Updated: Jul 11, 2020
Being a “runner” can mean different things. You can be considered a professional if you are in the top 1% of all “runners” out there pounding pavement, trail, or track. Getting paid for appearance fees and deals with companies, becoming the poster boy or girl for said company. You can be an elite runner, snagging some deals and being really good at the sport, but not necessarily making a living off of it. You can be the “runner guy” or “runner girl” type of runner that is known within your small family or friends group as the crazy person that enjoys long, periods of aloneness wether on the streets or on the trails. Then there is everyone, everywhere that has ever laced up a pair of shoes meant for or not meant for running and went somewhere to put in an effort. What is means to be a “runner” has changed over the past few months due to the times that we find ourselves in. COVID-19 has forced the community to reevaluate or what it means to be a “runner.” The situation has given some of us back time in our day to try new things and discover new passions, creativity, or habits that we never had or thought to try. For me, I have been able to rediscover the joy or daily (for the most part) running and how it effects the rest of my life. However, there is one thing that is missing. There is no real goal at the end of all of this. There is nothing to build towards, its like running into an incredibly well lit tunnel but you still can not see where the end is. It has been hard for me getting up in the morning, going for a run, and knowing that I do not know the next time I will toe a start line. This situation, for me, has offered a new perspective on running, physical health, and mental health. It has allowed me to remember why I started running in the first place, and appreciate all that life has given and continues to give.
Setting goals for yourself in life is an important step to achieving anything. Running is no different where the people who enjoy the thrill of competition often build a training block in order to show up on race day properly prepared for however long they will be on their feet. It is something that during the low points of the block you can remember that the workout you currently find yourself in will help you be successful on race day. Now, we do not necessarily have that race date to look for towards when it is Tuesday morning and you would rather play Call of Duty with your friends until 11:00 am than go for a run. So what do you do when you can not look forward to race day where you get to show everyone, mainly yourself, what happens when you put all of that work in? Like I said earlier, the situation that we find ourselves in can allow you to reconnect with some reasons why you decided to start running in the first place. It is important to take the time and reflect on they “why” behind what you do. For me, there are three things that really stand out when reconnecting with that “why.”
#1 - Mental Health
There is a lot of uncertainty in the world right now. When will this be all over? When will be back at work? When will our lives go “back to normal?” All of these questions with no real answer to them can create some pretty serious anxiety. It can cause you to overthink everything and make you sink into the dark place that is the unknown. Everyone needs something in their lives to escape that dark hole, whatever it may be. Something to bring you back out of the funk and reconnect you with the world and yourself. For me, there is nothing better then going for walk with my girlfriend and our dog Luna, a jog, or a run to clear my head and reconnect with the present moment. If you have never given the trails a go, I would highly recommend now that the weather is turning for the better. Nature is starting to wake up and adding a little scenery to your workout never hurts. After some of my runs, most of the time the longer trail runs, I like to jot some thoughts down onto paper. You would be surprised what you think about while you are running. Journaling is a good practice to get into. I go through spurts of consistency, but when I find myself journaling more often my head feels more clear. Running can be an outlet to explore different sides of your mind and how you process stress and anxiety. Consistent journaling is a small thing that can help you build discipline and consistency that can translate into other activities or practices. Once you realize this, wether its after a run or during one, you will experience how running can positively effect your mental health in addition to your physical health.
