Getting started is (damn) hard

Two posts back, I made a short video in which I talk about getting started with exercise, and how sometimes, I really am not in to it. I said it was discipline that gets me past not wanting to do it, and keeps me going. That’s completely true. But I think I didn’t go into how I do that, because I think I made it sound like, “All you have to do is just do it and it’ll get done.” That’s kind of silly. Like, “No kidding!”

What I was trying to say and didn’t do as good a job of as I’d have hoped for was that the single-most difficult part of exercise for me is getting started. From the time I just decide to do it and when I get started, it’s pretty easy. But to get to the point where I commit mentally and begin preparations for a run? That’s the difficult part.

I run every other day. As an older guy, I need the recovery time. I know there are lots of folks my age out there who run 5-6 times a week. That’s great for them! However, for me, it’s just not feasible. I don’t want to invite the possibility of injury, and so far, this regimen has been doing well for me. My run times are steadily decreasing, my pace increasing, and my resting heart rate decreasing. My cardio health is improving, and I continue to make solid, steady progress. The down side of running every other day is it gives me a lot of time to begin dreading a run.

I don’t dread every run. Not even every other run. But every now and then, the last thing I want to do is go out, run hard, and be out of breath with my heart beating out of my chest. Don’t get me wrong: I actually do enjoy running now, and there are days when I really look forward to my runs. Heck, there are days when I’m obsessed with getting out on the road and running. But for the times when I’m not so motivated, I need to draw on an inner strength and discipline that sometimes is hard to harness.

That’s where perseverance and discipline really comes into play. I talked about perseverance on my PaleoMarine blog, and it’s the single most important factor in my success in losing over 140 lbs. This is another case of the answer being simple but implementation being difficult. It’s easy to say, “Just push past the negativity and start and get it done,” but actually doing it is another thing entirely.

I get it. I’m right there with you.

I don’t know how you motivate yourself, or what drives you to make yourself better, healthier, or more fit. That’s something you need to discover for yourself. I don’t have the answer here for you for that one magical thing that can make getting started easier. Heck, if I knew that, I’d be using it myself! The only things that have helped me and may help you are the following:

  • Fake it ’til you make it. This has been a big one for me. I used to hate running and all exercise. One day on a run, I realized that I would do better during my runs if I liked them, so I decided on the mantra, “I love running.” I would repeat it to myself often during runs, and lo and behold, it worked! I actually enjoy running now!
  • Setting a goal for running pace and distances. I’m not overly competitive, but I do like to take on challenges. I set goals for myself for running pace and distance based on the Marine Corps PFT standards. Now as a National Guard Soldier, I make sure I can exceed those standards to the best of my ability. This drives me to keep going and to get better.
  • Technology. I love tech, and having a Garmin Fenix 3 HR has made collecting data during my runs not just neat, but downright amazing. The data collected during my runs really allows me to analyze my runs from many different angles to compare my efforts and results with previous runs.
  • When all else fails, discipline. I have decided that I will run a minimum of three times a week, with no more than two days off in a row. When I get to that third day, I leave myself no option to consider not running. Perhaps that’s the trick: I don’t allow myself to even consider not running on those days. I can’t put it off if I don’t allow myself the opportunity to call it off. The exception to this rule is bad weather. I won’t run in the rain. Sorry. It’s not happening.

While those work for me, you may have to find what works for you is different. Heck, it may be the same (yay!) and if so, get out there and do it! My life has been improved dramatically not only through my weight loss, but through my fitness. Being more fit has enabled me to experience things I would otherwise not be able to do, and opportunities that would not have been possible for me. It honestly has been a life changer. Getting started can be tough, but once you get going, the momentum will carry you. Just give yourself that nudge to get rolling.

The PaleoMarine Running Plan: How a 49-year old guy got into fitness

img_4083The other weekend, I put up shelves in our master closet for Sherry’s shoes. I had to measure, cut shelves, and then mount them in the closet. This required a lot of going back and forth, bending down, holding up a drill, and a lot of minor physical activity. When I was almost done, Sherry noted that I wasn’t sweating, out of breath, or needing to take breaks from holding the drill up. I hadn’t realized it, but this was the first time in as long as I could remember that I was able to do basic maintenance or construction without feeling like I was going to die afterward. What changed?

