I recently celebrated my ten-year “run-aversary,” reflecting mischievously on how in the formative stage, I would sneak downstairs to the poorly lit basement in the family home to alternate between walking and running on my older brother’s treadmill. In those early months, my motivation was a mix between rebuilding strength from an undiagnosed illness and a desire to push myself, to see if I—a non-runner—could learn how to run.
You may guess the ending to this flashback is a whopping, Yes, she can run, and I would playfully jest that fits more as the rising action in this narrative. You see, in these ten years as a runner, my weekly mileage fluctuates as the seasons of life also change—the busy-ness of work, the onset of injuries or illnesses, and the discovery of new hobbies impact my commitment levels beyond that skeletal framework of three weekly runs.
Sheepishly, I wish I was more of an expert on how to qualify for Boston rather than rebuilding running habits cyclically. But alas, this is my truth, and serves as the entry point to this collective conversation on sharing strategies with both new runners and those looking to get back into the sport. My contribution here is a curated collection of some pointers that I have and continue to successfully employ in my efforts to rebuild and scale up my mileage. They can be grouped into three pillars: (1) goal-setting and tracking; (2) mindset; and (3) technology.
Pillar One: Goal Setting and Tracking
Experts across industries and sport often celebrate the simple act of writing down one’s goals as a key strategy to success. This holds true in running whether the goal is a Couch to 5K program, to expand mileage by 10 percent weekly, or to run a personal best (PB) at that next race (whenever this may be). The efficacy of goal setting stems from: moving a hope or intention into the realm of practicality—a written goal necessitates an action plan; serving as a mechanism of individual accountability; and providing an opportunity to undertake trend analysis to identify opportunities for modifications.
I have used multiple training journals and the Believe Training Journal has proven to be very useful in the areas of creating space to: (1) evaluate the perception of effort on any given run; and (2) rate the overall quality of the run out of ten and identify variables that may have impacted the performance (e.g., weather, emotional stressors, diet). Through this process, I have also learned how motivating it can be to revisit entries that shine a spotlight on those awesome, awe-inspiring, floating on-top-of-the-world runs to keep me forging ahead.
[Now for you: Which journal—or more broadly, goal-setting—habit have you found the most helpful? Share in the comments below.]
Pillar Two: Mindset
As someone who has previously had great amateur success in running, the most significant mindset barrier that I can fall into is the unproductive trap of comparisons to my former speedy self. Sure, if I limit my comparisons to singularly using them as a strategy to overcome the “I can’t do this” – it can be helpful to remind myself that I could do this before, and therefore I can likely do it again. Otherwise, it can quickly slip into the realm of toxicity.
A useful tip provided to me years ago is the importance of a mental mantra—a short phrase or a meaningful word that helps propel us forward when we might be tempted to give up. During different seasons, I have used the following ones – “one step forward”, “you’ve got this”, “move forward.”
[Reader, do you have mantras that you repeat to yourself while running, especially on the harder days? Tell us in the comment box below.]
And in those moments when a mantra is not proving helpful, I embrace the twenty-minute hack. I set my watch for 20 minutes and give myself permission to end the run then. Usually, by that point in the run, I have overcome the initial hurdles and will choose to keep going for another several kilometres. However, if that is all I can muster, I will still gain the cardiovascular and endorphin benefits of a sustained elevated heart rate.
Pillar Three: Technology
Like many runners, I go through cycles of being a “puritan” (i.e., free from technology) and at other times, I use all the tech gadgets I can to help keep me motivated in rebuilding habits. From a safety perspective, I will always run with lights, beginning at dusk, regardless if I’m running in the darkness of winter or in the glory of midsummer.
I find a sports watch (I currently use a Garmin Felix 5x) motivating and nearly six months later, I am still discovering new aspects of its utility, including a built-in training program. There’s that psychological nudge to keep me tying up my laces to continue a streak. However, at times, I find the “training condition” function a bit challenging in that it will rate each run based on my previous ones. Who wants confirmation that a challenging run doesn’t meet your level of fitness. For this very reason, I deliberately choose to opt of wearing a sports watch at least once a week. This provides an opportunity for me to “de-intellectualize” running and lean in to all the pleasures of the sport.
Outside of these three pillars, I am a member of a running community in Toronto where I am nurtured, championed, and challenged to continue to grow. In these spaces, my fellow runners remind me that the muscle memory of runners is strong and to be gentle on myself—and most importantly, to enjoy each run as much as possible. That is the gift of today.