Exercise: A Natural Mood Enhancer

How often have you wanted to be happier? I’m betting that most of you are content. You have good lives, count your blessings, and are relatively happy with what you have going on right now. But how many of you think that you could be happier…if only…you had a better car? A bigger house? More money in the bank? These are typical things that Americans think will make them happier…but they are actually wrong. Studies have shown that there is little to no correlation between having these things and being happier. In fact, studies have also shown that people who have more money tend to be just as happy, if not slightly less happy than people without a lot of money. So what does make us happier?

Well, exercise can be an answer! Regular exercise acts as a mood booster, and a stress reliever for most people. It also happens to be very good for your body. You’ve probably heard of the ‘runner’s high’ that many people report getting after a race or a good long run has been finished. However, most of the happiness benefits have been shown to come not from long workouts, but from smaller workouts done over a longer period of time.

Stress is a prevalent issue, but the stress response actually is beneficial during exercise. When you begin a workout, your heart rate rises and triggers the body’s fight-or-flight instinct. The brain releases a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor to protect neurons from the anticipated effects of a prolonged battle. At the same time, the brain releases endorphins to numb pain and facilitate peak performance.

These chemicals also induce feelings of well-being. Endorphins can cause euphoria (known as the runner’s high). Brain-derived neurotrophic factor soothes ruffled neurons to promote a sense of clarity. This is why a problem can seem more manageable after a walk or run to clear your head. Your brain has literally returned to baseline to allow you to respond most effectively to environmental threats.

The useful thing about brain-derived neurotrophic factor and endorphins is that they are addictive, just like nicotine. When people crave cigarettes, they are expressing the desires of nicotinic receptors in the nervous system. The urge to smoke can feel overwhelming. Similarly, the body can become addicted to the sense of clarity and well-being that often follows exercise.

If exercise truly is addictive, why isn’t everyone a triathlete? The answer may lie in the conditions under which exertion triggers happiness. As with many addictive behaviors, the greatest euphoria occurs when starting a workout regimen. This may partially explain the enthusiasm new gym members feel and why so many of them stop going after a few months. As the happiness effect tapers off, people are no longer biochemically rewarded for working out. It becomes another chore, and only the highly motivated continue.

Fortunately, an answer exists that doesn’t involve extraordinary willpower. Much public attention has focused on research findings that just 20 minutes of exercise per day can have substantial physical benefits.
Additional studies suggest that the same routine powers feelings of happiness as well. Just as a smoker reaches for that first morning cigarette, so the person hitting the gym daily can expect a mood boost. The brain becomes conditioned to the expectation of the regular release of endorphins and other mood-enhancing chemicals.

Daily workouts are the best way to maximize the happiness effect. Weekend warriors and people who exercise every other day are less likely to feel a mood boost. They are too frequently active to benefit from the beginners’ high. At the same time, they don’t exercise regularly enough to form a biochemical habit.

For many people, an effective solution is to alter their expectations of what a workout should be. Rather than exercising strenuously when energy and schedule allow, aim for 20 or 30 minutes per day of moderate activity such as walking. If this seems like too much, start with 10 minutes. The point is to establish a daily exercise habit that trains the brain to respond with feelings of happiness.

Daily exercise becomes a self-reinforcing habit motivated by positive feelings. Once your brain associates workouts with happiness, you’ll wonder how you managed so long without those running shoes.
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Biggest Mistakes New Runners Make

Beginner Running: Common Mistakes to Avoid
1.   Too Much Too Soon:
         It’s great to be enthusiastic about running, as I am, and to get fit you do need to train pretty regularly. But there’s training hard, and there’s overloading. Many new runners get the bug, go hell bent for leather, and then suffer injuries such as shin splints. There’s nothing wrong with starting with a few 5ks and working your way up from there.
2.  Running too Fast:
         “Run slow to run fast” is a mantra many beginning runners would do well to adopt. This was a famous training method used in the 1960s among marathon runners. Marathon running is an aerobic sport. Therefore, in most cases, it’s volume not intensity that should be addressed first to improve performance. Many schedules include base building, when you run at low intensity, for the first block of training. When you run at a low intensity, you use fat as fuel, and that’s what we need to get good at when training for distance runs. Running at low intensity is a great way to build your endurance base, and gives you a fit platform to lift off from, with more intense faster work as you progress.
3.  Not mixing it up enough:
         The other mistake new runners make is running at the same (and often too fast pace) and not adding variety to train different energy systems used in running. Alex Bliss, a physiologist from the University of Brighton explains it. “Novice runners tend to self-select a pace and stick to it in every session. Performing the same type of run over and over again will lead to boredom and will eventually stop providing a sufficient training stimulus to produce overload, a critical factor for successful training and athletic development.” Speed and interval work, hill training, and long slow runs are all crucial to the runner’s recipe for success.
         Personally for training I enjoy Hal Higdon training plans, which are free at his website www.halhigdon.com or Jeff Galloway training plans, also free on his website www.jeffgalloway.com
4.  Wearing the Wrong Shoes:
         I was guilty of this for my first run, and boy do I wish I’d invested in good shoes first! During training, my feet didn’t really hurt, although they sometimes were slightly achy after a longer run. But after my first race, I had a pain in my arch that lasted for days, and even made it difficult to complete some aspects of my day job. I found out that this was because I was wearing the wrong types of shoes.
         Many running shops will offer a gait analysis of the way you run, which I did when I went to Fit to Run in my city. They measure your feet, check your stride and gait, and determine if you have flat, normal or high arches. Based on these main three components, they then assist you in selecting a shoe type (usually made for under/over pronaters, or for neutral runners) and recommend specific types of shoes and brands that would work for your run type. Personally, I did not opt to buy shoes from them, as I bought mine from Shoe Carnival when they had a discount sale going on. Running shoes are expensive, and I wasn’t in a place to spend $150 on a single pair of shoes. However, I did manage to find and read several reviews on the types of shoes recommended for me, and now I suffer no pain when running. It’s a significant improvement. For those of you on a budget, another option is www.zappos.com, which sells brand name shoes at discounted rates.
5.    Setting Unrealistic Goals:

