Friday evening I went for a run. According to my watch, It was my first outdoor run since June 2. But I’m getting ahead of myself-let’s rewind.
I always liked running, but sophomore year of college I decided I was going to do a half marathon. So I did, and then I did 8 more over the next few years. I really, really enjoyed it. Soon my sister started doing them, then my mom and dad, then my roommates. I loved having that connection with others, feeling strong, and challenging myself. I found that running 3x a week was my sweet spot. Any more than that, and I burned out and/or got injured.
I really did enjoy running, but I was terrified of taking time off- even when I was injured. I was afraid I would lose any fitness I had gained in training, and I would slow down or not be able to run as far. I’m sure some of it was a fear that if I stopped, I would gain weight, but it was really more about the actual running.
Even when I wasn’t training, I kept running 3x a week most of the time until very recently. I still enjoyed it, but I think that part of me felt like I “had” to, just because that’s what I always did. What if I ran less? Would I still be a “runner”? I felt like I should be be able to do the same speed workouts week to week. Part of it was habit, and part of it was being competitive with myself and wanting to be able to keep up any progress I had made. I felt stressed about skipping workouts or not exercising “enough,” and I’ve made a lot of progress over the past year.
I realized my mindset had shifted for the better when I just skipped the Tar Heel 10 Miler after getting engaged. In the past, I would have been distraught over missing a race I had trained for. Over last year in particular, I’ve felt more peaceful about exercise. I did more of what I wanted to do instead of what I felt I “should” do, and I discussed some of that in this post. But this summer I realized that I was still hanging onto some black and white thinking about it. Here are some examples of the lingering “diet mentality” I still had around exercising.
-I felt like if I didn’t run X miles or lift weights for X minutes, it didn’t “count.”
-I thought if I walked at all during my run, it wasn’t a “real run.”
-If I went a week or so without running, I worried I wouldn’t be able to do it when I tried again.
-My exercise log was making me feel bad. During training, it’s very helpful for tracking mileage and seeing progress. However, I realized it was making me feel inadequate when I didn’t have a race on the calendar. If I hadn’t done “structured” exercise that day. If I just took my dog for a walk, or if I did nothing at all, I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. I felt like simple activities I enjoyed didn’t “count” as exercise that I could write down. So when I ran out of pages this summer I didn’t order another one.
Coming home this summer has been really good for me. I think if I was still in my apartment, I would have felt pressure to keep running 3x a week, even if it didn’t sound good. I have a trail right outside my door and a treadmill at my apartment gym I really like. See below-it has the perfect spot for my personal fan. Best $10 I ever spent.
But home is different. I have to drive about 20 minutes to get to a running route. Each day I wake up around 6:15 and enjoy a cup of coffee with my parents. I didn’t want to give that up, or wake up earlier to drive and run by myself. I was adjusting to my real people work schedule, versus my usual flexible school schedule, and didn’t want to go after work. So I didn’t. Plus, it’s way too hot for me and my parents’ treadmill drives me nuts. Running on that thing made me mad, and I don’t like feeling that way during exercise!
So I started asking myself, “What movement, if any, do I want to do today?” And running has not been the answer. A couple of days, I did a mile or so of walk/run because it sounded good. I didn’t feel pressure to write it down, or even think about if it “counted” or not. That’s what I wanted to do, and it was enough. I didn’t replace the running with another type of cardio, which I know I would have done in the past. This summer I’ve enjoyed doing yoga, circuit workouts, walking, or nothing at all.
There were a couple of times that I looked in the mirror and wondered “Have I gained weight? Should I work out more?” It can be hard to do less in this culture that is always telling us to do MORE. It can be hard for me to fight my urge to be competitive with myself and work through feelings that I’m not doing enough. But I’ve learned to sit with discomfort and try to not let those negative thoughts impact my actions. And let me tell you, asking myself what I want to do and actually meaning it has been so freeing.
I’ve come to realize that running doesn’t have to be my identity. I can be whatever I want to be on any given day! I don’t have to always do the same things, or stick to silly rules I’ve internalized for myself. Some days running will sound good, and other times sitting on the couch watching Netflix will. Some mornings I might want to go to the gym, and others I might not want to give up quiet time with a cup of coffee. I’m no better or worse if I run 4 days a week or zero. I feel like I knew that somewhere inside, but I’ve finally started believing and living it.
