10 tips for finding- and sticking with – your inner athlete

At the beginning of each year, we’re all laced with some super-potent exercise cocktail.  Evolution (or perhaps our innate nature which lets hope spring eternal every winter) makes us believe this year will be better.  This plan will work.  These things will stick.

Sometimes they do – but sometimes, little things get in our way.  We’re all grownups with schedules and obligations and habits that we drag around.  So how do you hurdle them to find your inner athlete? 

I’ve been thinking about this as I struggle to find a rhythm that works for me again for “getting moving”.  A few weeks back I received the rather tough news that my lingering foot issue is apparently here to stay, and having been summarily benched from running – and even (GASP) walking any real distance, I’m finding myself annoyed and unmotivated. 

So I built myself a pep list.  It’s just what it sounds like – it’s a little pep talk – on paper – to remind myself that there aren’t any rules except DON’T GET HURT. Here, then, my ten tips for finding my inner athlete – being put to good use, as we speak…

1.  Think outside the path.  The running path is my “box” – it’s the place I go to work out, run, walk, interval, cross train, bike etc. I do it because it’s easy and close and safe.  But now, it’s off limits to me. So I’ve got to think wider and farther.  For me, that means finding an alternate, totally different activity to keep me motivated – this week, that’s going to mean cross country skiing!

2. Think of it like seasonal fruit. Every cookbook you see is organized by season (okay, well, the ones I’ve been reading lately.) If you’re in a climate that HAS four seasons, try something season-ish. In Chicago, that means I’m tempted to check out the Ice Rink at Wrigley, or spending 30 minutes building a snowman, (try it, it’s a workout!) or shoveling for an hour (okay, to be fair, not me).  But there are lots of opportunities to take advantage of the weather in a way that helps get the blood moving.  Do what’s easy in those situations.

3. It’s not about the clothes. I pay a LOT of attention to what I wear, but that’s because I live in a tundra and when I was a distance runner, it mattered what was on my body for a three hour run in 20 degree weather.  But most days, no one – other than you – gives a flip about what’s on your bod. Cover up, or don’t, but it’s only an hour, and really, if you just dress in layers, you’ll be fine.

4. Eat the elephant. This is Coach Jenny Hadfield’s fave phrase (or at least one I hear her reference all the time) and I love it.  If you have 100 pounds to drop, you’re not going to see a result right away. Remember that you have to do it one step at a time. You can’t run a 5k if you can’t walk to the end of the block – at least, NOT TODAY.  But you will be able to do it soon.  Look to the horizon.  For me, that means looking towards June as a “go” date, and taking small, meaningful activity bites in the meantime.

5. Stop bitching. Yikes, that sounds mean.  But seriously, this is mostly a tip for little old me. I can complain all day long about how much I’m annoyed to be hurt, but let’s face it folks, things happen.  I refuse to complain any more about this foot – instead, I WILL find the positive in what it forces me to try as an alternative.

6. Pack a flare. When you need a group workout, ask your friends to join you.  Need someone to help you get out of a funk? ASK.  You don’t have to ask your husband or your best friend – you can go meet new people, and ask them too.  Are you going to a Weight Watchers or other meeting? Raise your hand and ask if the group (who clearly knows how to get to your location one day a week) can meet before, or after, or another day of the week and walk for 2 miles. It might only be 30 minutes, but that’s a HUGE accomplishment if you were doing nothing before.  You can do the same thing with work colleagues or train buddies, or that other mom who drops off her kid at the same time you do every day. 

7. Have a fallback position. In one of my favorite series, Band of Brothers, I learned about the importance of a fallback position.  It’s the place you go when sh*t goes awry, when you can’t move forward – but you don’t want to get run out of town.  In athlete land, that’s figuring out what is the absolute BARE minimum you will accept from yourself on a weekly basis.  Is that two workouts? Is it 30 minutes a day?  For me, right now, that fallback position is ZERO minutes, and that’s got to change.

8. Do something totally frightening. Most Januaries, I sign up for a terrifying race in the August/September timeframe.  It lets me plan out the year, and reduces the likelihood that I’ll coast all the way till May with no aerobic or core training.  This year, I’m torn because life is in a bit of limbo, but I’ll likely be signing up for another Olympic distance triathlon in that range.  Is it because I like killing myself? No. Will I necessarily finish? Nope.  But I WILL train like a devil and get back in the pool, and for me, that’s what matters today.  That race scares the ever-living crap out of me, and it consistently does the trick of getting me moving.  Maybe, for you, that’s signing up to take Tennis lessons, or learning how to play Ultimate Frisbee.  Maybe it’s racquetball or basketball or a volleyball team.  What frightens you is personal – think about it, and use it to make you move.

9. Pay it forward. Find a way to make your movement meaningful, and you’ll likely stick with it longer.  Maybe it means bringing a friend on walks with you. Maybe it’s running or walking for a cause.  But if you reach out and help others, you’ll be more likely to finsih whatever you’ve completed, because it’s not about you – it’s about someone else.  And if you’re like me, you’re frequently far more likely to not want to let someone ELSE down than you are to pay attention to your own little needs 🙂

10.  Accept that you will be humbled. We are not all born athletes.  We have to learn how to do things.  We will fail.  We will fall off bikes, we will sprain ankles, and we will look really, really stupid at times.  But all of those things will make us better at our sport of choice, and with muscle memory and learning, we’ll get better.  Really, we will.  It won’t always feel like this.  The same goes for your aerobic capacity.  We’re like gas tanks – if you’ve been draining the lungs with no activity for awhile, it’s going to take a bit of work – every day work – to get them functioning right on demand.  So don’t get all mad when you’re huffing and puffing (or sweating or red-faced).  It’s a badge of honor, and it just says ‘hey, I’m new here.’   It’s a good thing.

And on that note, kids, I’m off to relax a bit….have a great night!

7.

5 thoughts on “10 tips for finding- and sticking with – your inner athlete

  1. Great points! The older I get, the more I relate to needing to have those ‘fallback’ positions/sports/outlets that provide go-to options when your normal workout isn’t feasible. And as you say, the upside is huge–when you try something new and take some risks, you usually grow, learn and have a lot of fun. Reminds me of when my husband and I started learning to row together–getting totally out of our element, meeting new people, working as a team, and having fun completely overshadowed the 5:00am wake-up call, the icy dock, the skin-tight spandex, and the often blistered and bloody (eww) hands.

  2. How did you know that my inner drill sargent has been slackin’ off? I needed to read this and remember that whether I reach the weekly goals I set for myself or not, I need to know that I am making a reasonable effort. Zero is not an acceptable fallback position. Thanks.

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