         Goals are important if you want to succeed, but unrealistic hard-to-achieve goals will have the opposite effect. For example, running your first marathon is a hard thing to do, so unless you have some real benchmarks, i.e. lots of half marathons at consistent times leading up to the race, then setting tough time targets can be detrimental. Having smaller goals and targets to reach over a longer period of time can benefit you more in the long run, and create a more positive, lasting success marker that makes you want to continue running.  

What Harry Potter Taught Me About Life and Running

Odd title for a blog, isn’t it? What Harry Potter taught me about life and running…many of you may be thinking I’m crazy right now. What does Harry Potter have to do with running- or life? However, for anyone who’s actually taken time to read the books, there are some very profound quotes in there, that can be applied to several areas of life. I’d like to share some and my interpretations below.

“You fail to recognize that it matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.” -Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

I always liked this quote, because it makes it clear that you don’t have to be born wealthy, talented or privileged to make a name for yourself, or a future. It shows that everyday people like you and I can get an education, have the career of our dreams, follow our passions, and even run a marathon. Those activities are not reserved for the ultra-wealthy, talented or gifted people of the world. Although it may help to have those qualities, anyone can succeed if they have the patience and passion to pursue their dreams.

“Every great wizard in history has started out like us- students. If they can do it, why not us?” -Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

This is one of the greatest things Harry has ever said in the books. It’s simple, but powerful. Why not me? Why not you? When you started running or whatever form of fitness you work on, were you great at it immediately? Probably not. Did it hurt? Probably. Was it uncomfortable and difficult? Probably. Were there times when you thought about quitting? Sure. But if you did, you wouldn’t be to wherever you are today. This is something I try to continue to pursue in my running. Because I have such a hard time sticking with things, it helps me to realize that every great runner started out where I am…running 5ks and smaller races working their way to the longer distances. No one was born a marathon runner. They all put in hard work and practice to get to where they are today. And that’s exactly what I’m doing.

“Working hard is important. But there is something that matters even more…believing in yourself.” -Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

This piggy-backs along with the above quote, as they were said during the same scene in the movie. What Harry is saying here is pretty clear- your mental attitude determines a lot about your success. I can run everyday as long and hard as I want, but if I go out on race day with a poor attitude and say that I’m not going to do well, then all that training goes down the drain and I probably won’t. It’s my attitude that determines my success. Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% what you make of it.

“I’m going to keep going until I succeed-or die. Don’t think I don’t know how this might end. I’ve known it for years.” -Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Well, a little overkill on the dying part. Most people don’t die while racing. (Not saying it can’t happen, but mostly it doesn’t). However, the point I’m using this quote to make is that Harry was determined to succeed. He wasn’t going to let temporary setbacks overwhelm him and cause him to quit fighting. And that’s a very important thing to learn and keep in mind when you’re pursuing a dream, whether that dream is running, a career, finishing school, or anything really. You have to keep at it. You’re not going to finish immediately, and there are going to be many times when you think that giving up will be easier. But the feeling of accomplishment at the end of your journey will definitely help you and make it all worthwhile in the end.

“It is our choices, Harry, that show who we truly are, far more than our abilities.” -Dumbledore

It wouldn’t be Harry Potter without adding a little more Dumbledore in the mix! I know he’s a fictional character, but if there was anyone in the world I could have a conversation with, real or fake, he’d be on the top of the list. What an inspiring person! And he has some great insight on life. You make choices every day. You decide whether or not to get up and go to work. You decide what to do while you’re there. You decide what you’re going to do when you get home. Seemingly insignificant actions and choices, that, over time, add up to the results you were seeking. Could I choose to stay at home instead of working out? Sure. But would that help my fitness goals or get me closer to running the distance races I’d like to accomplish in the future? Not at all. In fact, it would put me on a downward curve and get me farther from my goals. So this truly means that the choices you make have a pretty profound impact on your life.

