Running Routines

2012 was the year that I got back into running. I haven’t run so much, or so consistently since I was on the cross-country running team in Grade 10. I’m happy that I’ve kept it up, I’m happy that it’s getting easier, and I’m happy (most of all) that I’m enjoying it.

When I wrote about running here, I had really only just started up a running routine. Happily, all of what I wrote then still holds true for me today. I still adore my Nike+ GPS app and my bright turquoise shoes. I still focus mainly on just getting out the door and not pushing too hard. I still try to run variations on the same route.

But I’ve picked up some more motivational tips along the way! Running has spread like a virus within my friend group (a few of us recently did The Colour Run together!) which means there’s a wealth of information about running at my fingertips. I’ve now created a running routine that works for me, and I’ve been sticking to it. I’ll share what works for me, but keep in mind that everyone is motivated differently, and not everything that works for me may work for you! That being said, maybe you’ll see something here that hits home – I certainly did, since most of these things I learned from someone else.

Schedule: I run (at least) twice a week, just like I blog (at least) twice a week. In fact, I do both activities on the same day. For the past two semesters, I’ve had fairly open mornings on Mondays and Wednesdays, so I tend to run and blog during those mornings. I find it much easier to declare which specific days and during what time periods I’ll run than to decide to just “try and run twice a week”. By having an “implementation intention”, it makes it easy and automatic: for me, if it is Monday or Wednesday morning, I am going running.

My other rule is that I have to leave the house by 11:50AM to go running, otherwise I don’t have enough time to run, shower, get ready and leave for class on time. I find this strategy of singling out the last possible time I could leave to be extremely helpful, because it doesn’t let me make excuses or get flustered. I know that if I leave at that time, I will still have lots of time, so I don’t get stressed out during my run (when I want my mind to be relaxed, not worrying!). Also, having that time in mind makes planning my morning easier. There is no second-guessing or thinking involved, I just know I have to organize myself well enough to be able to go running by 11:50. Having a window of time I could go running in works better for me than having a specific time that I have to leave.

Running in the morning for me is a no-brainer. I know that later on in the day I’m usually busier, not to mention I don’t want to change my clothes, or disrupt my day. If I run in the morning, it’s out of the way and taken care of.

My advice would be to take a good look at your schedule, and work backwards. Choose a window of time that you could go running in, whether that be in the morning or evening, then schedule it in.

Fuel: Mornings that I run, I’ll do one of three things.

1. Not eat anything (rarely)

2. Drink a smoothie (only if I have enough time to eat/partially digest it before I run, otherwise it sloshes around in my stomach and makes me nauseous)

3. Drink a cup of caffeinated tea (usually chai) and eat a Clif bar.

I typically go with option #3, though today I chose option #2. Clif bars are expensive, however, and are a meal replacement. I am planning to make my own energy bars (from nuts, dates, etc), which cost far less! The meal replacement part doesn’t worry me as much, because I’m not eating it as a snack – it truly is replacing my breakfast.

When I get back from running I’m usually not very hungry. I haven’t investigated post-run protein shakes, but for the past few weeks I’ve been drinking a big glass of cold water with 1 tbsp of chia seeds. I don’t love the texture, but I’m glad to be working them into my diet as they are very healthy. I’m still working out the best fuel system for me. I have friends who don’t eat anything, or who eat four hours before they run, so there are a lot of options. I think that deciding what/if to eat is a process of trial-and-error, of experimenting and then listening to your body. I still haven’t perfected what I eat pre-run, but my current systems are working out pretty well.

Thoughts: Running has become a bit of a “flow” activity for me, which is wonderful. I don’t think about much while I’m out there, except avoiding pedestrians, focusing on the next stretch, or a few mantras. When I think back to my runs, sometimes I’m surprised at how empty my mind was – I really do just focus on the next micro-goal, one at a time. My “mantras” when I run are more like prompts, and most of them I pirated from Born to Run. The main one is “easy, smooth, light, fast”, which is self-explanatory but so, so great. Those words really direct the way I try to run. The second is “tall”, as in stand up straight, don’t hunch. Others include “cycle your legs underneath you”, “small steps”, and “check your form”. These thoughts pop into my mind quite a bit throughout the time I’m running, and they really help me focus on my gait. I would recommend choosing any one thought/mantra (you can get them from anywhere!) and thinking about it while you run. It’s interesting to me how quickly these thoughts became automatic for me, and now they just pop up spontaneously.

“Gear”: This one’s in quotation marks because I don’t have much of it at all, nor do I think I really need all that much. Until I’m running half marathons, I think for the most part my regular old track pants and gym t-shirts will do me just fine. The two exceptions to this are my sports bra and my running shoes. I recently bought this bra, which cost me an arm and a leg, but I don’t regret it one bit. It’s comfortable, and doesn’t dig in. There isn’t too much elastic. It’s supportive without being constricting. My last sports bra was made entirely of elastic, and always felt like it was constricting my breathing (granted, that could have been all in my head, but it also left scary marks on my sides). This one’s a dream! As I’ve mentioned before, I have the New Balance Minimus Zero shoes. They are great, but I definitely have to pay attention to my form and posture, and not let myself just bang down hills. There’s no real cushioning, so I have to be very careful. Yes, sometimes I wish I had more fancy Lululemon shirts, but the truth is that wearing those doesn’t make you a runner. You’ve got to put in the work, and the work can be done wearing pretty much anything at all.