#2 Physical Health
I wrote about this in my last blog post about my journey and how running has positively effected my weight loss and road to a healthier life. When I found myself struggling to find ways to lose weight, running became the key to hitting the number goals that I set for myself. Focusing mainly on weight training, I was missing the cardio aspect that running provides. Once I started working in consistent runs, not fast by any means, I began to see the results I desired. As you lose weight, running becomes easier, simple math. However, the months when you are still on the road to hitting that final or next number, you can find yourself getting discouraged because maybe it is not happening as quickly as you thought. It is important to remember that everyday you are out on a jog or a run you became “that” much better. Whatever “that” is, you did it, you completed your goal for the day. There are a lot of studies out there that show what running does for your body. Your cardiovascular system, different muscle groups, posture, and on and on, all benefit from you going on a 1 mile to a 20 mile run. A study out of the American College of Cardiology finds that even five to 10 minutes a day of low-intensity running is enough to extend life by several years, compared with not running at all. The new study focused on a group of more than 55,000 men and women ages 18 to 100. About a quarter of them were runners. Over 15 years, those who ran just 50 minutes a week or fewer at a moderate pace were less likely to die from either cardiovascular disease or any cause, compared with those who didn’t run at all. In the end, building consistency is what equals future success. I am a prime example of that. When I run consistently (for me 4-6 times a week), my body feels stronger. I walk better, breathe easier, and feel my muscles getting stronger. There are moments when you will feel weak, maybe the day after a hard workout or a long run, but you have to remember that is your body telling your “well done.” Ultrarunners often preach on “running on tired legs.” If you look at any great Ultrarunner’s Strava account, you will see back to back hard and long workouts. Waking up the next morning after a workout when your legs feel like cinderblocks is the single hardest moment when you try to tell yourself “time to do it again.” However, getting out there for even a small recovery run will pay off double in the long term. It is hard to lace up your shoes that next morning, but remembering and reminding yourself what you are doing to improve your physical health is important. Do not discount what you are doing for yourself. Remind yourself that you are making an effort to become better and whatever distance you go the next day, and the day after, remember you are “that” much better than you were yesterday.
In this moment, finding motivation to do anything is hard. Getting out of bed in the morning, work, exercise, anything, there are times that you just do not feel like doing anything. And that is perfectly ok, everyone has those moments and it is good some days to just do well, nothing. However, doing nothing consistently can have a major negative effect on all aspects of your life, both physical and mental. Finding the motivation to get up an exercise can be tough, and most people that do it for a living still find themselves wanting to stay in bed an extra hour or play video games until 11:00 o’clock. But, winning that mental strength test over and over again can transform motivation into something much more powerful, discipline. Turning motivation into discipline means that in some shape or form you have to go be better than you were yesterday (read above). Discipline is a mindset that whatever you have been doing is non-negotiable. It is a task that you need to check off your list everyday (or 4-6 times a week in my case). Discipline is when it becomes easier to hop out of bed and get your day going or to turn off the TV and your phone to go put your shoes on for a run. This is what we are all eventually building to. It is hard and the road can take turns but at the end of the day if you are able to look inside yourself and say I accomplished the day, then it can give you that extra lift that you need to keep going. Running has taught me how to change motivation into discipline, especially during race build ups. There are days where you know what you have in front of your when it comes to a long run or maybe a track workout. Something strenuous and something that you know is going to suck for however long you are out there. It will not be a casual jog, but a red-lining workout that is going to hurt. When all those thoughts go through your head and you still are able to get going and get out there, you won the battle. It is constant work that demands your attention every single day. Keep track of how many times you won that mental conversation throughout the week. Do not get discouraged if you lost it more times than you won, maybe that is your body screaming at your to take it easy. But, if you win that conversation more times than not, you will be on the path to turning motivation into chronic discipline and finding more enjoyment in whatever you are doing.
When starting anything new, there will always be the questions you ask yourself around “why” you are doing it. For me, the reasons “why” have changed over time but the three above have stayed consistent. Goals, workouts, and races will come and go but reminding myself of these three have kept me focused on my overall improvement. COVID-19 has forced everyone, including myself, to rethink certain aspects of our lives and reconnect with what means the most. Not taking for granted the time you spend with friends and family and certainly your health. I challenge everyone that may have a little more time on their hands during these moments, to think about how you can improve your physical and mental health. Understand your “whys” behind what you do, turn motivation into discipline, and do not get discouraged during the tough times. I hope that everyone continues to stay safe and healthy. See you on the other side.