“And now, Harry, let us step out into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.” -Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Another favorite from Dumbledore! Basically, life isn’t anything if you don’t pursue something. Whether it’s a new travel location, your dream career, a hobby or passion, or a love interest, you need to have something in life to fight for and to aim for. Otherwise, you’re not really living you’re merely alive. And we’d all rather be living a fun-filled life! 😉

So now you see (hopefully) that wisdom can be found in the most offbeat places. If I’ve inspired at least one person to take a second look at those “children’s books” I would be happy. You never know what you might come up with!

The Happiest 5k

Today was the day of my first 5k. I signed up to do the Color Run in Clearwater, FL. Some would say that this wasn’t a “real” 5k because it was more of a fun run, but I treated it like it was an actual timed race.

I woke up today at 6:45 this morning for a light breakfast and drank a bottle of water to start waking up my system. The house was completely dark still, and I reveled in the quiet moments, reflecting on my hard work over the past 6 weeks and anticipating the fun I was about to have running. I was really excited! I stayed with a friend who lives close to Coachman Park (where they held the run), and it was all I could do to not wake her up when I got up! We had both gone to the Gasparilla Pirate Festival in Tampa the day before, and I decided to let her sleep in a bit, as she had drank a lot more than I had the previous day.

I got dressed and ready to run the race. I wore a white shirt, white shorts that said Color This on the backside, and a pair of colorful blue polka dot knee high socks. I couldn’t pass up the socks! Finally at about 7:30 she woke up too, and got ready. We left her house around 8am, to arrive to Coachman Park about 8:30. The race start time was 9am, and I was meeting several friends at the start who were also running with us. When we got over to the park, I was actually lucky to find parking right outside the start area in the library parking lot. Not sure how I managed to pull that one off! Some of our friends were already there, so we met up with them at the check in tent. It was getting closer to the start time but we did manage to get in one picture with the group!

 
 
Then it was off to the start line! They were counting down waves of runners and letting them go in large groups. Music was playing at the start line and they were throwing down rubber wrist bands and hats to random people in the crowd. The energy at the start line was pretty awesome! Everyone was so psyched up to be there. I saw lots of people with the color run tutus on- I told the girls I was with that we were definitely wearing tutus next year 🙂 Finally at about 9:10 it was our turn to get going! They counted us down from 10 and we were off!
 
Because of the amount of people in the crowd, it was a little difficult to get jogging right away. We did manage to jog at a rather slow pace to the first color zone, which was purple. I was jogging along side my friends Lindsey and Krystal. As we went through the first color zone, we slowed our pace to a walk so we could get as much color on us as possible! As we were leaving the color zone, they had a sign that said “You’re a Purple People Eater!” After that first color zone, I picked up the pace a bit. Lindsey and Krystal opted to stay behind, as Lindsey still wasn’t feeling too good, and Krystal wanted to stay with her. I jogged at a moderate pace to the second color zone, yellow, which stated that “Yellow is your happy color!” at the front. The next two color zones were pink and blue respectively, and I was most excited about the blue! Man, did they get me good with that color! I looked like a smurf when I was done with that zone! One guy high fived me with a handful of color powder…I still haven’t managed to get all of it out of my hand!
 
 
 
I ended up finishing in 43 minutes- under my 45 minute self-imposed time limit! It was about an average of 14:00 minutes a mile. I’m pretty happy with that- it’s not bad for a first time runner! All in all, I thought this was a great first 5k experience. With all that adrenaline rushing through me, I was about ready to run another one right after finishing the first! We hung around for the after party for about an hour and a half after the race, where they had picture ops, free yogurt giveaways and free juice, and sponsored tents with several different fitness store/gyms there. They didn’t have the shirt I wanted for sale there though- a shirt that says Run Happy. I guess I’ll just have to get it from the online store! The best part though was the large scale color throws they were doing- each runner got a color packet at the end of the race, and then they had a MC up on stage that was counting down to when we could throw the colors. We opened the packets and shook them in the air- it was a rainbow of colored powder! I ended up getting even more blue and pink on me- the blue really liked me!
 
I had a great time doing this run, and I’m really happy that I started running. At this point, I’m getting excited for my next run, the Best Damn Race in Orlando on March 1. I honestly can’t understand why I ever didn’t like running at one point. Now I think it’s awesome!! 


What Your Personality Says About Your Workout

The other day, being bored at work, I decided to look for the Myers Briggs personality test. I had heard of the test before, and knew that it was pretty accurate, so I thought I could see what type I identified the best with. I found an easy yes/no question test at one website and went through the questions. Turns out, I am an ENFJ- Extroverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging. For those of you who don’t know what the Myers-Briggs is, you are either Extroverted (like being around people) or Introverted (prefer being alone), Intuitive (use your intuition) or Sensing (use your five senses), Feeling (base decisions on your feelings) or Thinking (base decisions on logic) and Judging (prefer routines and adherence to the rules) or Perceiving (are more flexible about that). This test will give you information about your personality and preferences, and it definitely is pretty accurate. What does all this have to do with fitness?

