It was an active year. We learned to guide a raft, maneuver a kayak and race canoes. I have spent days climbing a 50-foot Alpine Tower, jumped off a 20-foot telephone pole, swam through Class IV rapids, hiked up, down and across the Great Smoky mountains, and practiced swift water rescues from the cold waters of the Nantahala.
Meanwhile, there was a spring Marathon, a summer 10k, the Outdoorsman’s Triathlon, a fall Half Marathon, and then…..nothing.
After 10-1/2 months of constant movement came the flu, 17 days in Africa, school finals, graduation, and….. the holidays. I can count the number of days I’ve exercised in the past 6 weeks on one hand. It has been the first time in 8 years that my days were not planned around a morning run, and now it’s time for ‘re-entry.’
There’s plenty of advice out there about starting or re-starting an exercise program from doctors, coaches or folks like you and me. These are the things they don’t tell you…..
Understand Your True Goal.
For simplicity, let’s assume there are three reasons to take up an exercise program: to lose weight, get in shape, or manage a disease. This may be disappointing, but success in any one of these areas will not be found in an exercise program. You may reach your target weight, lower your cholesterol or find yourself in the best shape of your life, but to maintain this condition requires a lifestyle change. Losing weight, for example, requires lowering or changing consumption, increasing burn, or both. Exercise is simply one component of any healthy lifestyle.
This year’s goal may be to lose 10 pounds, lower your blood pressure or control diabetes. Next year’s goal may be to shave 2 minutes from your 10k race time, to take up yoga, go back to school, or eliminate soft drinks from your diet. All of these goals support a common mission in life: to be the very best person you can be. Understanding that these goals are part of a lifelong commitment may give you the will-power to stick with the plan for the long-haul.
Train the Mind.
Athletes enjoy pushing their bodies further and further. I would argue that everyone’s body will respond similarly. The more you train, the more responsive the body becomes. It is the mind that is unwieldy and stubborn. It’s easy to quit, and anyone can do that. Oh how proud you will be of yourself when you shush up your mind and conquer the word ‘quit’.
The advantage a returning athlete has to re-starting an exercise program is that they understand it will get better. If you’ve never stuck with an exercise routine, your mind could easily convince you it will always suck. The first 10-15 minutes may be cold, really hot, you can’t breathe, or it just plain hurts. We all want to quit when it sucks.
My advice is to block out a certain amount of time that you will devote to this new activity (during each session and each week) and stay to the end no matter what. If you get so tired and can’t possibly finish the workout, then walk at an easy pace for the remaining time. Eventually, your mind’s stamina will improve as well as your body, and you’ll find exercising for longer and longer periods of time is actually pleasant.
During the few weeks that I was not in school last year, I experimented with the Arthur Lydiard rapid-progressive base building program. Lydiard cautioned that when you ascend rapidly the tendons around the knees and in the front shins can get sore and you may have to ice them after every run for a few weeks until they grow stronger, but there is no need to stop running. He also says to expect muscle soreness but don’t take days off, just run slower if you have to and the soreness will gradually subside. I could read between the lines that Lydiard was really saying, “Quit your whining and run.” There have been lots of days I’ve had to remind myself to quit whining and just keep running.
Exercise hurts. It may hurt to laugh. A sneeze could catapult you off the planet. Of course you should understand the difference between an injury and what’s normal discomfort. A sharp pain is cause for concern. Sore, tired and achy are perfectly normal… and these too will eventually subside.
Celebrate small victories.
Don’t skimp on being proud of yourself whether it’s that you lost that very first pound or that you’ve exercised for 5 days in a row. It’s not about ordering french fries, a big dessert or taking a day off as a reward. The celebration is being proud of yourself, re-committing to your goal, and being the very best person you can be.
See more about returning or establishing an exercise routine at: