According to published surveys, getting more exercise is usually at the top of the New Year’s resolution list, therefore it’s the perfect time to begin a running program. Statistics also indicate that less than half of New Year’s resolutions are maintained after six months, and the success rate drops significantly by the end of the year. But there are strategies to increase the chances of sticking with a resolution. Three key strategies include a desire to change, setting realistic goals and motivation.
The desire to begin a running program comes from within. It starts with a commitment to improve fitness and then gains momentum once noticeable results kick-in. People who commit to a running program will notice rewards that affect other aspects of their life. When benefits such as alertness, increased energy and healthier diet take effect, they feed off one another and become self-motivating.
After you make the commitment, set realistic goals to stay on track. New runners should begin by simply walking around a track or a local bike path, and gradually build to a quarter-mile jog followed by a quarter-mile walk and then repeat. Time goals work as well, such as five-minute jog followed by five-minute walk to start. A realistic goal could be to jog a twelve or fifteen-minute mile by the end of the first or second month of the program; an unrealistic goal would be to run a marathon after a month of training. There are many structured beginner running programs by trainers such as Jeff Galloway on running and fitness websites.
Another reasonable goal could be to work up to a 5K (3.1 miles) run, which will take different time durations depending on your fitness level. Once you get to a 5K distance, listen to your body to decide whether to pursue greater heights. Keep in mind what running guru George Sheehan once said, “We are each an experiment of one,” in other words, use training programs as a guide to fit your endurance and fitness level. If you are able to exceed a goal, fine, but don’t set your sights so high that you’ll become discouraged. Most times, your body will let you know how fast and how far you can venture. Stay positive by focusing on how much you’ve improved rather than how far you need to go. To avoid injury, the rule of thumb is to increase weekly mileage by 10-15%.
The most important part of maintaining a running program is staying motivated. Since I began Rite2Run earlier this year, I’d written about runners who inspired me. In an April 2011 blog, I wrote about Rick Riley’s Sports Illustrated article, “Why Do They Come.” The story is about Ben Comen, a courageous cross-country runner with cerebral palsy from Hanna High School in Anderson, S.C. The sixteen year-old junior stumbles and crashes his body into the ground most races, but crosses the finish line each time to the cheers and tears of teammates and fans from both teams. Ben finishes races bloody and bruised, but never broken. When asked about his determination he says, “I like to show people who you can either stop trying or you can pick yourself up and keep going. It’s just more fun to keep going.” I consider “Why Do They Come” required reading for all distance runners, but the story would be especially inspiring to anyone beginning a running program.
Then there was 100 year-old Fauja “The Turbaned Tornado” Singe who became the oldest person ever to finish a marathon at the 2011 Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Fauja began running when he was 89 years-old after he lost his wife and child, which was also the year he ran his first marathon. He holds the current 90+ age-group marathon record set in Toronto in 2003 with a 5:40:04 finishing time. He trains each day, either jogging or walking eight to ten miles and says, “I have said it before that I will carry on running as it is keeping me alive.”
The year came to a remarkable conclusion with two friends who completed marathons in their own inspiring way. My daughter’s friend, who I call TE, trained for months to run the Philadelphia Marathon before she sustained a thigh injury with only weeks remaining before the race. TE was determined not to let all of her training go to waste and spent those final weeks recuperating as best as time would allow. Rather than toss in the towel, she lined up along with thousands of fellow-runners and much trepidation. TE now has a lifetime memory of her first marathon. More recently a friend of mine ended a fifteen-year marathon hiatus to run her third marathon in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Wow!
All of these inspiring stories motivate me to jump back into the marathon field myself. I’d been hampered by knee injuries and arthritis for the past three years, yet remarkably this aging body is on the rebound. I’ll test my fifty-seven year-old joints on trail runs throughout the year and if they continue to strengthen, I’ll end a four-year absence from the marathon circuit at the Northern Central Trail Marathon in November 2012.
Happy New Year!
Note: Twenty-four Years to Boston, my memoir about the marathon, is now updated to include the first six chapters at Memoir Summary.