Well, I decided to look for a personality quiz for your fitness routine (I really like personality quizzes haha). And I came across a website that detailed what your personality quiz results (your Myers-Briggs typeology) say about your workout preferences or routines. The author, Suzanne Brue, detailed these explanations in her 8 Colors of Fitness book, and assigns each personality a color (2 personalities per color) which tells you your workout preferences and strengths. It’s pretty interesting, so read on…

Blue (ISTJ, ISFJ): Blues are straightforward and conscientious when it comes to fitness and safety. They tend to stick to the same routines and machines. They’re also introverts, and will perpetuate this by reading books or magazines while on the treadmill or elliptical machine, making sure that others do not infringe on their workout time. Blues prefer rhythmic, repetitive machines that allow them to track their progress easily. Rowing, walking, running, yoga and weight training all appeal to Blue people.

Gold (ESTJ, ESFJ): Golds are also traditional and conservative, but more outgoing. They look to professionals such as trainers and doctors to help them build their fitness routines and nutritional plans. They also are perfectionists, asking gym personnel to help them perfect their form so that they’re ‘doing it right.’ Group classes satisfy their desire for authority and positive reinforcement, as does working with a personal trainer. Golds also enjoy hiking, swimming and tennis because these activities have clear, specific goals and role models.

Green (ISTP, ISFP): Greens don’t like going to the gym. They prefer to be outside in nature, getting their exercise the natural way. They usually prefer working out alone, attuning themselves with nature or working towards a goal they’ve set for themselves. Greens will most likely be biking, running, hiking, mountain climbing, although they may add some strength training in when preparing for a long run or climb.

Red (ESTP, ESFP): Reds have a ton of energy and a competitive spirit. They want to be where the action is. Reds are like Greens in that they see the gym as a means to an end, rather than the destination itself. Treadmills and elliptical machines are just too boring for these guys and gals. Unless they’re into power-lifting, Reds would much rather be outside playing a team sport or a pickup game, such as flag football or beach volleyball with their friends.

White (INTJ, INFJ): Whites use the rhythm of exercise to help them get more in touch with themselves. They prefer tried and true routines and their own space to leave their minds free. You’ll typically find Whites at the gym during off peak hours, listening to their headphones on the treadmill or elliptical machine. Whites avoid group classes, as they resent outside interference in their workouts. They prefer hiking, running, yoga (alone) and cardio and strength training at the gym.

Saffron (INTP, INSP): Brue writes that she chose the color saffron to represent this workout personality because it commands attention in a warm, comfortable way that is also subtle. Saffrons are lively but not extravagant. They struggle to motivate themselves if they aren’t in the mood. Yet they also seek challenges and don’t let their desire for fun get in the way of a workout. Saffrons best bet is to mix up their workout routines and choose ‘out-of-the-box’ classes. Dancing, group classes such as spin class or Zumba, all appeal to these types. If they do work out on machines, they will always have a great mix of funky beats to keep them motivated.

Silver (ENTP, ENFP): Silvers get energy from people, music and a fun atmosphere. According to Brue, they have more focus than saffrons, which makes them ideal as group fitness instructors. They have a flowing workout style. Any rhythmic activity that tunes out distractions is ideal for Silvers, such as yoga, tai chi, Zumba, spin class.

Purple (ENTJ, ENFJ): Though extroverted people, Purples tend to stick to the same workout buddies. Adding in differences may defer them from their goals and routines. Purples choose uncomplicated regimens that are also repetitive: running, lap swimming, cycling, interval training and walking all appeal to them. Purples need to be pushed to mix it up a bit, as they find much comfort in routines and may get stuck in a workout rut. They also run the risk of developing stress fractures, tendonitis and other repetitive stress injuries.

If you’re interested in reading more about your fitness color or finding out more about any of the colors, check out Brue’s website http://www.the8colorsoffitness.com for more information!

Your Attitude Determines How Well You Do

“Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” – Raymond Chandler

This factor stated above is crucial to beginning any new pursuit, or following your dreams in any endeavor, yet I find it to be a HUGE key in fitness motivation. It’s really difficult to get up off the couch day after day and hit the gym, and run or lift weights. It’s hard to find the motivation to do it when all you may want to do is rest, especially after a hard day’s work. But motivation only takes you so far. Attitude is where you either keep going or quit.

