More thoughts about motivation

In my last post, I commented on the fickle nature of motivation, and how it’s not a particularly reliable tool for getting things done.

Habit, on the other hand, produces solid results (if you make it a habit to work out every other day and you stick to the habit, you will notice changes – it’s as simple as that). Habit does not care how you are feeling that day, or whether you happened to have seen an inspirational video or meme that morning. Habit just does. This becomes especially true once you can get yourself into the position of operating on autopilot. I don’t really need to motivate myself to go to work anymore; it’s just something I’m in the habit of doing.

But how do you get to that point?

One way is to hold yourself accountable publicly. But I don’t really like to post about each and every run to my friends on Facebook. This stuff is interesting to me, and other friends who run, but too many gym posts or running posts will probably get me promptly deleted from many people’s news feeds. (I feel differently about this blog because it is quite clearly labelled as a running blog.)

So I’m going to borrow the greatest motivator I have at work: a deadline. My to-do list at work is often more than I can handle, and I never really get to the end of the list. The only way something usually gets done is by moving to the top of the list, and the way something moves up the list is by becoming urgent.

(It looks as if I’ve never heard of the Eisenhower Decision Matrix, as it seems I’m constantly responding to the urgent instead of the important.)

If only there was a way to apply the deadline principle to running…

…it must be time to sign up for an event.

A 10k should do it for now, but the potential shame of returning a time significantly worse than my PB will tip the balance in my favour: I’ll be less likely to want to skip a workout if I know I have a race coming up.

It will give my running programme a sense of urgency again!

First run in three weeks

I have been very lazy lately. It started out with putting running on hold to focus on getting a lot of other things done but then as one week off became two weeks off, I developed the habit of not getting out there. 

I think this is very easily done. I have heard it said over and over from self-improvement type people that habit is more important than motivation. Habit is reliable; it keeps the wheels turning long after fickle motivation has moved on, or burnt itself out. 

So I’m trying not to be too harsh on myself. (If you could peek  inside my head, you would know that this isn’t an easy thing for me. My internal voice tends to come out with stuff like: “What’s your excuse today? You’re so lazy, you make me sick. You’ll put all the weight you lost back on at this rate. You’ll lose fitness etc. etc.”) 

Thoughts like this won’t change the fact that I’ve had three weeks if inactivity. 

On top of that, who’s to say a rest is actually a bad thing, especially after non-stop training for events throughout the whole year to date? A lot of professional runners have a few weeks off at the end of the season. It is highly beneficial as it gives the body a chance to rest and repair. 

Of course, I’m not a professional and I didn’t plan to have a break. But let’s just sweep that inconvenient consideration under this rug for a minute shall we? 

I may have inadvertently done myself a favour, even if I am full of it. 

And none of the above analysis does anything to change the period of inactivity. In fact the only thing that can amend it is to get back on it again, like I did this morning. 

If you ever find yourself experiencing a slump like mine, whether it’s been three weeks, three months or even three years, don’t let negative thoughts stop you from sorting yourself out. Accept what you can’t change, lace up those shoes and be glad about it! 

Thoughts on running nutrition and weight loss

This post was inspired by The Story of my Treadmill on the Yuvi’s Buzz blog. It is a really good account of the emotional ups and downs of dieting. I recommend that you read it first and then (hopefully) return and read the rest of this post. You can read it here.

I hope she won’t mind me saying this but I fundamentally disagree with the idea of dieting. (Yes, I said it. I don’t follow diet plans.)  Instead, I think the way forward is to embrace long-term, sustainable changes. This embraces a number of ideas, such as healthy food swaps, portion control by stealth, and small adjustments.

Let me explain further…

Healthy food swaps

This is stuff like replacing beef mince with turkey mince in your cooking, replacing refined sugar with honey (sugar is still sugar, but honey hasn’t been stripped of it’s natural, fibre-containing, context), replacing soft drinks with sparkling water, and so on. These might not seem like too much of a big deal but could add up to a lot less fat and sugar in your diet. The jury’s still out on fat consumption but reducing sugar intake should contribute to weight loss.

Portion control

This one is dead simple: buy smaller plates, preferably attractive looking ones that will complement your food presentation.

My partner and I used to eat portions that were really far too big. For instance, those microwaveable rice packets that you get that they recommended to serve two people, well, we used to have one each. As rice is a carbohydrate, I decided to use only one pack for the two of us. I then upped the amount of vegetables on the plate so we didn’t feel that we were on a diet. (I always put butter on our vegetables by the way because a nutritionist at the gym told me that butter is not a problem. In fact, news stories have come out lately saying that margarine may be more harmful than butter. Seriously, search that one in your browser. And it makes a huge pile of vegetables much more palatable.) I try to have at least two different colours of vegetable if I can; it makes the meal look more attractive and gets more micronutrients onto the plate.

