Just a year ago, I was still at least 20 lbs. overweight and was only just beginning to lose weight after embarking on a wellness journey. I was, in my book, still too heavy to run on a treadmill, and my daily exercise consisted of walking to work (a total of 20 minutes back and forth) and training on our office gym’s exercise bike and elliptical trainer.
My simple goal then was to be able to run comfortably on a treadmill without hurting my knees and ankles, and to run for 15 minutes straight.
In 52 weeks. I’ve successfully shed the weight; redesigned my lifestyle to incorporate walking, running, dancing, yoga, and other sporty activities; and self-trained to join one 5K race and four 10K races–the latter, all in a span of two months. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned while on that journey.
1. In running–as in anywhere else–small, concrete, doable goals are best. I started by aiming to run on a treadmill for 15 minutes straight. When that became comfortable, I aimed for 30 minutes, then 40–then I started aiming for a particular pace. When a friend commented that I was actually doing well enough to run a 3K race, I set my goal a little higher and ran my first race in the 5K category. With each training milestone and each race I run, I set a clear measurable goal that I know is within arm’s–or, in this case–leg’s reach.
2. Seek professional advice before beginning. Although I’d been training mostly by myself, I kicked off my journey by consulting with my cousin, Jennifer Lopez-Peairs, who has worked as a personal trainer in the U.S. and who gave me invaluable tips about getting started. She helped set my initial goals, and I worked my way from there. I have yet to join any formal running programs here in Manila, but I’m pretty sure that sites like Takbo.ph and RunRio.com have resources that you may want to check out if you’re interested in running.
3. Don’t dream of doing it. Don’t try to do it. JUST DO IT. Global sports brand Nike was right when it popularized the line, “Just do it.” You can dream of joining a marathon. You can dream of climbing Mount Everest. You can dream of writing a book. You can dream of establishing your own startup. But unless you really take the first steps to plunge in and do it, you’re nowhere near to getting it done. Planning and preparing can help get you started, but what really counts is just putting one foot in front of the other and going for it.
(This, unfortunately, reminds me that I have a book that’s half-finished and waiting to be completed. Unless I actually sit down and write, it will remain to be a half-completed manuscript. Ouch.)
4. “Doing it” actually takes hours. Countless hours. And discipline. (And early Saturday nights in with no partying.) It was Outliers author Malcolm Gladwell who popularized the belief that it takes roughly 10,000 hours to be an expert in any field. Although this theory has since been debated on and debunked–and while another best-selling author, Tim Ferriss (The Four-Hour Work Week), will try to convince you that you can do just about anything in just four hours, or even just a bit more than that–what remains fact is that you will need to put in serious time to train and do practice runs.
Ever since I made the decision, months ago, to join races and make running a part of my lifestyle, I’ve been running two to three times a week, every week–even, and especially, while traveling. It’s not easy to get up really early after a night of drinking and partying–or to give up late-night drinks altogether on some occasions–but it comes with the territory. To run or to party? My body and I know our priorities. 🙂
5. Know when to be kind to your body–and when to push. One of the best things I’ve learned in the course of running was how to be more in touch with my body and how to better listen to its signals. While I will be the first to admit that I tend to be competitive–and I tend to push myself a little bit too much–I also know that I won’t push myself to the point of injury or illness. (That would be plain foolish.) I sleep in and train later in the day when I need to sleep in; I’m very mindful of what I eat (but I also eat carbs when I know my body needs carbs); I push a little bit more and run a little bit faster and longer when I know my body is still capable of stretching.
I remind myself: I am not an athlete and this is not my day job or my life. While running has certainly become a priority for me, I know that I need to preserve myself for my job, the people I love, and other activities that are equally worthy of my time and energy.
6. Running with friends is a great alternative to catching up over coffee and dessert. 🙂 Who says that quality time with friends should always be in the context of coffee, dessert, or drinks? Thanks to my good friend and running buddy, Kay, I’ve discovered the joy of sharing life stories over a run and under the sun. Imagine–instead of building up that belly bulge and chowing down sugar, you can exchange life updates while burning calories and getting a healthy dose of endorphins (and a nice summer tan ;)). Thank you, Kay, for those valuable weekend mornings in our sweet spot in the city! Here’s to more active adventures ahead!
7. Conversely, running is also a great form of “active meditation.” When I’m not running with Kay, I’m running alone. And I’ve found this to be a great form of “active meditation”–where I can decompress from a tiring day or week, process the thoughts in my head, and actually be still in my mind while focusing on just my steps and my breath. When I’m running, many things are blocked out. Ironically, though, it’s also when I’m outdoors and on my feet when some of my “Eureka” moments emerge.
8. Sometimes, when you don’t feel like running is precisely when you should run. Remember the saying, “Fake it ’till you make it?” I’ve learned that this can apply to running, too. It’s happened to me enough times that when my energy is really low and I’d rather just sleep in, I push myself to run and then this actually helps boost my energy. I’ve found that an early morning, pre-work run helps keep my energy up throughout the day in the office. And when I need a second wind for a late night of writing or editing, I run after work to give myself a little boost.
(But, please, don’t take my word for it. When in doubt, please consult a medical professional.)
9. Being on your feet makes you a better traveler–and a better child of Mother Earth. Running and being on my feet have helped me appreciate the many gifts of the outdoors and have also awakened me to the need for more sustainable communities. These days, when I travel, the first thing I look for is a trail that’s comfortable and safe for running. I also look for easy hikes or treks to take, allowing me to more fully enjoy the natural beauty of a particular destination. Even when I’m billeted at a cushy resort, you’ll find me up early in the morning, running or swimming to burn calories before breakfast.
More importantly, running has made me more aware of simple things that we tend to take for granted: the need for more green spaces in Metro Manila, the need for more walkable cities, and, most especially, the need to take care of our natural environment. It pains me when, during a race, I see thousands of crushed water cups strewn on the street–thrown by insensitive runners who think that it’s more important to gain a few seconds of time than to properly throw their cups in the trash bin.
Running makes you realize that you’re just part of an ecosystem that hosts so many other living things–and it certainly makes you more sensitive to pollution. If more of us can get on our feet and be more active in environmental causes, the world would truly be a much, MUCH better place.
10. The right gear will take you far. Just like the gadgets on which we spend so much time and money, our bodies are tools that help us achieve more important things in life. I’ve learned that supporting our body with the right clothes and gear really does help us achieve more–the right fit makes it comfortable to move faster, and proper cushioning of the feet, ankles, and chest gives the body great support against wear and tear. Early on in my wellness journey, I was extremely grateful to be supported by Nike and to have been given the chance to properly gear up for my activities. I am in no way a paid endorser or officially affiliated with Nike, but I’ve become a convert (from someone who didn’t care what she wore to the gym), and I now use Nike gear and the Nike Plus and N+TC apps for most of my activities.
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There’s so much more that I’d like to share about my ongoing journey, and I’d like to use my blog as a jump-off point for conversations about the many things that make life richer.
Have anything to say? 🙂 Please feel free to leave comments below or follow my visual journey on Instagram.