Some of the most important things I’ve learned is that it’s important to actually do what you say you’re going to do, and it’s important to show up for it every day. You have to follow a schedule, or at the very least, keep going to the gym or for a run constantly, even on the days you’d rather sit home and watch TV. However, showing up consistently is only half the battle- you have to show up consistently with good attitude. If you go to the gym, say “I don’t really feel like working out today, so I’ll just do a little,” then that’s what you’ll accomplish. A little. Furthermore, you’ll probably stop halfway through because you already don’t want to be there and you’ll keep talking yourself out of it even further. However, if you go to the gym and you say, “I’m going to complete this workout no matter what it takes,” you will achieve greater results. This is something I’ve experienced personally. One of the days I went to do my workout, I didn’t really feel good to begin with, and I didn’t have a positive mental attitude. I didn’t really want to work out, and I kept thinking of sitting down and resting. That day, I only was able to make it 2 miles, even though I normally ran for 3. However, on the day that I went for my run with an extremely positive mental attitude, I talked myself into running 3 miles in 40 minutes, which was my best time yet. I actually ran almost the whole time too. That was the first time that I’d actually run the whole three miles without stopping to walk.

Furthermore, I believe that continuous effort is the key to succeeding, not only in running, but in any endeavor. You can be a talented, strong and very intelligent person, but no matter how you calculate mathematically, how strong you are, or how talented you are, you won’t be able to get up off the couch one day and just run an entire race without some sort of practice and effort beforehand. It’s easy to expect things to come to us without effort, as I detailed in a previous post. That’s the American belief that life should be easy. But nothing is easy, and nothing worth having ever comes without some sort of hard work and dedication to your goals.

On mornings when I go to work and have to decide whether or not to go to the gym or go for a run after work, I look at some of my favorite quotes which help me get moving and have the right mental attitude to succeed:

“The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.” -Vince Lombardi

“The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.” -Vince Lombardi

“If you think you can do a thing, or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” – Henry Ford

“Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.” -Thomas Jefferson

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.” – Colin Powell

Slight Edge Theories

“Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal. ‘Progressive’ means success is a process, not a destination. It’s something you experience gradually, over time. Failure is also just as gradual. In fact, the difference between success and failure is so subtle, you can’t even see it or recognize it during the process. And here’s how real success is built: by the time you get the feedback, the real work’s already done.” -Jeff Olson, The Slight Edge

I’ve just started reading this book, and I can already apply some of his theories to my fitness goals. What Jeff Olson speaks about is absolutely incredible, and I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner. The truth is, it’s so ordinary that most people don’t even consider it in their quest for better health, better finances, better relationships etc. I am applying the Slight Edge principles to my goals as a runner, but in reality these principles are at work in every area of our lives, every day. The Slight Edge is really simple: the book is based on the premise that there are actions you can do every day (small, seemingly insignificant actions) that compounded, over time, will create amazing results and help you achieve your goals in life. The flip side of this is that those actions are also easy NOT to do, which compounded, over time, will have the opposite effect.

Let’s apply this principle to my newfound passion for running. Let’s say I’m using the Slight Edge principles, and I start going to the gym 4 days a week and running/working out. When I first start, I’m not likely to see results. It will probably be hard for me to run a mile (it was when I first started) and I’ll probably get tired and sore. It would take a while for me to see marked improvement in my time running and in my muscles ability to handle the strength training. However, over time, perhaps by the end of 6 months to a year, I will see a marked improvement in both my stamina running, time for my mile, and my ability to lift weights. I will also be able to run 5ks easier and work my way up to a 10k. But that didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t see a gigantic improvement in my time right away.

Now let’s take the opposite path. Let’s say that I get home and I’m too tired to go to the gym. I’m too tired to work out and I just don’t feel like being active today. Is that decision going to hurt me today? Probably not. Will it hurt me tomorrow? No. How about at the end of the week? Most likely still won’t see a decline in my health. However, compounded over time, I might get out of breath easier, and my unhealthy eating habits might make me gain a few pounds- or more. It also will build up the fat in my arteries, which can eventually lead to clogged arteries and a bypass surgery, like the ones both my grandmothers had to have.

Both of these actions won’t give you immediate results. You won’t be improved right away, your health won’t decline right away either. But the decisions you make today definitely will affect your future, one way or another. “The difference between success and failure is not dramatic. In fact, the difference between success and failure is so subtle, most people miss it. They hold the philosophy that what they do really doesn’t matter…the truth is, what you do matters. What you do today matters. What you do every day matters.”

Nobody notices me going to the gym when I work out. At least, most people don’t. My family notices, because I come home sweaty and they know where I’ve been. But do they applaud me for going? No. Why? Because it doesn’t really matter to them. They know I’m training for a 5k, they know that I’m committed to my health goals. But they’ve also seen me fail at my health goals as well, so it doesn’t make a lot of difference to them whether or not I go to the gym. I’m the only one who notices my progress, I’m the only one who cares about it. However, using the Slight Edge principles, I know that I’m going to make it to a better time, and I’m going to keep improving my health.