Cutting down the plate size is a well-known trick and really is portion control by stealth. A larger plate that’s half-empty always looks a lot sadder than a full smaller plate, even though there may be the same amount of food on each.

Below, you can see a picture of our old plates and our new plates, which are black and make the food you serve look more fancy!

IMAG0453

Small adjustments

Do you take sugar in tea or coffee? Could you cut the number of teaspoons/sugar cubes you take by one?

I challenge you!

It may take you a while to get used to the new taste but in the long run it will reduce those sweet-tooth cravings and reduce your teaspoons of sugar per day by the number of hot beverages you have everyday. That means if you’re like me, and drink three to four coffees a day, you will reduce your sugar intake by three to four teaspoons per day, everyday, FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. No diet plan. No calorie counting. Just one simple change. What’s more, if you try going back, you will find that your taste has adjusted and having your previous number of sugars now makes you feel a bit sick. (A sweet-tooth really is more of a habit than a pre-set disposition.)

Upgrade your nutrition

There is a lot of emphasis out there about eating less. It seems to me that a lot of people think the way forward is to just keep reducing their calories. In the short term, this may work, but you inevitably cannot sustain eating fewer calories than you need. It has been shown that a staggeringly high percentage of yo-yo dieters not only re-gain the weight a few years later, but they normally put more on as well.

I think a lot of people need to eat more: more fruits and vegetables, more protein (not if you’re already on protein supplements), more healthy fats. So instead of thinking in terms of cutting back, it may help to think in terms of cramming as much nutrition into a dish as you possibly can.

Porridge made with milk and honey is good. It’s got oats, it’s got protein in the milk, and it avoids empty-calorie refined sugar.

Porridge made with milk and honey, and added flaxseed, is even better though. Now you’ve added omega 3!

And porridge made with milk, honey, added flaxseed and added blueberries, is even better still!

This is a breakfast that will really set you up for the day, and should satisfy your appetite so that you aren’t craving a bag of crisps or a chocolate bar later on. (If you buy fruit and can’t manage to eat it all before it goes off, a cheaper option is to buy frozen blueberries and take out a small portion to defrost overnight. I know this is starting to sound like hard work but it’s really not.)

Food really isn’t something to be scared of.

In fact, it’s essential for your life, energy and wellbeing.

Eat well, enjoy your food and give yourself the fuel you need for an awesome run!

 

 

 

 

 

Finishing Race to the Stones – the 100k Ultra Marathon

In some of my posts I have referred to “my running buddy”. We often do long distance training runs together, and sign up for many of the same races. In this post, I interview him about what it was like to compete in the 100k (62 mile) Race to the Stones, if only to prove that he really does exist, and isn’t some Tyler Durden style hallucination, although when it comes to running he is equally as bad-arse as the founder of fight club. (And yes, he has the same T-shirt as me but that doesn’t mean he is me – I’m far too lazy to run 100k.)

IMAG0476

Why do you hate your feet so much?

Most runners have a love-hate relationship with their feet. They love what they can do for them, but they treat them with abuse. But not looking after your feet is like having a car you never bother to service. It will catch-up with you in the end.

(As background to this question, Running Buddy’s feet are covered in blisters and one is the size of two fifty pence pieces. He has also just informed me that he lost two of his toenails. We thought we would spare you the photos.)

Part of the reason that you have such large blisters was the rainfall early on in the race? We have now raced in extreme (for the UK anyway) heat and pouring rain? Which do you prefer?

The rain is better if you’re prepared for it but the heat just drains you! If you’re running a long way and there’s even the slightest chance of rain, you need to have a spare pair of dry socks with you. I think this is one of the areas in which our lack of ultra-running experience showed.

I ran the 50k version of Race to the Stones as this was my first attempt at such a long distance and I thought I would see how I handled that, but what you did could technically be described as running two ultra-marathons, back-to-back. What’s wrong with you?

How do I answer a question like that?

It’s like that part in the Barkley Marathon documentary when the guy says it’s not really a challenge unless there’s some chance that you might not finish, that you might, in fact, fail. You’ve got to test yourself in a way that’s relative to whatever level you’re at.

How did you feel when you left me at Basecamp*?

*Basecamp was at 51k and marked the finish of my run, but only the halfway point for Mr Buddy.

I felt good actually – ready to get some more miles in and not dwell on the fact that it was only halfway.

You keep saying you slowed me down but the split was actually eight hours for the first 50k and nine hours for the second.

IMAG0489.jpg

 

What would be your advice to someone contemplating their first ultra?

Bring clean, spare socks and stuff your face continuously! Eat whatever you can get your hands on and in your stomach at each and every pit stop. And don’t leave eating until later on: after the ninth pit-stop, I saw a woman trying to eat and then just throwing up in a bush afterwards.

