My wife and I ran our first 5k race last Saturday. This is the first time I have ever trained for a race, ran a race or run further than one mile. I’m more of a hiking and biking kind of guy.
But we did it. I’ll tell you my time just to make you all feel better about your own exercise habits. We finished in just over 35 minutes (yes, we walked for about half of it).
I learned some valuable lessons about habits and commitments over the past few weeks as we’ve been training for this race.
1. The body is strong but the mind is weak.
Our bodies can do amazing things. Jump out of planes, climb mountains, run, bike, walk and swim hundreds of miles and more. Some people are stronger than others, but only because they’ve put more time and effort into training their bodies and honing their skills. Almost everyone has that potential.
During our training we did intervals of running/jogging and walking. We walked for X amount of time and then ran for X amount of time and repeated that process 4 or 5 times. When we started I felt tired after about 45 seconds of running. When the week of the race came we were running 3-4 minutes and walking 1-2 minutes per interval. I thought that I would die if I ran longer than 4 minutes straight. I was constantly checking the stopwatch to see when our running time would be up so we could walk again.
When we started the race, an interesting thing happened. We started running and then we kept running… and kept running… for almost 9 minutes straight! The difference? I wasn’t checking the stopwatch. Whenever we ran during the 5k it was always for longer than 4 minutes. When I let my body take over and put my mind to rest, I performed much better. Sometimes your brain is a wimp. Tell it to shut up when it tells you that you’re not strong enough or that you can’t do something. Then take some of Nike’s advice and just do it.
2. Having a buddy makes it easier.
My wife and I have been training together for the past month or so to get ready for the race. We run and bike together in the evenings or on weekends. Without her, I would probably miss 50-75% of my workouts, make excuses, shorten my runs and cheat myself out of a good routine. We keep each other motivated to get out there and run, even if we’re tired, hungry or unmotivated. If you’re trying to make a habit change, recruit someone to either do it with you or cheer you on. Your buddy will keep you accountable and motivated.
3. Make a plan to make a change.
My wife is a great planner. She found our interval training and figured out which days we would run, put them in the calendar and figured out how much time we’d need for each run. One of my biggest problems with habit change (especially with exercise) is having too many things to think about. What time should I exercise? Where should I go? What should I do? For how long? What’s my goal? By making a specific, easy to follow plan with increasing difficulty, we had fewer excuses. We knew what days and times we would run or bike, how far, how long and what our goal was. This made it super easy to get out the door.
4. Do something you enjoy or it won’t stick.
Running has been great. We’re in better shape and we ran our first race. I’ve learned a lot about my mind and body. However, over the past 2 months my wife and I have found that we enjoy biking a lot more than running. When we finish our current training plan and run another 5k we will likely bike more and only run occasionally. If you don’t enjoy the habit change you’re making, maybe you need to reexamine what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
Of course, you’re not going to completely enjoy every new habit. Eating healthy foods can be a challenge for those used to a fast food and junk food diet. Exercise is almost always difficult at first. I think it comes down to how you feel during the process compared to how you feel with the outcome. Biking and running give us the same outcome: a good workout, better health, a “runner’s high”, time together, fresh air and sunshine, etc. But we enjoy the process of biking a whole lot more. Try something out. If you don’t like the process or the outcome, try something different to get the desired outcome with a better process.
5. Keep it simple.
Simplicity makes forming a new habit much easier. When I run, I take my wallet, keys, phone and a water bottle. I use the stopwatch function on my phone for interval training and a running app to track our distance, speed and other information. I don’t use any fancy gadgets or tons of apps. I’m not worried about metrics like heart rate or blood sugar levels. I don’t analyze time of day compared to temperature compared to barometric pressure compared to pace. I start the timer and the app and start running.
With any habit, you should keep it as simple as possible. Don’t overcomplicate something that should be simple. If you’re trying to wake up earlier, you need to get to bed earlier and set your alarm a few minutes earlier. The rest is in your brain and consists of choosing to get out of bed with the trigger (alarm clock). Trying to eat healthier? Eat out less one meal at a time and eat more fresh fruits and veggies. Stick to the basics. If you want to track things later on to fine tune or improve your habit, go for it. To start, though, keep it simple.