I’m going to be honest- it’s hard to keep going. It’s hard to keep getting up and running, to keep going to the gym, to keep lifting the weights, when I don’t see the results. I’m not a patient person. Everyone who knows me will tell you that. Everyone who knows me will give you plenty of examples of where patience failed me. So this not seeing results thing is a big deal for me. It’s what led me to give up on the countless other times I’ve begun a workout program only to quit two months in. So what’s different this time? How have I beat that impatience and led myself to healthier habits? Time management. I know how I am- I know if I go home from work that I will end up sitting on the couch, immersed in a (good, but no less distracting) book or internet article on some webpage that isn’t doing a thing for me except giving me useless information. I know that in order to be successful, I have to go to the gym or for my runs straight after work. So I take my clothes with me. And I change at work or at the gym. I don’t even give myself the option of going home and relaxing. Another plan that’s been working for me is registering for races immediately. The longer I wait, the longer I’ll talk myself out of doing them. So when I see one that looks fun or interesting, I register for it. Who wants to waste money? Definitely not me. Registering for these races means that if I don’t show up, I don’t get my money’s worth nor do I get a refund. So basically, I HAVE to do these runs. If I don’t, I’d be losing out of the money I invested into doing them. And that would just be wasteful. Keeping myself registered in a run on the horizon means that I am constantly having motivation to train for another race.

If you could do something every day to make your health and fitness levels just a small percent better, would you? If you knew it was guaranteed to make a difference? Of course you would. Exercising three days a week, doing some cardio, maybe a yoga class or two. And when you wake up the next day, what does that first day look like? Do you feel better? More flexible? Noticeably different? Not really. Maybe a little, but not enough to make a difference. After a week, you may feel a little better than you did the first day…but still not a lot. So you had to inconvenience yourself three days this week. Was it worth it? I don’t really know, you say. What if you kept doing it over time? “Would you feel like a million bucks? No, you’d feel like ten million.”

These are the Slight Edge principles. When I first started reading this book, I didn’t know what I was going to get out of it. But the more I put these principles into play, the more I’m convinced that I can reach the goals I’ve set for myself, this year and in the future.

*All quotations are copyright from The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson. I highly recommend you read it!*

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Cross Training Benefits for Runners

When I first started running, I had no idea of the benefits of actually working out other muscles. Of course, you would think that this would be second nature, but this is coming from someone who never works out…ever. My workouts have been so sporadic you could probably fit all of them into one year…total. In fact, today, when I went to the gym, I decided to do the elliptical machine because I had been getting bored with just running in my neighborhood. I also met a guy who kind of creeped me out…and tried to talk to me while I was running, and maybe looked like a pedophile, so I thought maybe getting back in the habit of going to the gym was good for me. I get on the elliptical machine and do 30 minutes of cardio, and then decide to ask the guys how to do the machines, because I honestly have no idea how to work out.

First, I’m completely ignored while standing at the customer service desk. Finally after clearing my throat one guy stops flirting with a girl long enough to talk to me. I tell him I’m interested in having someone show me some of the machines. Turns out, he has a personal training appointment so he directs me up front. The women at the front can’t leave the desk, so they direct me to a personal trainer who tries to sell me personal training lessons. At $200 extra dollars a month! Um…no…

Finally, I get someone who can just show me how to work the machines. And work them we do…holy crap, I did one machine where I could feel the muscles by my ‘love handles’ working…and I know I’m going to be sore tomorrow. And see, being sore is why I always quit working out. I have a really intense, good session at the gym, really feel the burn and get excited about fitness, and then day 2 happens. It’s always worse the second day. And I get so sore I can barely move. It makes me not want to do it again (even though logically I know it will get better) and I stop going. But what about the benefits of working out?

One of the biggest benefits I’ve heard about cross-training from fellow runners is prevention of injury. If you’re a new runner and just starting out, it might make you feel awesome if you run 4 days a week! But your muscles are untrained and untested, and it turns out you actually might be hurting yourself without knowing it because you don’t have the experience to know the difference between being sore and a potential injury. But that’s not the only benefit. Runners also use cross training to improve fitness, rehabilitate themselves after injury, enhance motivation, enjoy competing in other sports, stay fit in times running isn’t possible (such as pregnancy) and rejuvenate the mind and body.

Personally, I’ve begun cross training in order to improve my overall fitness. My first 5k is going to be an untimed race, but don’t think that just because I’m not being officially timed that I won’t be timing myself. I’m shooting for doing this in under 40 minutes, but I’d like to continue to improve as I continue to run 5ks. Cross training is really beneficial in making your running stronger and improving your efficiency in competing. Yes, running alone will definitely make you better than if you sat on your couch the whole time and didn’t do anything, but adding in strength training will also help you increase your power, efficiency and the amount of time you are able to spend training or running without getting injured.

It can also help enhance your motivation. No matter how much you love running or are passionate about fitness, the same workout every day can bore even the most staunch athletes. Cross training can switch up the routine and make it easier for you to continue working out when you might not want to. Take me for example…I’ve been getting bored just running as I mentioned earlier. It isn’t as easy to motivate myself to get off the couch when I’m sitting home alone and I can read a book or get on the computer instead. Having something to look forward to, and even going to the gym where other people are working out, feeds my need to be stimulated in a variety of workouts.

