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New Year’s resolutions can get a bad wrap. Less than 8% of people are able to stick to their resolutions, but every year, the pull to set new goals is almost irresistible.
I’m a resolution apologist. I started running as a New Year’s resolution, and that one did stick. What started as a New Year’s resolution for me is now a full-time career and a very fulfilling hobby that consistently encourages me to take better care of my body and mind. So, you never know. I’ve always loved singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie’s “New Year’s Rulin’s”, which contains sage advice for any age. Read good books, wash teeth (if any), dance better, write a song a day, keep rancho clean, and the ever-relevant – beat fascism. My favorite has always been keep the hoping machine running. God, I love that. That’s what this list is all about, living in a way that aligns with our values and prioritizes what’s important to us, rather than what sells more shoes, diet apps or newfangled recovery products.
Here’s how I’m keeping the hoping machine running into 2023.
1. Fuel for running and life
The human body is a miracle. It can transform pizza into the energy to run ultramarathons. It’s amazing! Treat it as such!
The point of your body is not to shrink to its smallest form. The point is to give you the energy to show up for everything in your life, from a run, to grocery shopping, to vacation with your family, to setting a PR on the Sunday crossword puzzle. Rather than focusing on counting macros or restricting calories, focus on fueling in a way that makes you feel good and gives you the energy to go after your goals. Want to be a stronger athlete? A better parent? A more caring community member? There’s an app(etizer) for that!
Stop focusing on what you should and shouldn’t eat, and focus on eating enough. No one wants to go to their deathbed wishing they had eaten one more pizza bagel.
2. Buy less gear
Over 10 percent of global carbon emissions come from the apparel industry – more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
Aside from choosing clothes and gear made in countries with stricter environmental regulations, like Canada, the E.U. and the U.S., you can keep clothing out of landfills and reduce your environmental impact by following the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. And recycling should be the last resort. More and more brands are instituting repair programs for just this reason, so before you replace something, see if it can be fixed instead.
BUY. LESS. GEAR.
The priority should be to reduce the amount of gear that gets made and contributes to environmental degradation by using precious resources and producing waste. The single biggest contribution you can make is to buy less, and only buy what you need.
3. Forget what you think “strong” is supposed to look like. Strength train for health and function, not looks.
If you already do a bit of functional strength and mobility, disregard this paragraph and use your extra time for Resolution #7.
Forget six-pack abs and cantaloupe biceps. If you don’t currently have a strength program you like, we recommend this beginner cheat sheet, or this regimen for injury prevention. Both are designed with the movement patterns and injury risks of trail runners in mind.
The best strength program is the one you can complete consistently without feeling excessively tired or sore, and ideally, one you enjoy. Strength training should support your running, not take away from it. It should make you a better, stronger, happier runner. You don’t need to get #swoll or get a six-pack to be strong. Focus on feeling good and staying healthy, not looking a certain way.
4. Start a training log
One of the biggest changes you can make to level up in your training is to start seriously recording and tracking what you’re doing. While activity and health apps like Strava and Whoop have benefits, taking time offline to record your runs and track more subjective information can spur intimate reflection on how you’re really feeling.
Instead of, or along with, training data, record how you feel, how you slept, your perceived effort on a run, if you saw a cool animal or a rainbow or something you’re grateful for. When you have a paper training log, you’re in charge of what you pay attention to.
Our favorite thing about offline training logs is that they’re just for you. You don’t have to show anybody else, and there’s no comparison like you might find on Strava (which is why our assistant editor avoids the app entirely). Be honest and vulnerable. You’re the only person who will ever see it! Accept the bad days along with celebrating the good ones, knowing that everyone experiences both. Putting pen to paper (or cursor to word doc) gives some distance from the data and allows us to reflect on what matters to us. Paying attention to patterns in energy and fatigue can help identify potential injury precursors and will help you stay more consistent and healthy. You can see our favorite training log here.
5. Focus on activity level, not weight
Brace yourself: inboxes are about to flood with emails insinuating that January 1 is a great time to recommit to a restrictive diet (it’ll work this time, we promise!!) and lose the Covid 15. DON’T LISTEN.
Research shows that people who focus on being more active rather than losing weight end up improving their cardiovascular health and reducing all-cause mortality. Most people who use diets or weight loss regimens fail, and emphasizing fitness and activity rather than weight creates a more sustainable and attainable goal – with better health outcomes overall.
Throw away your scale (unless a medical professional has advised otherwise) and stop counting calories. Focus on moving your body in a way that feels good and brings you joy.
6. Prioritize mental health
If you’ve read this far on a list of health-related New Year’s resolutions, you probably have a demonstrated interest in health and performance. But one of the most overlooked aspects of health, for athletes particularly, is mental health.
The brain is a body part, and mental health struggles should be treated just like physical injuries. If you got a stress fracture, you wouldn’t tell your femur to just get over it. You’d give it TLC, allow it to rest and come back slowly, showing some extra love to the injured area. Make sure you’re giving your brain the same love and judgment-free attention. This year, double down on taking care of your mental health. Meditation, journaling or any other mindfulness practice is great mental health pre-hab.
