In the fall of 2015, I decided to make a change in my life. I needed to be more active, especially as someone who preaches it to all my patients. I was unhappy with my state of fitness, and I remember the day it became clear I needed to do something. I was flying home after visiting my parents in Ottawa, and my dad dropped me off at the airport. Since I was a kid, we've raced upstairs, so when we got to the bottom of the stairs and escalators, we exchanged a look. I was at the base of the escalator, my dad at the stairs. I thought for sure I had this one in the bag! I was so wrong. My dad, carrying my bag and without the help of an escalator, beat me up the stairs, and was barely out of breath at the top. An old man (sorry, Dad!) had absolutely schooled me. It was time to make a change. I wanted to try something that was easily accessible, had a low start-up cost, and that I could do on my own time according to my ever changing schedule. I decided to start running. I grabbed a pair of sneakers from my closet, downloaded an app on my phone that counts intervals (more on that later), and headed for the path down the street from my house.
It was horrible.
I was uncoordinated; I was unbelievably out of shape. I couldn't even jog for a full minute at a time. And what I was able to accomplish left me breathing so hard I made these awful wheezy-screamy sounding breaths. I thought I was going to vomit up my lungs. I had to stop and sit down more than once during those first few days. I passed or rather was passed by, other runners who smiled and said hello as we shared the morning. (Honestly, how anyone smiles and talks while running is beyond me.) I felt unworthy like I was just pretending. When I got home, I broke all the rules and lay down almost as soon as I entered the door. I could barely stand, the room was spinning, and my extremities were tingling. But here's the thing: I kept trying.
First, recognize you're going to be terrible at it. If this is your first venture into athletics, don't let it discourage you! Yes, there will be times when you look ridiculous, people will pass you on the sidewalk or lift twenty times the amount you can. They all had to start somewhere, too. The only thing you can do is decide where you want to be, put your blinders on and get yourself there. The worst thing you can do is compare yourself to other people. You don't know their story, or how long they have been working at it. It doesn't matter; what matters is that you are doing something for yourself and improving your skills.
Secondly, make sure you are following a routine and proper warm-up/cool-down protocol, especially at the beginning. This is when you set the habits that will stick with you through every workout. It's important to warm up before activity, and stretch after. Don't eat for a couple of hours before your workout, and try to eat or have a nutritional drink within an hour afterwards, depending on your goals. When you are running (or working out in any situation), it's important to maintain good posture; hold your shoulders back and down, and don't hunch forward. This creates better alignment and creates space for your chest to expand, and you are going to need all that air! All of this can sound daunting, and it's easy to think of exercise as another chore to fit in during the day. Here's the thing: exercise should be fun. It should be something you enjoy doing or something that makes you feel good afterwards. Putting all the rules and guidelines aside, the biggest questions are, “Does it make me feel good?” and “Am I happier because I am doing this?”
Third, and most important, is self-care. This is a two-tiered requirement and involves both physical and mental care. Physical care involves stretching, eating properly, drinking enough water, and listening to your body. Pay attention when something feels good and hold on to it! Sit in the stretch for a while longer, or maintain a slower pace if it's what works for you. Find a schedule that works for you and fits your lifestyle. Working out shouldn't be a source of stress, but something you indulge in for yourself, to take better care and clear your head. On the other side is mental care. This is the hardest thing to accomplish, and definitely the part I have the most difficult time with. It's important to remember that it's okay to miss a workout, it's okay to be slower than yesterday, and it's okay to stop earlier than expected. You are still ahead of where you were when you started, and the biggest effort is just getting out the door. Give yourself credit for those little things, and forgive yourself when you fall behind. Treat yourself like you would treat a friend or loved one, be gentle and encouraging. Build yourself up, don't tear yourself down. That happens often enough without your help. Surround yourself with people who push you forward. Find motivation in the little things, and remember to keep looking ahead. You can totally do this!
Having the right tools helps. A good pair of shoes is imperative. Have someone help you find the right fit, and avoid too much cushion. It can be expensive, but the right shoe does make a huge difference. I have also found support by using certain apps on my phone. There's one that plays my music with a voice-over that counts intervals for me. The voice tells me when to run and walk when to start my cool down, and when I've (finally) reached the end of my workout. The one I started with is called C25K, but there are a ton of options. I also use 'Map My Run' to keep track of my distance and speed, and it logs all my runs to I can keep track of my progress.
It's also important to work with your massage therapist, chiropractor, physiotherapist and so on to help prevent injuries, and to make sure you are working in the most comfortable and efficient manner. This will keep you pain free and let you go longer times/distances before fatiguing. Our physiotherapist Laura Gfeller offers running assessments, where she will analyze your movement during running and help you refine your stride and pick your footwear.
In the end, it is the strength of mind and will that makes the difference, and the physical strength follows. Start slowly and easily, and don't be afraid to explore and find what feels good to you.
by Teresa Noye RMT