be a prevalent belief that having a workout buddy is the optimal way to go.  Rarely do you see an article that argues the opposite.  I’ve looked.  I haven’t seen anything that says “Do it alone!  You’ll get better results!  You’ll be happier and more motivated!  Go at it solo!”

So I’m writing one.Me at start - sharpened a bit

Here’s the deal.  I have no doubt that training partners work wonders for some people.  I’m sure they really do provide a sense of accountability, fun, and motivation for some people.  But, it’s not for everyone.  It’s not for me.

When I set out to drop some excess weight, develop my fitness level, and eventually become a runner, I knew that the only way I was going to be successful was to do it alone.  In the past, when I had made similar attempts, I told people about them.  I followed the advice given in articles that in order to be accountable, I needed to announce my intentions to others.  The idea is that others could encourage me and help me follow through.  But, what really happened, was that I became so conscious of the expectations that others then had of me that I failed completely.  My goals turned into their goals in my head.  Even if they weren’t applying pressure to me, I applied it for them.  If I ate a big piece of cake, I thought, “Oh god, [insert name here] would be so disappointed in me right now.”  If I skipped a workout, I would feel embarrassed and like I had let someone down.  Eventually, I would crack from the pressure and just give it all up, because the idea of continuing to break the commitments that I made to others, to publicly fail at my goals was too much for me.  Essentially, what should have been a personal journey and process turned into anything but personal.

I truly believe that a key factor in making sustainable, permanent changes in my life over the last two years has been to keep quiet about it.  Two years ago (this month marks two years since I began), I set out on some simple goals.  First, I would start to eat healthier.  I would learn more about nutrition and would incorporate changes into my daily diet.  I would cook more.  I would eat less junk.  Then, after a bit, I would start to be more active.  Some time dedicated to walking and short fitness videos has turned into me now training for my first marathon, strength training a few hours a week, and being in the best shape of my life.  And, I did it quietly.

I told only two people about what I was going to do.  I told my partner and our roommate.  They had to know, because quite frankly, there wasn’t any way around it.  I live with them, so they would see what I was doing.  But, other than them, I didn’t tell a soul.  I just started doing.  What this meant was that my goals were solely my own.  No one else was telling me what I should do, shouldn’t do, or what they did that worked/didn’t work.  My successes were solely were my own – allowing me to truly feel accomplished and own the progress I was making.  And, my failures were my own, too.  When I ‘messed up’, it was my choice and my mess to clean up.  I didn’t let anyone else down, other than myself.  That was liberating.

Me running 1 - cropped a bit

Of course, over time other people saw changes and asked about them.  And, I would answer.  I didn’t lie or cover things up, but I answered questions simply and didn’t engage in extended dialogue about it all.  Now, two years later, I can talk about it all more openly because my entire way of living has truly changed and the things I’m doing now are part of my daily life, as ingrained in my routine as sleep and going to work each day.  But, in the beginning, being able to keep it to myself was crucial in my success.

Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert by nature.  Maybe it’s because I’m always thinking about how to accommodate the needs of others over my own.  Maybe it’s because I’m sensitive to critiques after years of enduring them.  I don’t know exactly why it was so crucial for me to make lifestyle changes privately, but it was, and I’ve got to figure that if it was for me, it may be for others, too.  So, while the buddy system certainly has its benefits for many people, it’s not the answer for everyone.  I suppose that my underlying point here is that what works for one, doesn’t work for all, and to have the courage to do things your way (even if it’s not the popular way) can make all the difference in the world.

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Some Previous Why Wednesday Posts:

Why Libraries Are Worth Saving

Why I Run – Instant Gratification and Immediate Success

Why I Run – For My Health, Silly!

Why I Eat . . . Series Recap

Why Creativity Counts – It Connects Us

Why Creativity Counts – Self-Sufficieny

Newport Marathon Training Update: This Is Starting To Get Real, You All!

Being that today marks week 6 of training for my first marathon in Newport, I figured it was about time to check in about how it was going.

Newport symbol

First, I will say: so far, so good.

Thus far, I haven’t done anything that I haven’t done before, so to speak.  Honestly, I’ve been doing a bit less than I’ve done before.  My training plan (as training plans are keen to do) builds up over time, so my first few weeks have been relatively easy.  I’ve been consistent with my schedule and laying the groundwork to start increasing mileage.  I’m happy to say that I’m feeling strong so far.  My body is feeling healthy; I’m running what I should be and I’m fitting in some cross-training for overall balance.

Second, I will say: I think I’m about to turn a (exciting, but sort of nerve-inducing) corner.

In the coming weeks, I will surely test my endurance, time commitment, and mental resolve.  This current week is still ‘easy’, but things will start to steadily build from there.  My plan calls for me to start increasing my weeknight running mileage, as well as to build up my long run up on Saturdays.  In a month’s time, I will be pushing myself close to setting new distance personal records for myself.  I’m excited to make this progress, but, of course, my mind is always chirping at me with some self-doubt, too.

One of my biggest concerns is simply the time factor.  I know that I will make the time to log the miles that I need, but being a person with a tightly packed schedule, it does give me a bit of stress thinking of what I will have to cut back on or forego in order to make it happen.

But I will.

I will make it happen (and I’m sure I’ll tell you how it goes).

The reality of my marathon-mission set in this weekend as I took two more steps forward.  I finally booked my hotel room for the overnight stay and I registered for a half-marathon as part of my training.  My plan actually recommends that I run a half-marathon right around the mid-point of my plan, so I set out to see if there is a local one happening that weekend . . . and there is!  I’m now registered for the Hop Hop Half on March 24th!

hop-hop-half-logo-2013

So, there you have it.  Marathon training is fully underway, accommodations are arranged, and I’ve got a new race to complete in three weeks!

I know many others are also ramping up your training as spring heads our way.  How’s it going for you?

Book Review: The Longest Race by Ed Ayers (Psst . . . It’s A Must Read!)

Between books, blogs, magazines, and other miscellaneous articles and essays, I do a lot of reading.  Most of what I read is enjoyable, informative, and worthwhile.  Every so often, though, I am fortunate enough to pick up exactly the right thing at precisely the right time and I read something that just truly resonates with me – something that I know has a meaningful and personal lesson to teach me.  Such was the case with The Longest Race by Ed Ayers.

The Longest Race - Own Photo 2To say that I’ve been on a bit of a personal journey over the last year or two of my life is putting it somewhat mildly (though, aren’t we all in one way or another?).  So much of what I’ve been pondering, exploring, and learning was reflected back at me in Ayers’ book and so many of the values that he holds and articulates in his writing echo my own.  Ayers writes with a profound respect for the sport of running, humankind, animalkind, and the planet as a whole and it is a beautiful thing to read.

The story he tells is of his experience at the 2001 JFK 50-mile ultra-marathon, and this story alone makes for a wonderful read.  As a runner myself (though not an ultra-runner by a long shot), I was drawn in by the tale of endurance.  I certainly learned a bit about running from Ayers and will be applying my new education to my own training.  But, to say that this is a book that is solely about running would be to ignore many of the larger themes in the book.

The Longest Race offers us a glimpse into Ayers’ mind and it is a brilliant place to explore.  His grasp of history, science, and the human condition is evident as he reflects on the past, as it is so boldly laid out before him on the JFK course, as well as on the future, as he considers deeply the connections between people, animals, the environment, and the sustainability of all three.  Ayers also touches here and there on topics such as patience, anxiety, nutrition, and relationships both within the running community and outside of it.

This is an extraordinary tale that I will be reading again.  There were several moments in the book where I was struck by a certain importance of what I was reading to my own current place in life.  I have more to learn from Ayers’ story and I would be willing to make a bet that others do too.

Let’s Talk About Hills, Shall We?: 6 Tips For Effective Hill Running

Hills.

Oh, hills.

photo credit: OBScurePIXels.com via photopin cc

photo credit: OBScurePIXels.com via photopin cc

How do you feel when you read or hear that word?  If you’re a runner you may have a strong reaction.  Do you love them?  Hate them?  A little bit of both?

Plenty of runners do hill repeats.  I’m not one of them yet.  I say yet, because I’m not against trying them and I likely will before too long. But for now, I’ve ignored that particular brand of glorious torture.

Now, this is not to say that I don’t run hills at all.  My neighborhood and running territory is fairly hilly.  Regardless of which direction I head out in, I am definitely running up and down at least one hill, often more, so while repeats aren’t in my current regimen, I am no stranger to inclines and declines.

