Teaching the Body and the Mind

thinker001From the very first time I stepped up on a treadmill and sweated out my first half mile of uninterrupted but extremely labored jogging, I have known the physical benefits of regular exercise. After only six months of gym work I had already dropped 10lbs and was able to run more than a mile without a break. Within a year I was operating at a moderately healthy weight and able to run a 5K in a nine minute mile pace. Physically, I was reaping the kind of benefits I had only dreamed of a couple of years previously. In my late thirties, with the middle aged spread starting to set in, I was at a critical point in my life and regular exercise was keeping me on the fit and healthy path that so many others my age had veered off and would never see again.

What I never reckoned on was the mental benefits of exercise and running.

The first thing I noticed was an improvement in my confidence. The motivation for working out was because I felt myself slipping down that middle aged slope, and at the time I wasn’t feel good about myself. I would look in the mirror and, seeing my lumpy reflection, wonder where it all went wrong. This had a profound effect on my confidence and would often result in my avoiding specific social situations. Running changed all that. Within a few months of starting, the weight was coming off and I was feeling a whole lot better about myself. From there it just snowballed. Every time the scale dropped another notch my confidence level would go up. I began to get my mojo back, to enjoy life a little more and venture out into the world more often. I chalk up my decision to stop seeking out mutually destructive relationships and look for something a little more meaningful to my improved self-image. It’s apparent to me at least that, without the change in self-perception, I never would have met my wife and would have missed out on the best thing to ever happen to me.

The other area where running has had a profound impact on my life is in helping to condition my mind by introducing the same principals as meditation. For most of my adult life I frowned upon the notion of meditation – scorning it as an activity for the hippy tree-hugger types. I just couldn’t take the time out of my (supposedly) busy day to sit quietly, reflect, focus on breathing, and purge my mind of the detritus of the day. In hindsight, it’s an activity I wish I had taken up a lot sooner.

When I’m out running of cycling, the one thing I focus on more than anything else is my breathing. Maintaining a natural rhythm to my breathing helps to keep the air moving and muscles supplied with oxygen rich blood. It also helps me clear my mind of everything else to the point that I enter this state of being where it’s just me, the road, and the air around me in perfect harmony.

How does this help me outside of running? Having never meditated before, I had no idea that I could even clear my mind of all the stuff flying around in there. Now that I know I can, I use running as a means of practicing the art of mind cleaning and then apply those techniques to times away from running when there’s so much going on that it’s hard to focus on a specific task. That becomes a very useful skill in times of crisis or when faced with important deadlines.

In the past I have remarked about the need for an on/off switch on my brain, so that every now and again I can enjoy some downtime. I firmly believe that meditation through running or another form of physical activity is the on/off switch I’ve been looking for!

A New Approach to Training

workout002I’ve spent a lot of time running over the last two years and I have covered more miles than I care to even think about. I consider myself somewhat lucky to have found and successfully adopted running at a time when I really needed something to help turn my life around. I have achieved most of the goals I initially set out for myself, had many good days along the way, and enjoyed most of the experiences. I am, to say the least, very fortunate for all that running has given back to me in return for the hours and miles I invested.

In retrospect, I think I did a fairly decent job of incorporating running into my life at the beginning and created a good balance between weight loss and building my strength and stamina up. During my first half marathon training program I mixed both strength building and running activities to a reasonable degree of success. I guess I was a bit over confident at that point, and figured if I could do a 4M race then I could probably run a half or full marathon. Although not far from the truth, how soon I should target to do so was probably an error in judgement. It seems as though my over-training for three half marathons and the full distance last year is the root cause of all my knee issues. I simply put too much stress and strain on my knee too quickly by spending 90% of my time running and only 10% on other activities.

And so, as appealing as retreating into a sedentary life of lounging around in decadent debauchery sounds, I have decided to re-work my entire non-race fitness program to create a better balance of activities and provide certain key areas of the body with sufficient time to recover following intense work outs. I started out makeover by listing out some fun activities that I wanted to include:

  • stretching
  • biking
  • swimming
  • strength
  • running
  • interval training
  • core
  • yoga

Any new training program would have to include each of these activities in some form, with no one activity taking up more than 40% of my time. Training for specific races or competition would require a more concentrated effort in one area, but for non-race training and general fitness maintenance, a good balance is more important for my ongoing health and ability to participate.

Knowing that this kind of dramatic change would be a challenge to implement on my own, I decided to get some help! Jess had worked out with a trainer prior to the wedding and was impressed by his approach. Post-wedding we’re still going to see him, and he keeps us honest in quite a few of the areas I mentioned. The outdoor workouts along the water are especially intense, combining core and interval training with some basic stretching and yoga.

It’s only been a few weeks, but I am starting to notice a difference in both how I look and how I feel. I am getting more definition in certain areas like my shoulders and abs, and my knee is hurting a lot less. To be fair, the running has really dropped off over the last couple of months in favor of time on the bike but it responds well to the interval sessions, so I’ll take that as a positive.

Look out for a few of my new workout sessions on the conditioning section of the site and some revised race training plans as I start to register and plan for them.