For me, the final important benefit that I want to point out is the rejuvenation factor. No person can train hard the entire year, and be strong endlessly. Everyone needs breaks and needs periods of rest. Especially after you’ve reached a new milestone. Thus I’ve added in a day of yoga per week. Yoga is very relaxing to me and helps me to rejuvenate. It also stretches out the entire body, thus allowing me to stretch those muscles that are constantly working during my harder workouts. It increases flexibility so I don’t have to worry about pulling a muscle as much as if I didn’t stretch, and it’s just an overall relaxing workout that I can do. A workout such as this still makes me feel good and get fit, but it doesn’t really feel like you’re working out.

Those are my personal favorite reasons for cross-training. What are yours?

You Can Do It!

If anyone had suggested that I’d be running a 5k, let alone trying to run a half marathon as my ultimate goal, I would have laughed and told them they were crazy! The last time I ran a mile of any kind was when I was in middle school (15 years ago) and they used to do those fitness tests that everyone hated. I dreaded the mile runs, knowing that my sides would hurt and I’d be exhausted and most likely lagging behind all my more athletic classmates. I never really thought about why I was never “good” at sports, but in all probability I think it has something to do with the fact that my dad always told me, “You’ll never be athletic like me and Dakota.” Dakota, my younger brother by 4 1/2 years, always played every sport in the book. He started off in baseball, and continued that throughout high school. He also participated in basketball, soccer and golf, and I’m sure he would have attempted football had our school had a team on which to participate. I, on the other hand, was never “good enough” for my father. I desperately wanted his attention and for him to be proud of me, and felt the only way to do this was to participate in sports that he didn’t consider ‘girly.’ (Note: being on the dance team did not qualify me for this). So I busted my butt in volleyball practice, martial arts, basketball, only to quit when it didn’t work out for me the way I’d hoped. My father always told me I wasn’t ‘good enough’ to be a high school athlete or play on varsity teams, so my mentality was, why even try? If I wasn’t going to make it anyway, why put forth the effort? Therein lies the issue that so many people grapple with daily. 

Most of us want something for nothing. We want to be thin without exercising or dieting, successful without taking risks, and loved without losing anything or risking disappointment. This idea of having ‘something for nothing’ in life is classic American Dream style. America is the only culture in the world that expects life to be comfortable and relatively pain free. Come here, kick up your heels, work a little, retire wealthy, live the rest of your life having fun and traveling. That’s the expectation; the reality is much different. 
Alan Watts, a philosopher, said, “Good without evil is like up without down, and…to make an ideal of pursuing the good is like trying to get rid of the left by constantly turning right.” 
The first time I considered the possibility that I might actually be able to accomplish something I was proud of in the field of athletics was last year (2013), when I decided that I should start working out. “Should” always being the operative word. Everyone “should” work out, everyone “should” be healthy, but “should” doesn’t always translate into will. I figured because I wasn’t fat and had no danger of gaining a lot of weight that I was fine. This didn’t change the fact that, like many other Americans, I couldn’t walk up three flights of stairs to my apartment without breathing hard. It was this, along with an education I had recently been receiving in the benefits of detoxing and eating clean that caused me to motivate my couch potato self enough to run a few miles. That only lasted a few weeks though, as inevitably, I got bored. Then I went on a cruise, and it was all downhill from there. I told myself I’d run while on the ship, but let’s face it, most people don’t work out while on vacation. I was no exception to this rule. Basically, I ran a few times over the summer, decided that it wasn’t getting any easier for me (read: I was still out of breath and sweaty and it was too ‘hard’ to keep going) that I thought it was pointless to continue. Since when was I ever ‘good’ at any sport? What crazy idea had made me believe I could be ‘good’ at running? So, like many other times in my life, I gave up. Gave up on detoxing, gave up on running, and fell back into my bad habits. Frequently, it is our own brains that stop us from accomplishing the greatest things we are capable of in life. “Head trash” as it was once referred to in my presence, is the ultimate killer of ideals. 
We are so captivated by our collective myth of the happy ending that we rarely acknowledge the amount of work that has to go into getting to that point. We see the runner crossing the finish line with a record time, the couple on television having an everlasting romance full of passion and promise, the family that is perfect…2.5 kids, white picket fence, dog, money…etc. The truth is, each gain in life represents the loss of something else. We never move forward in life without losing something else. The Chinese symbol of yin and yang perfectly describes what the Western culture has trouble grasping or understanding…that for every light there is dark, for every positive there is a negative, for every day there is night. We can’t have one without the other, for how would you know you are happy if you never knew what it was like to be sad? How would you be able to appreciate love if you never knew what loss was? How would you be able to fully live and appreciate your life if you never knew what death was?
Many people, myself included, are afraid of loss. We are resistant to change, even when those changes promise to be positive. Surrendering to change means letting go of being in control. As much as we want our lives to be different, the truth is, we don’t like it much when our illusion of being in control is being challenged. Being in charge of our lives gives us the ability to attempt to avoid the experience of loss. Yet these efforts to circumvent loss are the very foundation of our stress and worry. No matter how much we profess to wanting change, the truth is, many of us would secretly rather stay the same, even if that means we continue to suffer. My thought process was that if I wasn’t getting fat and had very slim chances of actually gaining any large amount of weight, what need was there to work out? I was fine, slender, relatively healthy (or so I thought) and didn’t need to diet or work out. That was for overweight people. However, when we refuse to move forwards, it becomes clear in a relatively short time period that we are actually moving backwards. Refusing to take the next step, we actually suffer a loss of vitality. We become uninspired, depressed and resigned to continue living a life that is not extraordinary, but just there. This, my friends, is the death of us all. Going through life without really living, without committing to something bigger than yourself…you’ll end up at the end of your life saying, “What did I truly accomplish?” 
I decided that I would accomplish something. I decided I wasn’t going to let life control me and just go about my daily routine the same way millions of others did. I’m determined to find my passion in this life, and do things I love. Even if I’m not sure what those are yet, for me, running is something that I can be proud of. When I cross the finish line of my first race, whether I’m in third place or 300th place, I will have accomplished something I’ve set out to do. It will be remarkable to me that I’ve done it and it will give me inspiration and something to work for. And that is my ultimate goal. 