As many runners may tell you, hills are an important part of running.  Not only can they provide an interesting twist on a standard run, but they provide unique and different ways to work specific muscle groups.  Also, being an effective hill runner can make all the difference in a race.  The ability to conquer hills most definitely adds to a competitive edge.

photo credit: Sam Ilić via photopin cc

photo credit: Sam Ilić via photopin cc

There are a couple of particular notes about hill running that I’d like to share based on my experience.  First, let’s talk about going uphill.  Often, I dislike going uphill.  But, I do appreciate it.  I appreciate what it does for my fitness level and my overall running performance.  I have learned a few simple tips that have helped me increase my speed and endurance as I head uphill that I include here.

Uphill Tips That Work For Me:

1)      Keep your head slightly tilted upward. 

I don’t mean to encourage anyone to crane or strain your neck here, but it can be tempting to look down and hunch over a bit when going up.  I had it pointed out to me in a helpful running book that a slight tilt in the chin/head will help keep breathing paths open while your lungs work a bit harder on the incline.  I tried it and noticed an immediate difference in my breathing.

2)      Strength train your UPPER body

I spend a decent amount of time strength training (more posts on this to come in the future).  For a while, I thought that lower body strength would help me up hills (which, is true), but I didn’t consider how much upper body strength would help, too.  I did work on my upper body because I wanted a toned, strong all over effect, but it was separate in my mind from having anything to do with my running.  Then, one day while going up a particularly steep hill, I noticed just how much the power in my arms and upper body, pumping and moving, was propelling me upward and onward.  I tuned in to my arms and the way the strength in my back and shoulders was urging my legs forward and I have never underestimated the power of strong arms, back and shoulders again.

3)      Shorten your stride

I try to be conscious most of the time about not taking strides that are too long to begin with, but it is especially important to me uphill.  Shorter strides equal quicker, less impactful, less strenuous movement up those hills, allowing me to feel less fatigued at the top and shave seconds off my time getting there.

For as much as I don’t enjoy going uphill, I so very much love going downhill.  I know that downhill running can be hard on the body, but I love it regardless.  It’s fun.  REALLY fun.  The feeling I get when I’m striding downwards, like I’m floating across the pavement is one of the greatest feelings I know.  It’s joyous and incredibly freeing to me.  Here are some ways in which I try to enjoy this wonderful feeling, while still being effective and efficient along the way.

Downhill Tips That Work For Me:

1)      Be mindful of your landing. 

When you’re really cruising downhill, it can be hard on your legs.  Running puts plenty of impact on your knees, feet, and ankles as is, but the extra impact when running downhill can really do a number on some folks.  Try to tune in to how your feet are striking the ground as you descend.  A quick step and pick-up, letting the balls of your feet (as lightly as possible) make contact and rapidly kick back up again will help minimize impact and make for quick work of those downhill miles.

2)      Lean into it – but don’t overdo it

You’re running at an angle, so it makes sense to have your body at an angle, too, but you want to be careful not to lean too far forward.  A slight lean has helped me work with gravity to move quickly and efficiently, but maintaining control is important, as well.  The last thing you want is to feel like you are careening (not striding) down the hill.  So, you may be going fast and enjoying the speed, but don’t forget about body alignment.

3)      Strengthen your core

A strong core is a great asset for runners for a variety of reasons and an important one has to do with #2, listed right above.  Being able to control your body when gravity is pulling it down is vital in preventing falls, injuries, and running chaos.  A well developed abdominal core provides me with the strength to keep my body upright when the forces of nature urge it to topple forward.  Planks, crunches, standing abdominal twists, supermans, all of those types of moves and more are valuable tools for you in this regard.

If you have key running tips for hills, please feel free to share them in the comments below.  Or, you know, just feel free to moan about or rejoice in the wonders of hill running!

In Regards to Selecting A Marathon Training Plan . . .

. . . frankly, it’s a bit overwhelming.  I mentioned previously that I committed to running my first marathon.  So once that decision was made, I logically moved on to the next step in the process, which is to plan my training for said marathon.

Now, for those of you have trained for your first marathon (or maybe you are beginning to now), you may have noticed that training plans abound.  They are not difficult to find.  Plenty of running coaches and successful marathoners have published their ideas about how one should train for running the infamous 26.2 miles.  So, it can be a bit overwhelming to find the one that’s right for you.  Complicating the matter for me was that while dozens of marathon training plans exist, they actually tend to exist on opposing ends of the fitness spectrum, leaving many folks sort of in the middle, like myself, feeling like they don’t quite fit.