I enjoyed my run on Friday, and I definitely felt it the next day! But that’s okay. I don’t always have to be in the same running or fitness shape. Maybe a more structured exercise routine or specific workout be appealing to me another time. Next month, maybe I’ll want to run more. Maybe not. Running and exercising often is not a problem in and of itself, and neither is having a schedule or structure. The problem wasn’t that I was running 3 days a week, it was that I felt like I had to do that much or else I was failing. Maybe a structured workout schedule and training for a specific goal feels good to you right now. Go you! I always think that intentions behind actions and the way you feel about them is more important than the action itself, if that makes sense.
The number one thing I’ve learned over the past year or so is self compassion. I’m learning to be more kind to myself. It’s funny to look back and remember these same thoughts at the beginning of my intuitive eating journey. For example, I learned to do (eat) what feels good to me and ditch the guilt. It has taken me a while longer to get there with exercise, and that’s okay. I’ll never have it all figured out, and it’s not always easy, but for right now it feels great to have broken through some of that black and white thinking.
I think I’ve mentioned that I’m training for the Tar Heel 10 Miler, which is a week from tomorrow! I ran it in 2015, and that fall I completed my 9th half marathon and finally broke 2 hours. After that, I was pretty burnt out on running and I haven’t done another race since then. Needless to say, this round of training has felt very new and fresh after all that time off from racing. It also has been really FUN.
I have always loved running, but in the past I took it too seriously. I still had fun, but I was more intense about it than I am now. Of course, I have to give up some things when I’m training for a race, like having nice looking feet and sleeping in on Saturday, but there’s no need for it to take over my life and brain space. I wanted to share some thoughts on how training has been different this time around and how I’ve reframed how I view running.
In the past, I would feel disappointed if I didn’t hit a certain pace or mileage goal. When I woke up for a long run, I would feel so nervous and end up with a stomach ache! I was convinced it had something to do with eating dairy before a run, but it was all in my head. I knew deep down that my pace didn’t matter. What was someone going to do, beat me up if I ran slowly? Of course not! A lot of that is my personality- I get really nervous before tests, presentations, and races, too. I still get a little jittery before a long run, but now I just go out and try to have fun. I do the best I can on that day, in that moment, and that’s enough.
Now don’t get me wrong, I still have a structure to my running and certain goals I aim for. On my easy day run, I try not to look at my pace at all. During speedwork once a week, I do aim for certain speeds. It’s fun to push the pace on those days. When I do long runs with Anna and Grace, we know what our usual pace is and would like to be there, but we are also OK if we need to slow down. (Oh yeah, run with people. That makes it way more fun!)
I would be thrilled to beat my time from the 2015 Tar Heel 10 Miler, but I’m also completely happy just to finish if that’s not in the cards on that day. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of thinking “well, I’ve been running two more years since then-I should be faster.” We change all through life and I’m not the exact same runner that I was two years ago! There are so many factors that go into how we feel, especially when we run. It’s fun to chase goals and accomplish them, but there will be off days/races/training cycles. How fast or slow I run doesn’t define me, and focusing too much on my time takes the fun out of it for me.
This was SO hard for me in the past. When I felt an ache or twinge, it was hard for me to skip a run. Part of it was a fear of weight gain, but I also thought I would lose any progress I had made in training. My fear of missing a workout was NOT healthy. That led to a couple of injuries I could have possibly avoided had I taken some rest. Now if I’m achy, I’ll stretch and foam roll and skip a run or two if I need it. Having a healthy body for life is way more important than hitting my mileage goal or even completing a race. Running will always be there for me when I come back if I have to take time off because I’m burnt out or something hurts.
In the past, I felt like I had to do 3 runs, a certain number of strength workouts, and yoga each week. This was an unattainable goal for me and as a result, I set myself up to feel inadequate. I’ve learned that many things in my life are more important than running. Yes, if I want to complete a race without feeling like death I need to carve out some time for training. But some mornings I sleep late and don’t have time for all the miles I planned. Or I’m flat out exhausted after school and skip a run. Sometimes cuddling my dog and drinking coffee wins out over a morning workout. If I do all 3 runs in a week and make it to the gym a couple times, great! If I am super overwhelmed and only do half of that, great!
