October 19, 2015

On Running

Yeah, I've been running a bit.

On August, 27th, 2015 I ran 3 minutes 51 seconds for a distance of 0.24 miles at an average pace of 16 minutes 10 seconds. I felt like death.

Over the next 6 weeks I went on 22 runs.

On October 11th, 2015 (45 days after my first run), I ran 59 minutes 35 seconds for a distance of 5.48 miles at an average pace of 10 minutes 53 seconds. I felt fine.

In other words, I increased my distance by 2200% and cut 33% off my average pace over 45 days.

I'm incredibly pleased with these results as I have no history of physical activity. If anything I have a track record of actively avoiding physical activity. (The sole exception to this was the summer 2 years ago when I started biking, but I haven't been on a bike since breaking my shoulder in an accident near the end of that summer.)

I'd like to claim that this feat, which I'm extremely proud of, is based purely on an internal drive to reclaim my health - but it's not. I just used a lot of mental hacks to keep going - so let's talk about that.

I'd also like to point out that some of the things I did are potentially harmful (both physically and emotionally) so it's up to you to understand what works for you.

1. Set an objective goal and an objective way to define "winning".

Setting an objective goal with running is easy. I picked 5 miles or 1000 calories, whichever came first. From calculations after my first couple runs I knew that I would likely hit both of these goals in the same run. This was my "platinum run". I was always working towards this objective goal. I knew how far I was from it on every single run.

Defining "winning" is a little tougher, but still easy with running. "Winning" differs from my "goal" because I can win a run without hitting my goal. I needed to feel like I was making steady progress, so I used the incredibly inaccurate "calories burnt" metric in RunKeeper to chart my overall progress. If I burned 15% more calories than on my previous run, I had won that run and I knew I was progressing towards my goal. Over my 22 runs, I never "lost" a run - I couldn't stomach the idea of losing so I never let it happen.

2. Tell no one about your goals.

In my experience, my first instinct when setting a goal for myself is to tell someone. If I'm setting a goal, it means I'm passionate about something and I love speaking to others about my passions. Sadly, I realized I wasn't completing most of my goals and I think it was heavily related to my instinct to speak about what I was trying to do.

This isn't just my issue either, some people are very confident that this is a real psychological phenomenon. I knew this when I started running, so as soon as I defined my goal I constantly fought against sharing it. This happened to line up with another person goal of talking less and asking more, but that was just a nice side effect.

Regardless, I told no one that I was heading to 5 miles / 1000 calories.

3. Hang out with people who motivate you (both via inspiration and fear).

RunKeeper has this sweet feature where you can add your friends and see info on their runs. This is important because if you have no history of physical activity (like I did), it might seem impossible to achieve anything. If you see your friends doing something, you can probably do it too (eventually).

When your friends see that you ran and text you to say "good job" that's a nice, clean positive reinforcement. Nothing wrong with having people be happy for you.

When you sit on your couch, drenched in sweat and you think "I'm so proud." - that's also a nice clean positive reinforcement (even though it's an internal reinforcement, still counts).

When you look at someone obese (or even just not physically exceptional) and you say "I don't want to be that." That's a positive reinforcement, but it's not a good one. It's negative, by my definition, because you're motivating yourself based on a negative emotion. You're motivating from fear - not a drive to be the best you can.

I'd like to say I never used these types of negative motivators, but they're incredibly strong when used in small doses.

That being said, I'd encourage you to avoid any fear, jealousy, or anger based motivators because you should be chasing your goals, not getting upset while trying to imitate anyone else's.

4. Eliminate anyone who talks negative.

If anyone, ever says anything like "running will destroy your knees, just come eat cake inside with us." Just stop talking to them about what you're trying to do. I know physical activity can hurt me, but I'm still gonna do it.

5. Do things that don't scale.

Darn, that sounds familiar doesn't it?

There is no way in hell you will maintain a 15% increase in caloric burn run-over-run for a year. Even if you started with 100 calories burnt in your first run and only ran once a week, it's just not possible. (I even did the math for you.

That's totally okay though. For me 15% was definitely doable, but now that I've hit my goal I've adjusted this number to be more sustainable, but still aggressive.

6. Accept catastrophic failure as a real option.

When I started running, I coincidentally befriended an experienced runner who served as a major source of motivation early on.

She stressed the importance of getting proper running shoes. She warned of potential injuries to my feet/ankles and was even able to share the very real story of her dual achilles heel surgery from earlier in the year.

I ignored, literally all of her advice. However, the one significant take-away I parsed from our conversations was that "if it hurts really bad, stop running."

I knew when I started this that I knew nothing about running and decided to put effort into listening to my body instead of doing proper research on how not to hurt myself. I've spent a lot of years in this body and I've generally avoided getting hurt, I'd probably be fine and if I did really fuck myself up, whatever it happens.

7. Lie to yourself.

"I'm gonna stop running and walk a little after this song." - then proceed to keep running and say the same thing about the next song.

"I'm gonna catch my breath after this mile marker." - then proceed to keep running and say the same thing about the next marker.

"I hate running, I'm never running again." - then go for another run tomorrow.

8. As things get harder, take longer breaks.

I don't mean during a run, but when you're deciding if you should run on a given day. When I started running, I ran every night for the first week. Then every other day for the second week. Every third day on the third week. You get the idea.

The point is that although I was running fewer times, I was increasing my caloric burn and miles ran every week.

I believe there are some biological aspects to this. A bigger muscle takes longer to recover after being stressed. Makes sense, I don't know, I'm not a doctor. I just waited till my legs felt 100% every time before running again.

Note: As an aside, I'm curious what counter-intuitive parallels this draws in regards to working on a large project which increases in complexity over time. As your project gets more complex, should you be taking more time off?

9. It's okay to brag a bit.

Admittedly, I kind of abused my friendship with my runner friend for this. When I was starting, I would send her a txt every time I finished a run. She'd tell me I was making good progress and I'd be happy that someone who didn't suck at running also thought I didn't suck.

I understand this is superficial. If you're a better person than me, you might be able to skip this.

10. Appreciate the physical changes.

When I dieted in college and lost ~100lbs, my body became a lot more pointy. There were bones in places I literally never noticed because they were buried in fat.

When I started running, my body (from the waist down) got a lot more lumpy. I had no idea there were so many muscles and shapes inside my legs. I'm a very large person at 6'3 and ~240lbs. When I run, I'm carrying a lot of weight. I kind of doubt you'll see as much muscle growth because 1) you probably don't weigh as much and 2) you probably have more muscular legs than I did to begin with. However, I'm sure you'll see something and you should appreciate that. It's really cool to see your body change, if for no other reason than that it's fucking weird. My body has been the same for the last 3 years, seeing any change is just really odd.

This is also a situation where my lack of understanding of things like muscle growth actually helped. I was able to motivate myself to run by acting under the assumption that if I didn't run, the muscle growth I've seen would un-happen and I'd end up in the same place I started. I think this is actually true, but it would probably happen over a longer period than I'm telling myself, but who knows.

That's all folks

The moral to this is that trying to obtain any goal by just relying on one form of motivation doesn't work for me. I need to be able to push off of different things depending on my mood. I've mixed a ton of different types of motivation here and I've managed to make a good thing out of it.

So yeah, go for a run, if you want. Otherwise don't. I don't care, you do you.