Goals: I love goals. They are so great for boosting my focus and motivation. My main goal this year was to be able to run 10K. I’ve been slowly (very slowly) working towards it, a little at a time. When I set that goal, I wasn’t even running at all, but now I’ve gotten up to 8.35K and I’m very proud. I still have a couple months to go before 2013, and I have no doubt I’ll reach it. Setting a broad goal for the year is better for me than setting goals for each week. Some weeks I’m very tired, and only want to do a short loop before stopping. Other weeks, I’m ready for a challenge. Having a very broad goal gives me freedom from week-to-week, which stops me from getting too discouraged!

My second goal was to run a race! This one was very effective in keeping me going when September rolled around and I didn’t feel like running. I chose a fun 5K for my first race, but nonetheless I was doing it with 3 friends that I didn’t want to look silly in front of! So I practiced, and kept running, and kept practicing. I didn’t want to be too slow or out of shape to keep up, and it was very good motivation! (Because of this practice, I was actually able to keep up during the race, and keep up my running into the fall).

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I’m happy to report that because of all of these small changes, I’m actually enjoying the process of running. I don’t necessarily love it while I’m out there, sometimes it hurts and it’s always pretty hard. But I always find myself smiling – yes, smiling –  at some point during my run. Sometimes the right song comes on and the wind blows and I just feel great, and I smile. That usually happens for at least a couple seconds, even if the rest of the time is a slog. In any case, running is a great activity because it’s fresh air, exercise, goals, “runner’s high”, people-watching. Plus, it is a huge confidence booster to see yourself slowly improve. I’m hoping to keep up my running practice during the winter, but I might need a bit more gear for that! We’ll see.

Do you have any running tips for me? I’d love to hear them! Do let me know what works for you.

7 thoughts on “Running Routines”

  1. Hey Steph! Just wanted to share what I learned this summer (thanks to a friend who is very dedicated to fitness). I started doing a lot of strength training at the gym using the machines and weights. I also started short runs, although I usually don’t spend too much time on cardio. I feel like a lot of girls are afraid or intimidated to use weights at the gym – but they will help you out so much with cardio! You’ll actually feel your legs getting stronger every week as you up the weights, and it really makes running a lot easier and it can help you avoid injury.

    Also, because of this I’ve been looking for good food alternatives to protein bars/shakes. Although they’re technically “meal replacements” I find they are really high in calories, because they’re generally marketed towards men who are trying to gain weight to bulk up. An easy snack I like to make is tofu bars – cut up extra firm tofu into strips, and bake it in the oven with olive oil and salt. I like it because it’s really easy to take with me when I’m on campus all day. Unfortunately my hectic schedule this year barely allows me time to sleep let alone keep up my gym schedule…but I try lol

    1. Hi Laur,

      Thanks so much for your tips! Totally awesome ideas. I’ve been hearing more and more about strength training (including in a book I’m reading right now), but you’re right – I am intimidated. I wouldn’t know where to start! I also dislike going to the gym (prefer to run outdoors on my own), but it sounds like it’s really worked for you (and others) so I think I may have to give it a try. What types of exercise machines do you use, and at what weights/reps?

      I also agree with you about protein bars, they are quite high in calories. As I mentioned in my post, I am intrigued about making my own version that will have less additives, and more natural fats/dried fruits. I think I’ll try a recipe like this one which looks very easy and a lot healthier and less caloric than the version I’m using now! I like the look of that recipe because it seems so natural. Your tofu idea sounds good too! I’ll have to give that a try. Good source of protein for sure! :)

    2. Also, if you’re looking for a good energy bar in a pinch, I find the Clif bars good and not too high in calories (250 a bar – which is not bad if it’s really replacing a meal), and my mom likes Luna bars. I’ve tried Lara bars, and I don’t think they’re too heavy either (about 200 calories), but I didn’t love the taste of the one I tried. Maybe the homemade version will be better!

  2. Yeah starting out using weights at the gym is so intimating because it’s mostly a “guy zone” and all the really big guys seem to hog the machines. It helps if you go with a female friend. You eventually just get used to it and ignore them. I stick to the machines more than the free weights usually because those are harder to do. Basically they say to figure out what weights you need, just put it as heavy as you can to complete your reps. After you’re done it should be too hard to do anymore. You’ll feel yourself build up strength pretty fast just by going two or three times a week. For example, now I can do like 50lbs more on some leg machines than I was doing a couple months ago. It’s nice to actually be able to see and count the improvements you’re making. And of course girls are never going to “bulk up” like guys are, so it just helps you get more toned rather than muscly.

    I’ve never thought of making my own bars – maybe I’ll try sometime! Gotta get through this hell month first and then I’ll have more time (hopefully)…

    1. Great advice, Laur, thank you! I am sure I could find a basic example circuit online and then try to follow your tips as best as possible. I am intimidated less by the guys than I am by not knowing how to use the machines. Though I remember when we used to sometimes go to the YMCA – those machines were pretty easy to use. Haha I need to just get over my fears! Glad you’ve seen results. Sounds like a great idea!

      And if I make my own bars I’ll let you know how it goes..though this is a pretty hectic month for me too. Good luck with yours!! :)

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