So you were trying to replenish all those calories so you wouldn’t hit a wall. How many calories did you burn overall?

According to my Garmin, it was well over 9000, nearer to 10,000.

The Race to the Stones follows an ancient English path. What were you favourite parts of the course?

All of it, the general scenery – I didn’t end up seeing many of the landmarks. The field of gold was good; everyone was fresh and enjoying it.

How many days do you think it will take you to get back to normal?

Actually, I’m contemplating going for a run tomorrow. (This was the Tuesday after the Saturday event.) The only restriction is the state of my feet at the moment.

Do you want to do the Ring O’ Fire in September?

For the last two days, I’ve been thinking, “I’ll never do another ultra again”, but now I’m thinking that 100 miles has to be the next target.

I will need to work out a way not to get horrible blisters though.

Do you have anything else to add?

Yeah, Race to the Stones was a great event, really well-organised, and the pit stops were amazing.

The atmosphere was great too. There was a real sense of camaraderie and no-one judging anyone else.

Ultra-marathon completed – what next?

Race to the Stones was the biggest event I had booked this year, and now it’s over.

Apart from breathing a huge sigh of relief (for the first time this year I am not coming out of one event and straight into the training plan for another) I feel that my recovery period is an excellent time to start considering where I want to take things next.

The swelling in my ankles tells me that I need to pay more attention to warm-ups, stretching out and general conditioning exercises – basically all the stuff that should help to prevent injuries. I have said in another post that I feel as if I’m living on borrowed time with regard to not having suffered a serious injury yet. It is luck, not competence, that has kept me injury free so far!

Aside from that, I want my fitness to go beyond running. But that means learning more stuff: routines, methods, that sort of thing. It’s so much easier just to pull on the trainers and head out the door for a quick 5k. Not to mention being overwhelmed with choice. Do I do weight training, cycling, swimming, yoga, HIIT classes?

In the wider world of exercise, I am not only half-arsed, but a complete novice, someone who has occasionally followed gym routines in the past.

Oh well, it’s time to take a deep breath and launch operation “all-round fitness”.

I hope I can learn some useful insights and share them with you along the way.

(A post on Race to the Stones is coming soon, and will cover the race from the perspective of doing it as a 50k and a 100k event.)

Two more things I like…

Fat, The Fight Of My Life

Yes, this is a reality TV show, but it’s pretty low-key and non-sensationalist. The trainer, who the programme is built around, seems genuine and likeable.

And the members of the public who go on there…WOW! I have so much respect for these people. I have never really been more than a couple of stone overweight and I know how lethargic that made me, so to go through the journey of losing eleven stone when your starting point is twenty nine stone is something I cannot even hope to understand.

My takeaway from the programme is this: if they can pull it off from such a difficult starting point, then what’s my excuse for being lazy?

(I watch this on Sky Living but I’m sure it’s available elsewhere too.)

Mind Over Marathon

This is a two-part BBC documentary that has sadly been taken off iplayer, although clips are still available.

It does a really good job of introducing the link between physical exercise and improved mental health. As with many things, this has been known anecdotally for years, but I think the science is catching up more and more.

I am not a neuroscientist but I have a strong belief that physical wellbeing and emotional wellbeing are inextricably linked.

One theme that seems to come through again and again on these shows is the sheer joy of moving around, of being able to engage in a basic level of activity and the improvement in quality of life that it brings.

Three things I like…

The Barkley Marathons: The race that eats its young

(We watched this on Netflix but it is also available elsewhere.)

This is the documentary of one of the craziest races in the world. The “official” race is five loops of a twenty mile trail (competitors often quote a very different mileage). The entry fee is less than $2 and when you are successful in your application (having passed an entry exam), you receive a letter of condolence. Seriously, it is really entertaining and inspirational. You should watch it!

Haruki Murakami – What I talk about when I talk about running

This is a gentle, understated book that offers real insight into a lifetime of discipline as a long distance runner. I love both running and writing, and fully understand Murakami’s view that they somehow go hand in hand as complementary activities.

The Guardian Long Reads – The Sugar Conspiracy

I listened to this as a podcast on Spotify but it is also available as an article on The Guardian’s website.

This is not only about nutrition, but also the dogma and entrenched cronyism that can sometimes hold back the scientific community and put the brakes on human understanding. You will probably be quite shocked.

I would recommend the Guardian Long Reads podcast in general. These are really in-depth looks at several topics relevant to the modern world.

 

(I didn’t want to fall foul of Copyright law, which I know absolutely NOTHING about, so I have included an irrelevant, but hopefully not altogether unpleasant, picture of one of my runs to accompany this post.)