While running and exercise are great tools to ease and prevent some aspects of mental illness, they’re not the whole toolbox. Invest in other methods of self-care and mental wellbeing like therapy with a professional. Mental and physical wellbeing are deeply interconnected, and when you prioritize the brain, the body will follow.
7. Listen to your body
Just like speed or endurance, the ability to listen to your body is a skill that can be cultivated. In 2023, make listening (and responding!) to your body a priority. If you’re tired, rest. If you’re hungry, eat. If something hurts, don’t run. Make a habit of listening and responding to your body’s natural cues, rather than pushing through. As the saying goes, listen to your body when it whispers so you wont’ have to hear it when it screams.
And don’t forget, as our friend, coach and columnist David Roche says: the body knows stress, not miles. When you have a hard day and the big workout you had on your training plan just seems like too much, give yourself some grace. If the idea of running inspires dread and not joy or motivation, make a change.
Forcing a run when you’re tired, hungry or hurt isn’t a sign of strength. Making intentional, informed decisions about what’s going on in your body, is.
8. Rest intentionally
Most of us face a bias toward action and productivity. We overemphasize doing hard workouts and super long runs just like we do working longer hours and getting more done. But remember: the most important training adaptations happen when we’re resting.
Without rest, your body can’t adapt to the stimulus you’re giving it. Stress+rest = adaptation. Stress+stress+stress, with no rest = disaster (injury and overtraining). Work and rest are equally important in training, even if rest doesn’t get you any kudos on Strava.
Stress+rest = adaptation. Stress+stress+stress, with no rest = disaster (injury and overtraining).
Make resting intentionally a part of your training. Write your rest days in your training log! (See Resolution #6.) Celebrate the days you intentionally spend on the couch. Resting before you’re hurt or overtrained is what allows you to stay consistent in the long term and adapt over time.
9. Invest in your community
Around the start of the year, many people draw up ambitious running goals: a new race distance, a PR, a new mileage or vert record. Racing is fun, and is a great way to find community through competition. But, without a deeper “why” behind your running, that connection may become unfulfilling. This year, reallocate time and energy toward something that gives back to your community – wherever your heart may be.
RELATED: A Love Letter To My Competitive Side
Last year, I started volunteering with Runners For Public Lands, a climate-justice non-profit that helps connect runners around the U.S. with environmental and social justice initiatives in their area. Now, I have an opportunity to represent an organization I’m passionate about, and that gives running a deeper resonance.
Find something that you care about and dig in. Maybe it’s a local initiative to conserve public lands or increase outdoor access. Maybe you can spend a little extra time building trails or picking up trash. Volunteer to crew a friend at their big race, or contact a local race director to help mark or clean up a course.
Running can feel mostly self-centered, but there are countless ways to use it as a platform for good. Find one that resonates with you, and invest in it. Supporting others and connecting with your community isn’t just good for others, it may help improve your performance too!
10. Have more fun!
I love this quote from A Summer Day by Mary Oliver: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”.
This article won’t give you the steps to PR your marathon or get six-pack abs. But we hope it helps you live in a way that recognizes we’re only here for a short time. At the end of my life, there’s no way I’ll wish I had spent more time on Twitter or checking after-hours emails. Most of my regrets will be about the summits I wish I’d reached, or the cheesecake I wished I had eaten.
This year, get serious about having more fun. Resist the temptation to over-optimize in ways that prioritize productivity to the detriment of fun-ductivity. We only have this one wild and precious life, and I want to freaking send it, even if that means missing a few emails, slowing down to enjoy the view and weathering cheesecake-induced GI issues. We want you to send it too.
Fun isn’t the opposite of focus in an athletic life. It’s a critical part of one, allowing us to laugh at the fact that we love and want to get better at something that feels as silly as trail running. If not for the fun of it, why do we do this in the first place? I always write and run my best when it’s coming from a place of fun, not forced seriousness.
Each year, one of my favorite writers, Brendan Leonard, re-publishes a blog post he first wrote in 2011, “Make This Year The Year of Maximum Enthusiasm.” Each year, it rings true.
“Your life, even the bad parts, is fucking amazing. And most of the small things that make up your life are amazing, too — mountain bike rides, rock climbs, ski runs, sunsets, stars, friends, people, girlfriends and boyfriends, dogs, songs, movies, jokes, smiles … hell, even that burrito you ate for lunch today was pretty phenomenal, wasn’t it?”
Don’t just think about what you can do to have more fun, think about what you already have that is fun as hell. This life is wild and precious, and you get to decide what to do with it. So many resolutions passed down by influencers and magazines like our own emphasize getting fit, losing weight, buying stuff, being productive or emphasizing some exterior achievement to the detriment of a fulfilled life, whatever that looks like for you.
The most important thing you can do this year is to have more fun. 2023, let’s do this!