I hated running. I hated exercise. I hated anything that had to do with exerting myself to the point of sweating. The problem was that even getting a screwdriver out to put in a shelf or to fix something simple would cause me to sweat and get out of breath. Seriously, it was that bad. Something had to change.

I began running on September 1 of 2016. It was the one year anniversary of my healthy lifestyle, and by that point, I’d lost 110 lbs. I wasn’t running to lose more weight. Rather, I was interested in fitness. It was all well and good to be lighter by almost 1/2, but my heart needed to get stronger. So I set out doing it with the following plan:

Run day – off day – run day – off day – run day – off day –  off day

That turned out to be a M-W-F run days with Sa-Su off. When life would get in the way (as it often can) and made me skip a run day, then that would become my “Weekend” and I would continue as if I’d just passed a weekend. So, it could turn into a M-Th-Sa run week, or a Tu-Thu-Sa run week, depending on how things went. Either way, I started with three runs a week.

My first run started with a 20-25 minute jog. I didn’t set out to run hard or fast, just to complete the run without stopping. I did it, and my first run was in the record books, as they say. My main goal was to finish. This had a much larger effect on me than I thought it would. It proved to me that I can set my mind to it and get through it. Was I uncomfortable? A little bit, but it wasn’t horrible. I wasn’t nearly as out of breath as I thought I would be, and the discomfort was trivial compared to what my mind had built it up to over the years.

I then set out to run a little further and a little faster with every run. I vowed to never cut one short unless I felt the bad pain. What I mean by that is that there is good pain and bad pain. Good pain is the muscle burn you get after exerting yourself. Bad pain is a pulled muscle or ligament. It’s pretty easy to tell between the two; one is just discomfort and the other indicates a serious problem.

With each run, I also would gauge how I felt (I still do this) and increase the distance if I felt good or cut it a little shorter at the turn-arounds if I was having a hard time with it. More often than not, I end up increasing the distance from what I set out to run. It’s funny; I always end up feeling better once I start than at the beginning of the run.

I also do push ups before every run. I started with 10 and I’m up to between 70 and 75 right now. It really gets my heart pumping and gets me ready for the run. I don’t do any stretching or warm-ups before my run as many studies have shown that most injuries in runners is caused by stretching before a run.

With this day on/day off schedule I run, I’ve been able to make steady progress and kept myself from over-exerting myself. I’m 49, and my muscles take a little longer to recover than they did when I was 19 or even 29. I know people my age and even older who exercise daily, but I just can’t do that. I’m not willing to live in constant muscle burn. I don’t work a different part of my body every day: I’m a runner who does push ups and very soon will add sit ups to the routine. I currently don’t feel the need for weight training although I am looking into some self defense training that is physically intense. No decisions have been made yet, but we’ll see. Surprise, Sherry!

My plan is simple and anyone can do it. If you do it the way I did it, you won’t have shin splints or excessive muscle pain after your runs. I actually look forward to my runs now, and I find that I do much better on my runs when I pump myself up psychologically beforehand. Remember, keep an open mind, get excited, and if you find you can’t get excited about a run, fake it. Seriously, just pretend you’re going to enjoy it. Something strange will happen: you actually might find yourself smiling during a run. It happens to me all the time now, and I never thought that was possible. Ever.

Recovery and Running after an eight day break

file_000-70
Making my best Billy Idol face after a successful run after not running for 8 days.

As anyone who follows this blog knows, I’ve been sick for the past week. I had a very bad cold and sinus infection which took me a long time to recover from and kept me from running. While I wanted to run each and every day I was sick to keep from losing the progress I’ve worked so hard for, I was too weak, felt too badly, and was suffering from a lot of pain. I also didn’t want to stress my body to the point where it lengthened the duration of my recovery or made matters worse. So, I did the smart thing and waited it out.

I will admit that each day I didn’t run added some anxiety. I thought about how bad my legs would hurt when I finally got back on the road. How they would feel like concrete. How my joints would ache, and how I would feel like quitting after every step. I worried about my ability to get back on the road and run a decent pace and not have my heart jumping out of my chest. I mourned the loss of all the time and effort I put into getting to where I could run a comfortable pace for a decent distance without over-exertion. I thought it was all lost.