Getting Back Out in the World

Hello everyone! For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Montana, and I’m a certified couch potato. Or I was, until I decided to take up running. You see, I’ve never had any motivation to work out. I have an extremely high metabolism (blessed with good genes) and have never had to watch what I eat. Yes, I’m one of those really annoying people who could have Dunkin Donuts for breakfast, McDonalds for lunch and a full on steak for dinner every night and not gain weight. I don’t actually eat like that, but my point is that I don’t gain weight very easily at all. In fact, when I get sick and lose 10 lbs it takes almost 8 months (at last count) for me to put that weight back on and start fitting in my jeans again. I’ve been this way all my life, and my family has never been particularly healthy or big on working out, so I’ve never really been very excited about it either. Then, last summer (2013), I decided I wanted to run a 5k.

Now I’m also not known for sticking with workout plans. I get really into a workout plan for about 1-2 months, participate in it religiously, and then quit abruptly, little to no explanation given. The reason for this is that nearly every activity on the planet bores me. I’m one of those people who has a very short attention span for almost everything I start. This is a very bad habit, and one I’ve consistently tried to overcome, with little to no success. I could be extremely passionate about something- so passionate you’d think I bled the activity I was doing- yet still get burnt out and bored with it within 3 months tops. Knowing this, I still decided I’d like to try doing a 5k.

I began my training running every other day with the perfect app for couch potatoes like myself- couch to 5k! It gives you a specific training program, alternating running and walking for 8-12 weeks, until you have mastered the program and are ready to run a 5k. Simple, right? Not so much for me. True to my above statement, I was really into the running for about three months…pretty much the whole summer. Until… I took a cruise. And ate. A lot. And slept. A lot. And did nothing productive. You see, the hard part for me is not continuing with the program, or starting the program…it’s starting back up again after I’ve already quit. In my brain I figure, “Well, it didn’t work the first time, why should it work the second?” and I fall into the trap of never starting again. Bad habit. As I’ve repeatedly read in quotes from famous authors and other people of note, if everyone who invented something or pioneered a technique gave up after their first try at something, there wouldn’t have been light, electricity, gas, oil discoveries, automobiles, computers, or any number of other things that make living in the world so convenient nowadays, and that we take for granted on a daily basis.

So I decided to change all that. In December, my friend decided that she wanted to run the Color Run 5k because she wanted to get paint thrown on her. (I offered to grab a can of paint from work and toss it on her, but she didn’t find this comparable.) So, somewhat reluctantly, I signed up for this race with her. And began my training yet again. But this time, I’ve decided that I’ll commit to going the distance. What’s different now, you ask?

There have been a lot of changes in my life this past year, the most memorable to me of which was the ending of my 6 year relationship. Now, many of you are probably wondering what that has to do with running a 5k. The answer lies in my determination. After my relationship ended, I was a little depressed and forlorn (normal for what I went through). I had always thought that my relationship and it’s length had been a great achievement for me, since I had never stuck with anything (human, project, hobby, I mean anything that long before). So naturally, I was very disappointed and withdrawn at the closing of this chapter in my life. I felt dejected, as if I couldn’t complete anything. I felt like I had nothing left to give. And then came a moment of inspiration.

I decided that I would look at this as an opportunity to reinvent myself. What about myself was not working for me? What parts of myself did I want to change? The first thing that came to mind was that I wanted to accomplish something major- to have a goal and work towards it in a big way. I wanted to be able to say I did something awesome, that not everyone does. For me, I decided that I wanted to run a 10k by the end of 2014. And the way to start that was to get off my ass and start running! Since I had already signed up for the Color Run, I began to train for that with my handy C25K app (Couch to 5K), with the intent of downloading the 5K to 10K app when I was done. And I decided to start a blog on my progress. Hopefully by the end of the year, I will have finished a few 5Ks, and my 10K and be on the road to the ultimate goal: the Disney Princess Half Marathon. Wish me luck!