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I may be an Olympic middle-distance runner, but I wasn’t born with a passion for running. What I did have right from the start was passion to move, to push myself, to feel the adrenaline. I always enjoyed being able to take on a challenge and figure out ways to become better, to overcome weaknesses, and home in on my goals.
Through this process I developed a hardcore passion for movement. I love how movement helps me carry on through my daily life with energy and pride. I love how movement also shows me that I am strong, I am resilient, and I have the tremendous ability to persevere and to overcome obstacles. I have the ability to take a challenge head-on, knowing it isn’t going to be easy, but knowing the hard-fought effort is worth it.
In my experience, most of us know we should work out, and many of us even want to work out, but we have no idea where or how to begin. I don’t belong to a gym! I don’t have much time! But fitness doesn’t need to be a burden. Done right, a healthy, fit lifestyle doesn’t have to cost a lot or put you in a pain cave. And I guarantee that if you can start a program and stick to it, you will begin to want more.
The great thing about running is that it is so accessible. Find yourself a good pair of shoes, a watch, and a foam roller, and you are on your way. Run repeatedly and you just might start to feel truly free, like you can fly. It’s not a speed thing: It’s all about moving athletically, and all of the “feels” that come with that.
Fitness is a great metaphor for life. It is a space to challenge yourself, to reach a goal, to hit a PR, and to progress in ways big and small. Whether you want to become a better runner or just start running, the big idea here is growth. Let’s not settle for more of the same. Your body wants to work for you. It’s time to begin thinking about how we move through everyday life, and commit to moving our bodies so we can be better. If you have reached a plateau physically or emotionally, let’s take on a new challenge and see what happens. Here are eight easy, totally-doable ways you can create more consistency and fall in love (or back in love!) with exercise.
Pick a Finish Line That You Can Reach
Too many times we start an ambitious training program or join a gym and after a while we lose motivation. I suggest setting challenges that are just 2–4 weeks in duration. Why? Because we all need to feel validated by reaching our goal.
Think Outside the Box
Don’t limit your fitness to formal workouts! Everyday to-dos like mowing the yard, washing the car, cleaning the baseboards, and carrying groceries will help you work up a sweat. So do a few shoulder presses with a gallon of milk and give yourself the credit you deserve!
Remember Your “Why”
As a mother and an athlete, I want to be better and I recognize that means I need to “practice” every single day. I want to model for my kids what it looks like to be fierce and resilient. Now, I’ll be the first to admit I am human and, like anyone, my motivation can wane. But I know that if I can get one foot out the door, the other will quickly follow, and my children will see that mama also has rough days, but she doesn’t give up. I know that once I get started, I will start to feel better. On days when it just is straight torture, I think about how much better I will feel having fought through a mentally tough day. Barring sickness, exercise is a great mood booster. Once you start sweating, those endorphins start working their magic.
Don’t Skip the Warm-Up
In track and field, we spend a lot of time working on agility and quickness. Activation drills and strength training played a huge role in my training and preparation as a professional athlete, and I credit this work with keeping me relatively injury-free. Even now, most of the workouts I do entail activation drills. Yet, among many distance runners and recreational runners, this kind of work is often overlooked.
We need to prepare our bodies to move. Imagine your morning without a coffee, or being woken up and immediately expected to perform at your best. Warming up prior to a workout, doing activation drills, is like communicating to your body, “We are about to do a little bit more, you cool?” Get it done and you can hear your body say, “Yeah, let’s do this.”
You need your body to work with you, not against you. Activation drills teach your body to fire in the correct sequence to avoid injury. It’s easy to lose sight of this, but if you show your body how to move in an efficient way, you will fire up the neurological pathways that put peak performance on autopilot. Put in this time—literally just a few minutes before every workout—and you will find it easier to move, and over time, you can expect more from your body.
Really Listen to Your Body
If you’ve been running for years, you might know how fast you can run a mile or a 5K. If you’ve only run when someone was chasing you, I’ve got your back. I like to talk about pace and effort in terms of how it feels. After all, I want you to listen to your body every step of the way. So, as you run, gauge perceived effort on a scale of 1–10.
If you train with a watch, you will begin to figure out what your typical pace is at different distances over time. I’ve also added in some of the different run paces used throughout the challenges that follow so you can know what to expect. We will also do some benchmark tests and time trials to give you a better sense of how to pace your workouts.
One important thing to keep in mind is that the same pace can feel really different from one day to the next. If you didn’t sleep well or if stress has you at the max before you even put your shoes on, chances are good that a hard effort will feel even harder. This is why it’s important to listen to your body. Give it your best, but stay true to how the effort should feel, trusting that you’ll have another chance at busting out that top speed.
Focus on What You Can Do
On the days when you don’t have time for a run—fit in a few running drills! They’ll give you just enough agility and quickness to make you feel great. That could be doing high skips or invisible jump rope, or split squat jumps. Do 12–16 reps or 30-second intervals. Fit in sets as time allows.
Find Your Off Switch
Fitness works when you fit it in around the parts of your life that fulfill you. Remember to ask for help in balancing all of the responsibilities a week holds—work, laundry, wiping butts, making meals. You’ll have more energy for all of that when you get back from your workout.
I’ll just call it right now. You will miss some workouts. Whether you get sucked into a big deadline at work, get sick, or find yourself taking care of your kids, oversleep, undersleep, or experience any other insurmountable obstacle in a day, let’s just accept that it will happen and move on. The whole point of setting a fitness streak is to know what it feels like to consistently make time for moving and feeling good. Do it and you’ll want more of it. So stop beating yourself up over a missed workout. Tomorrow’s a new day. Commit to your workout and get back on track.
Adapted from Feel-Good Fitness: Fun Workout Challenges to Inspire Your Fitness Streak by Alysia Montaño with permission from VeloPress.