It turned out that I worried for nothing.

It wasn’t my fastest or longest run, but it was close to my fastest. I decided not to look at my watch for split times and just run; let my body dictate how fast I ran. I wanted to be able to get back to it without trying to push too hard. I was surprised at how fast I was able to run with comfort. I think I know how horses feel when they transition from a trot into a gallop. At a few points during the run, I didn’t actually feel like I was running. I felt like I was gliding on a pair of legs that were beneath me without being really attached to me. It was kind of surreal, and I liked it.

In the end, I finished my 3.51 mile run with a 9’48” pace overall with a time of 34:30. I’m very okay with this result, and I am no longer worried about lost progress. Turns out, the body bounces back pretty well if you allow it to heal. Also, there’s a chance that the week off from running helped my legs heal up a bit. Not that they were hurt or injured, but I’m sure the muscles had a chance to rebuild and prepare for my upcoming runs a little better. I was also able to start with my 50 push ups. I was worried I would have to bump back down to 40, but that wasn’t the case. I actually feel like I can bump it up a bit next time.

It feels good to be back on my feet again.

Mad Respect to the Ultimate Fitness People

Postptedge.png
After my great run this morning; I really enjoyed it. What is wrong with me?

Crossfit, marathons, body building, triathlons, biathlons, etc. People who take part in those have my utmost respect. I have said in the past that I can’t be someone who does those things, yet I find myself creeping ever so slowly into their camp.

No. Not yet. I said creeping. Please keep reading.

This morning as I ran, I found myself not wanting to get going. I thought about stopping a few times not because I was tired or wore out or even in any pain. I just didn’t feel like doing it. After the first half mile, I still wasn’t into it, but I kept going.  Then, something crazy happened. I not only felt like finishing the run, but I actually added an extra mile to it. It felt good. The last half was a little tough and I started to feel it in my muscles, but then after the last mile was done, I went for another quarter of a mile. Why?

Because I could.

I can’t say I pushed myself with my pace this morning, because I didn’t. I didn’t set out to break any records or make any personal bests. I just set out to run on this brisk (43 degrees!) morning to continue my journey in getting fit. What I found  was that I started getting a good feeling from exceeding a past accomplishment.

This is new.

Since doing my first Whole30 and going Paleo, I’ve been pretty adamant about not needing exercise to lose weight. I still maintain that it is not necessary, and that’s super-important for those who are physically unable to exercise or who are like I used to be and just flat-out refused to exercise. That’s okay: you can still lose weight! But then, it isn’t enough. You lose weight, but you find that you are weak and that you want something more out of your body. You start doing something to get some exercise. The next thing you know, you’re adding miles to your runs and feeling GREAT afterward.

So I get it. You people who do the extreme physical activities; you’re not weird. You’re not so strange to me anymore. You’re just way farther ahead of me in this journey, and far more dedicated. I don’t know that I will ever get to exactly the same level as you super-people, but I am finding that I am enjoying being able to be physically active and to push myself a little here and there.

It feels good. And dammit, I never thought I’d be the person saying this, but I’m glad I started running. It’s one of the best things I’ve done in the past 10 years.

Move. Do something. Anything.

file_000-68
Me after a great run recently having accomplished many personal bests.

My sister used to tell me this. “Don’t set out to run a marathon on your first day. Just get up off the couch and move. Do something. Do anything. Just don’t sit your life away waiting to die.” I used to think she was crazy. Why would I want to be uncomfortable and sweaty and work hard for something I don’t care about, anyway? What’s the benefit of being fit if we’re all going to die, anyway?

Well.

Let’s go over some of the benefits of being fit.

