Running – The Other 20%

In the past couple of weeks, I have had a lot of people ask me why my skin has cleared up and why I’ve gotten increasingly buff and what I’ve been taking to keep my energy level up despite giving up my three-venti-Americano-no-room-two-Splenda-a-day Starbucks habit.  They all assume one of two things:

1) I am shelving out top-dollar for a miracle supplement that I need to share with them – immediately.

2) All that running is finally starting to pay off.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. While I am taking a green drink supplement after intense training sessions (both on the road and in the gym) and I am running four times a week and I am training with personal trainers three times a week, I do not credit any of these habits with the rapid transition my body has made in the past month.  I’ve always been a runner.  I’ve always hit the gym more than most of the people I know.  Despite these habits, I have also always been an average weight and I’ve always had a pretty terrible body fat percentage.  Additionally, I have almost always gained weight while training for half marathons.  It wasn’t until I put down the cigarettes, dropped the bottle of Jameson’s and started eating real food that I started seeing a change in my mental and physical state.

Nobody believes this.  In fact, when I tell people that the Paleo scheme I’m following is 80% of the reason I am feeling so great lately, they all look at me and laugh, saying something along the lines of: “oh no… it must be something else. You’re a runner!”  A few hours later, they ask me when I’m going to “go off the Paleo kick” and grab a slice of pizza and some beers.  When I tell them it’s not a “kick” and that pizza and beers are going to have to wait for a very special occasion, their heads cock and a look of extreme confusion pops onto their pretty little faces.  Despite the simplicity of the message, very few people believe that the real reason I’m thriving is because I’m concentrating a lot of energy and attention toward nutrition.  Sure, physical activity helps – but nutrition is helping me hit the home run (without jacking myself full of steroids).

Running 30 miles or more per week alone will not help you lose weight.  It helps, but it’s really only about 20% of the solution (Note: NOT an actual percentage.  More like a very well-informed conjecture.)  But since so many people think 1) it’s been my catalyst, 2) it will produce miracle results and 3) it will lead to a perma-spike in energy, here are some tips to help you jump onto the runner bandwagon.

1) Be humble.  Running is different than weight lifting or cycling or ellipticalling.  It asks you to put significant weight on your joints while pushing your cardiovascular capacity to the limit.  It will not feel good for the first few weeks.  When I started running, my lower back and feet and ankles and shins were almost constantly in pain.  I couldn’t run three flat city blocks without pausing to catch my breath.  I once packed a cigarette and debit card in my running shorts because I wasn’t sure if I’d make a full lap around Greenlake before needing to stop at the pub for a beer (seriously).  The painful period lasts for a couple of weeks (depending on your fitness level).  Then, it ends.  By the time you get a couple weeks of running in, you’re hitting a consistent pace and seeing results.  You might notice faster times or fewer walk breaks or that a natural stride is developing.  You’re ready for the next step.

2) Invest in Good shoes and Good socks.  I use to buy my running shoes at Nordstrom Rack and wear mismatched socks whenever I went out for a jog.  The result? A stress fracture that sidelined me for the better part of the year.  You don’t need designer pants or high-tech t-shirts, but Good shoes and Good socks will save you a lot of pain.

3) Set a goal.  I don’t care what the goal is.  It could be to run a mile, or complete a 5K, or participate in an ultra-marathon.  The goal doesn’t matter.  What matters is what comes next – planning out your training calendar and holding yourself accountable for the plan.  Training calendars litter the internet.  Two of the most straight-forward and beginner-friendly are Hal Higdon and Jeff Galloway, who provide easy to follow (free!) plans for a variety of different race lengths. Another option is the Couch-to-5K app for Android and iPhone, which makes it easy to track your progress electronically.

4) Track your progress.  Whether you use a journal, excel spreadsheet, iPhone app, bulletin board, or blog (I’ve used them all), it is absolutely paramount that you write down your progress, particularly if you are training aggressively.  You can write an essay or a single word – so long as there is a log of how your body feels post-run, you are golden.

5) Create a playlist that keeps you moving.  I pay for a monthly subscription to Spotify so that I can bring my running playlist with me wherever I go.  And, I have access to millions of songs that help keep the rotation fresh.

6) Don’t overdo it.  Feeling extra-sore from a run that was two days ago? Skip your run today – or walk it instead.  Hit the gym and lift some weights, but avoid major running muscle groups.  Take care of your body and your body will take care of you.

7) Prepare to be amazed.  Sooner than later, you will start to look forward to running.  Seriously – it takes some time, but those runs you scheduled in your daily planner will become as mandatory as work… and TWICE as fun / fulfilling / worthwhile.  If you live in Seattle, use your runs to marvel in how freaking beautiful your city is.  If you don’t live in Seattle, use your runs to plan a vacation here.  Whether or not your new running habit is accompanied by weight loss, you will notice an overall improvement in your energy levels.

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