Training Log 2

What I mean, you see, is that most marathon training plans I found are either:

A)    For complete novices, new runners, with little to no base weekly mileage to start; or,

B)    For runners who have completed a marathon or two and are looking to improve on their overall speed and performance (i.e. ‘Run Your Best Time Ever!’ plans or ‘Race Your BQ!’ plans – BQ, by the way, is runner’s lingo for completing a marathon with a time that will qualify you for the legendary Boston Marathon).

I don’t really quite fit into either of these categories.

Story of my life.

This will be my first marathon – so am I a novice?  But, wait, I’ve been running consistently for over a year now, so I’m not brand new to the sport.  I’ve got a base weekly mileage of approximately 30 per week, which places me above what most ‘beginning’ training plans say a ‘beginner’ usually has, but I’ve not looking to run ‘my best time ever!’ – just to finish a marathon the first time around.  I’ll worry about speed later.

Beginner training plans often start out with weekly mileage somewhere in the low 20’s, which would be a significant cut back from what I’m used to doing now.  Long runs start at about 6-8 miles, when currently I run long at a minimum of around 13 miles.  Yet, looking at the more advanced plans, I’d be getting up to 50 miles a week, with multiple runs at 20 or more miles, something I’ve never done and am told as a first-timer, isn’t smart to do.

Nothing quite fit.

Grr.

MarathonGuide4_mdIn the end, I sought some advice on the Runner’s World forums and decided to go with a trusted expert – good ole’ Hal Higdon.  Hal, at least, has a novice 1 and a novice 2 training plan, plus intermediate 1 and intermediate 2, thus offering a bit more variety.  As a first-timer, I’ve based my plan on the novice 2, but am taking the advice of my fellow runners and letting myself be open to running my long runs a mile or two longer than the plan initially begins with, so as to not cut too far back on my current base.

It feels good to have made a decision and have a schedule laid out before me (I am a planner at heart).  Being that the plan is 18-weeks long, I officially begin this coming Monday and, in response to feeling a bit run down lately, have decided to make this week an easy, scaled back run week to give my body a chance to rest up for what’s to come.

If anyone else is currently marathon training and/or you’ve used Hal’s plans, please feel free to share your thoughts – I’d love to hear them!

Bring it, Newport! (Or, Finally Committing to My First Marathon)

I’ve done it!  I have finally made a decision about my first marathon.  Newport it will be!

newport

I am not a good decision maker.  I agonize.  I research and I plan and I debate with myself until I’m exhausted.  Just when I think I’ve made a decision, I second guess myself and begin to pick it apart.  Deciding on which marathon to select as my first was no different.

There are so many factors to consider and I just wanted to make sure my decision was a good one.  The right one.  The best one possible.

No pressure or anything.

In the end, it came down to two primary factors:

  1. Location – I didn’t want to travel too far.  Newport is only a couple hours by car.  I can easily travel there the day before the race and have plenty of time to rest after arriving.
  1. Timing – The idea of running the local Portland Marathon as my first was very tempting, but I just didn’t want to wait until October.  While I still have training to do, I really don’t think I need quite that much time to prepare and the extra wait felt a bit painful to think about.

The Newport Marathon is a smaller event, capping out at 900 runners, but after much research I have found it to be generally well-reviewed by other runners.  It has a pattern of being well-organized and is a mostly flat course.  I think June will be ideal as far as weather is concerned and it’s not so small that I’ll feel too lonely (I hope).

So, with just a bit under 5 months to go, the training plan is being finalized so I that I can stay focused through the rest of winter and spring.  Having run a personal distance PR of 17.5 miles last weekend, I’m feeling good about  being ready come June 1st.

If any of you seasoned marathoners out there have any tips or advice, I gladly welcome them.  I am both incredibly excited and somewhat terrified all at once – but that’s what conquering new personal challenges is all about, right?

7 Resources for New Runners – To Learn, Connect and Be Inspired

Something very strange (and very exciting) happened recently.  I was contacted, twice on the same day, by two different people – asking me for advice/recommendations on where to find good information about starting to run.

You may wonder why this is strange.  Perhaps it isn’t strange to many of you, but to me, it felt . . . odd.  People are asking me for resources?  People want my input??