Let me just say loud and clear- YOU ALWAYS DESERVE TO EAT. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO EARN IT. In the past, I tried to control my body using food and exercise, and of course the two were related. It definitely fed into my fear of missing a workout. Before and after a long run or race, I was so excited to eat all the foods that were still somewhat off limits. Nothing’s wrong with what I was eating, but my mindset was. I was eating foods I truly don’t even enjoy, just because I felt like I was “allowed” to. I would drink Gatorade because it was sugary and fun, and I really don’t even like Gatorade.
Whether you are training for a marathon or you’re currently not exercising at all, you deserve to eat. It is a biological need and it is not tied to how much or how little you move your body. Yes, running often makes me hungrier, so at times I need to eat more to support that activity. But now I do not have “good” and “bad” foods, and I listen to my body to tell me how much to eat. And I eat what I want in that moment.
I don’t see anything wrong with having a goal and training for it if you’re in the right headspace and have a healthy relationship with movement. Training for a goal and accomplishing it is awesome and something to celebrate! However, I believe that your running/movement should fit into your life and be a way to relieve stress and have fun. At the end of the day, running is fun and part of my life, but it’s just that-part of my life. There’s a lot more to life and to my value than how fast or far I can run, and I’m happy to just be out there running.
With a new year comes so much talk and advertisement about the next great diet or workout challenge. I’ve tackled my thoughts about food on the blog several times, so I thought today I would switch it up and give exercise/movement/whatever you wanna call it some love. When I see “fitspo” things on the internet telling us things like “sweat is fat crying” or “summer bodies are made in the winter,” I can’t help but feel sad.
We are constantly hearing messages that we aren’t doing enough and that we should be doing more to change our bodies. What if we just stopped all that nonsense and instead focused on the life-enhancing aspects of movement? For some reason, there is this overarching idea in our society that you have to dislike your body to be motivated to exercise. That’s just so not true. There are so many health-enhancing (and mood boosting!) aspects of exercise that I think would be better to focus on than trying to manipulate our bodies.
I exercise to get out of my head and into my body. If you’ve struggled with anxiety like I have, you’ll understand this is very important. I exercise to relieve stress and clear my mind, to connect with myself and others, and to achieve new goals. I move my body because it feels good. I want to live a long, healthy life, and I know exercise is one way to increase my chances of that.
I exercise not because I hate my body, but because I love what it does for me. Exercise is not a way to punish myself for something I ate, or to “free up calories” so I can eat later. (Guess what? You always have the right to eat, you don’t need to earn it!) Moving my body on a regular basis is something I want to do, because it makes me feel good. It’s energizing! It’s not something that I feel like I HAVE to do. After all, being able to engage in exercise is a privilege.
It sounds so simple, but I think the enjoyment factor is often overlooked for intensity. We think if we don’t burn X number of calories or sweat or work until we want to puke, we didn’t work hard enough. That’s just not true! Many activities like walking or gardening may not work up a huge sweat, but can have significant health impacts. It’s perfectly fine to enjoy intense exercise, but that isn’t appealing to everyone. It’s important to find what works for you. Be kind to yourself and do movement that makes you feel good. After all, if you enjoy exercise and feel better when you do it, why would you ever stop?
I truly enjoy running and lifting weights. I love the feeling of breaking a time or distance goal while running. It’s exciting to be able to lift heavier weights over time. However, there was a time when I took it too seriously and caused myself a lot of anxiety. I became so thrilled over seeing my pace improve and lift more weight that I didn’t want to stop. I thought if I missed a workout or two, I would lose the progress I had made. Once I realized that this wasn’t true and that exercise should be fun, I was able to enjoy it again. Exercise should relieve stress, not add to it.
Being in tune with your body and listening when it’s time for rest is just as important as moving regularly! Some days I’m just not excited about exercise, but I know once I start I’ll be happy I did. Other days, like this Tuesday, I needed 30 more minutes of sleep more than I needed a 30 minute run. Above all else, it’s important to be kind to yourself. Sometimes that means sticking to your usual routine, and other times that means resting because your body or mind needs that more. Or it might mean taking a walk on a day you planned on something else, because that’s what sounded good to you. Just like with eating, it’s important to ask what you want and need, then go from there.
What form of exercise do YOU enjoy? Have you tried anything new lately?