Why do you lace up your Brooks or slip on your Vibrams and hit the road? Why do you get up early or stay up late to put in an hour on the treadmill? Why do you put in the miles?
Whatever your reason, the word for what drives you is motivation. We all come to (or I hope will come to) running from different places, and therefore many of us are motivated by different reasons. We have all had the on again off again spurts of running/exercise. Whether it was because we felt we needed to drop a few pounds or our doctor told us we needed to get some exercise, we have all dangled the carrot in front of ourselves to get our feet moving.
And it works – for a while. We achieve the weight goal or bring down the bp. But the all too often truth is that we quote our last President, telling ourselves, “Mission Accomplished” and go back to our old, not-so-healthy routines. Chasing and achieving our goal is gratifying, but then we are left with a void that is usually filled with the very things we were trying to leave behind. If you are only running and exercising so you can fit into a pair of pants or a specific dress, I can pretty much guarantee that you will eventually end up back where you started.
Now I am not saying that the carrot doesn’t have its place in the overall fitness of the general population. It can be a very powerful, if flawed, tool. It gets people off the couch to the treadmill or the road.
It is a start.
Eventually though, we have to be willing to re-frame what it is we want and desire. We need to look in the mirror and ask how that triple helping of Breyer’s or the entire cheese pizza really makes us feel. It feels so good at the time, but what about 10 minutes later – 60 minutes later. Do the bad habits really make us happy in the long run?
I am not one to say there is no place for indulgence. I have and will continue to partake in my share, but if it’s something I do every day, it’s not much of a treat.
Early on in our relationship my wife and I had a conversation about long-term vs short-term profit. If we go solely after the short-term profits we tend to lose out in the long run – just check the economic health of America’s auto industry. She was talking about business, but that principle can be applied across the board in life. Your body is the temple that houses your soul, your well-being. Taking care of your temple for the long haul is more likely to bring inner happiness.
The bottom line is that we need to take that carrot, use it initially to get off the couch and then throw it away.
That is what happened to me last November. My carrot was that my wife declared to the world that she was going to run a half-marathon, on the Cape, in the dead of winter. I wasn’t going to let her do it alone, so I said I would train with her. For two to three weeks, this motivation – this carrot – got me out of bed and onto the treadmill. I would run 2 to 4 miles at a time and not really enjoy myself at all. It was a chore.
The internalization happened when I woke up one morning with a, um, “headache” from card playing the previous night. I dragged myself to the treadmill and started running. Lo and behold, after three miles I actually felt better. I added on a mile, then another and then another. I had to jump off at 6 miles when I realized I had to pick up the kids from school. It was the farthest I had run in memory and I felt GREAT! That was the moment for me. I had discovered that running could make me feel great. I no longer needed the carrot. The motivation to run became a need and has been ever since. Before I knew it I was running 10 – 13 miles a session with a smile on my face. The increased running then led me to eat more healthfully. I already ate well, but as I got into better shape, my engine began to demand cleaner fuel. The better I ate, the better I ran. The more I ran, the better I ate. It was a virtuous cycle*.
It didn’t hurt that I could see the benefits of running and eating well in the mirror and on the scale. I never felt that I was fat or overweight. I wasn’t. But since dropping from 205 lbs. to 175 lbs. I feel noticeably faster and generally happier and healthier. I also don’t get sick nearly as often nor as severely as I once did. I feel great and I don’t want to change that.
The desire – the motivation – needs to come from within. Find a way to do that and I guarantee you’ll find a new level of happiness.
*That’s the best I can come up with for the opposite of a vicious cycle.
***Note: I do find actual carrots to be a wonderful snack. Dipped in a little Sabra hummus, they can be a great healthy and filling midday/late night munchie.***