I still sometimes have a difficult time thinking of myself as someone that others would come to for such information, but I am also rational enough to know that I have learned and experienced so much over the last year+ that I can proudly share what I know with new runners.  But, of course, I am a resource only because I’ve sought out and learned so much valuable information from others who have been doing this running thing a lot longer than me.

In that vain, I wanted to share some resources that I have found to be invaluable in my journey to becoming a more experienced runner.  Anyone can start running without accessing any of these resources at all – that’s one of the wonderful things about the activity – but if you’re looking to become a more efficient or effective runner, it can help to do some reading and research.  If you want to run faster, farther, longer, or safer, for instance, it’s beneficial to draw upon the bounty of information that is out there.

I hope others who may be thinking about taking up this great activity, as well as those who have already done so, will find these resources useful and will put to good use the tips, encouragement, and motivation to continue hitting the pavement (or the track or the trails or whatever)!  Please know, that this is not an exhaustive list.  I have accessed many, many books, articles, websites and other resources over the last year or so.  These are, in my opinion, just some of the best places to start!

For Useful Information, Understanding the Basics, & Tips on Training & Recovery:

1.      The Runner’s Handbook: The Bestselling Fitness Guide for Beginning to Intermediate Runners by Bob Glover  runners handbook

This book is a gem.  Some of the information may seem very simple, but it’s fantastic for building a foundation of knowledge about running basics.  From gear to injury prevention to various training methods, this book will answer loads of questions – including some you didn’t even know you had.  It’s been around for decades for a reason.

2.      Runner’s World

Both the magazine and the website are filled with useful information.  Whether I have a very specific question I need answered or just want to browse interesting stories and helpful tips, I head here first.  I used their SmartCoach Training Tool to guide my training for my first half-marathon and I always get excited when a new issue arrives in my mailbox.  They also pay special attention to include specific features (print and online) for beginner runners.  Have a question that you feel dumb for asking, because you think you should know it (you shouldn’t feel dumb, by the way, but I can relate)?  Go to Runner’s World.  You’ll find the answer.

3.      No Meat Athlete

I’m a vegetarian.  Maybe you’re not.  I bet that even if you’re not, you can still get benefits from this website.  Matt Frazier, the creator of this site (and the podcast, which is also worth listening to) knows his stuff.  He provides training plans, tips, advice, recipes and stories for runners at all levels and he does so in a very accessible, engaging way.  I was thrilled when I found this website and I subscribe to the RSS feed so that I get all updates.  I’ve also recently purchased the Marathon Road Map as a guide in my continued training.  One of the things that I think I like most about Frazier and his site is that he conveys such a genuine love of running and respect for all runners – at all levels, all ages, all types.

4.      Strength Running

Jason Fitzgerald is another regular runner guy who really knows what he’s doing.  Or at least he seems to from his website, which I read regularly.  He’s a USATF-certified running coach and he provides his coaching expertise privately (for a fee) and more generally (for free on the site).  Check it out  for great training tips and information on how to stay injury free (and, we all want that, right?).

5.      Anatomy for Runners: Unlocking Your Athletic Potential Health, Speed, and Injury Prevention  by Jay Dicharry

On average, you may not pay much attention to anatomy or be all that intrigued by science.  I know that I’m generally not, except when it comes to my health and fitness.  Then, my ears perk up a bit.  This book is written for people like me.  It provides clear, relevant information about my anatomy and how to leverage it for my best running potential.  Best of all, it reads intelligently, presenting what may be unfamiliar biological terms and concepts clearly, without dumbing anything down. This book is fantastic for getting to know how your body really works and sorting out facts versus myth about running-related anatomy.

For Inspiration & Motivation:

6.      Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness by Scott Jurek

Since the release of this book, Jurek has become a bit of a running rock star.  He’s often talked about in regards to his success with and promotion of a vegan lifestyle (for overall health and running benefits), and as important as that is, his book is so much more than that.  It’s an incredible personal journey to read and also offers loads of helpful information about running along the way.  Not to mention that it also includes tasty recipes for a healthy runner’s diet.

7.      Second Wind: One Woman’s Midlife Quest to Run Seven Marathons on Seven Continents by Cami Ostman   second wind

To say that this book inspired me is an understatement.  Ostman’s story is told with an honesty and frankness that is refreshing and enlightening.  I don’t want to discourage men from reading this, because I think they can get a lot of out of it, too, but I will say that for women runners in particular, I highly recommend this to help with seeing what’s possible and what running can do for your spirit.