  1. Comfort. Life is more comfortable when you’re fit. I can bend over, reach my shoes, run up a flight of stairs, play with the dog, and have “Mommy and Daddy time” without as much effort anymore. Seriously; life is so much easier when you’re fit.
  2. Clothing. I can shop off any rack in any store now. The mainstream clothing stores stock clothes that look nice for people who are “Average,” and I’m “Average” now. The clothes not only fit better, but look good, too.
  3. Self esteem. Yes, this is a real thing, and it does matter. We all try to say it doesn’t, and that we all feel fine when we’re fat. I used to tell people all the time that I was completely fine with the size I was. I lied. Every damn time. I wasn’t fine. It hurt, I was sore, I was tired, and I felt horrible because I didn’t look anywhere near what I wanted to look like. We can’t change our faces or who we are, but we can change our body size and health through diet and exercise. Being fit helps you feel better about yourself which makes it easier to eat right and make health and fitness decisions. It also helps you with social situations. When you feel better about yourself, you’re more confident, etc.
  4. Health improvement. I know, most people would put this first, but who in the hell cares about health improvement if they don’t want to exercise in the first place? I mean, if you cared so much about improving your health, you’d already be exercising. We all know without being told by some ol’ Marine that exercise improves your health. If you don’t know that, you are probably still in the second grade and should stop reading the Interwebs and go out and play with your friends now. Go on, get out of here!
  5. Not dying. Seriously; this is better than a health benefit; it’s an existence benefit. I have stated before on my blog the dire condition my health was getting into. Now, I’m literally fit enough to rejoin the military. I call this a huge bonus.

My friend Steve has started walking and riding his bicycle since downloading Pokemon Go! onto his iPhone. He gets exercise walking around, hatching eggs and catching Pokemon. He said to me that it wasn’t much compared with what I do, but he enjoyed it. I told him that it doesn’t matter what I do, and it’s not a competition. Do what you can do. Do what you enjoy. Just do something.

Running is getting easier

file_000-57I just looked it up in my Fitbit app: I began running on September 10th; that’s seven weeks ago. I’m astounded by the progress I’ve made in that short time. I have been purposefully taking it slowly and trying hard to not overdo it. In the past, my efforts in getting back into running were always derailed by my over-enthusiasm and injuring myself by doing too much too soon. Not this time.

My first run, looking back at it now, was laughably short: 1.63 miles. My pace was 12:17 which, compared with my last pace, was pretty slow. But at the time, my primary goal was to complete a run without stopping to walk. I wanted to do more than 1.5 miles and I wanted to run the entire time. I accomplished that goal and then let my legs rest for a day before going out again and aiming for more. I reduced my pace and increased the distance by a quarter of a mile. My main goal was to never give up and walk unless I injured myself. So far, I’ve been able to complete every run without walking.

My most recent run was an easy 3.12 mile run. My pace was a very comfortable 10:25 pace. I could have run faster, but since I plan on running 5 times this week, I decided to play it safe and run it easy. Tomorrow I will run an extra mile, so the pace may not be much faster, but adding 33% more to the run distance will be the extra effort for tomorrow. The following day, I may work on pace. We’ll see.

The bottom line, however, is that I’m now able to get out and run without it being a bad thing. It’s not something I dread. It’s not something that I feel horrible doing. What I didn’t expect was that the opposite happened: I actually enjoy it, and I feel good doing it. I look forward to it. After a few days off from running, I find myself waking up at night excitedly awaiting the alarm clock so I can begin my run. This is very weird to me; I’ve never felt this way about exercise before.

My ultimate goal is to run 4-5 miles daily 5-6 times a week. I don’t necessarily want to run marathons or half-marathons, but I would like to be fit. I like the way I feel after my runs, and when I need to run out to the car to get something and run back into a store, I’m not out of breath and sweaty. When I went to the Texas A&M football game last weekend, I was able to run 20 rows up to my seat without losing my breath. It was exhilarating! Having the stamina to do things that only a year ago were out of the question for me has really changed my outlook on life.

I know I’m a big proponent of using diet to change your health, and I still firmly believe, based on my own experience, that diet is more important for weight loss than exercise. However, adding exercise if you are able to engage in physical activity definitely improves your quality of life. I would never lie to you about something like this. I was the guy who swore off exercise at the beginning of my journey. I have seen the error of my ways, and I admit I was wrong. Get out there and move. Start by walking. Progress into jogging, and then if you’re able, into running. You won’t regret it.