Good habits are hard to form and easy to break.
It’s a little over three weeks since I ran my last marathon (NYC), and truth be told, I’ve barely been able to muster the enthusiasm to lace up since then. To some extent, that’s only to be expected. I’ve run two full marathons within the past two months, and I think I deserved some rest and recuperation, a little time off for good behavior if you will. In any case, all of the trusted sources of training insight and inspiration advocate doing very little in the immediate aftermath of a long race, and it’s hard to argue that the beating I’ve given my body over recent months needed some time to work itself out of my system.
My go-to bible for training is the Hanson’s Marathon Method, and even this pretty hardcore training regimen recommends no running whatsoever for 3 – 5 days post race (check, got that one down), and then just light cross training for the next two weeks.
This all makes total sense, and I’ve ignored this advice in the past to my cost, paying the price with injuries down the road. But, (and it’s a big but with me), beyond that 2 -3-week window, every day that goes by sans running is another day further out of one good habit, and another day further into a bad one. The fact is, the longer I stay away from regular running, the harder I find it to re-establish a good rhythm when the time comes to pick it up again. It’s almost as if every day I miss, I’m going to need two to recover lost ground.
The time of year doesn’t help. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we’re deep into the wet and gloomy autumn season, the temperatures are dropping and there is generally very little about the great outdoors that is enticing me to get out and run. It’s hard enough to run in inclement weather when you are focused on training for an actual event, never mind heading out in a deluge when you’re in maintenance mode.
Dark and cold nights combined with the holiday season also seem to bring out the worst of me when it comes to eating and drinking. I mean come on, the weather is cold and wet, therefore I must have cookies, or it’s November, therefore I must drink more beer. These are thoughts normal, well-adjusted people have right, or is it just me?
And then there is simply the question of general motivation and focus. No matter how much you love running, I don’t think I know a runner who doesn’t, at some point in the year, have that internal debate with themselves around should they, or should they not, go out and run today? Within the course of a regular training cycle, these mental skirmishes are easier to win, because the impact of lost training time come race day, is something most of us just don’t want to deal with. But, without the accountability of a race, the shall I? / shan’t I? debate can be a little harder to win, and before you know it, another week has gone by while you’ve stayed in getting dumb, fat and saggy on the sofa.
And so a vicious circle begins; you lack energy because you haven’t been out for a run, so you don’t run. You didn’t run so you feel crap about yourself so you cheer yourself up with bad food, meaning you lack energy and you put on weight, so you feel even less like running and, well, you can see how this story goes.
So there’s only one thing for it in this battle against inertia and creeping bad habits – it’s time to get my streak on.
A ‘streak’ (and to be clear, I’m referring to an ‘uninterrupted series of activity’ and not a naked sprint across a sports field on live TV), is a great option for a number of reasons:
- in the absence of a pre-defined objective like a race, they enable you to hold yourself accountable
- they establish a regular pattern of behavior
- they give you structure
- they enable good habits to be maintained
- they stop you getting dumb, fat and saggy on the sofa
So here’s what I’m going to do:
Run every day from Black Friday to New Years Day
Every run will be a minimum of 1 mile
I will run a minimum total of 35 miles per week (or an average of 5 miles per day)
(At least) 80% of these runs will be at a very intentionally easy pace.
The ‘easy pace’ thing is critical. If I don’t do these runs ‘easy’, and by that I mean running at a pace where I could quite happily, (metaphorically speaking) , run all day, I really will run the risk of burning out or worse still, injuring myself, so I do need to be a little careful.
The benefits here are several:
- I create behavioral discipline which will leave me in good shape for when I next start a formal program for my next half or full marathon
- I’ll maintain a good base of aerobic fitness, hopefully avoiding injury (by running easy), and I’ll be able to hit the ground running when the time comes to focus on my next race
- I’ll minimize the dumb, fat, saggy-ness
Now I know what you’re thinking, how hard can it be to run every day be when you do it all the time anyway? Well, the truth is, quite hard actually. When I’m in full training I actually have days off for a start, and these are a valued and necessary part of the program. Doing anything, every day, for a relatively extended period of time takes discipline. It’s not the specific act, it’s the day in, day out consistency that’s hard.
Who knows if this is the right thing to do? Every year I get to this point and try something different, only to end up less than satisfied with where I’m at. Bad habits begin to take root and it’s downhill from there. I just think that setting myself some basic parameters and going for a bit of a streak is just the best way to set myself up for success in 2017.
Of course, I’m also hoping that this will, in turn, motivate me to moderate some of the worst excesses of holiday eating and drinking, and the New Year weigh-in will be less of a shock to the system than in previous years. I live in hope on that front.
So, that’s the plan. What about you? How do you plan to keep on track as you head into your off-season? Whatever you do, however you do it, just keep on moving.
P.S. I’ve been off the blog for some time now, so perhaps it’s time for a little writing streak too.