fitness

On Having Goals

Brewfest LogoSo Magic City Brewfest​ is this weekend. I was one of the original co-organizers of the event back when I was president of Free the Hops​, and now I work it from the beer wholesaler angle. It’s always been one of my favorite weekends of the year, even though it’s always been exhausting. It was the first craft beer festival in Alabama back in 2007 and remains the largest, with somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000 humans traipsing through Sloss Furnaces over the course of two days.

Brewfest was birthed out of a shared goal to reform the Prohibition era beer laws of Alabama. One step towards accomplishing that very concrete goal was the more nebulous goal of increasing craft beer appreciation among the state’s citizens. More people who love craft beer = more people fighting to reform the beer laws.

The efforts were not in vain, and the original goals of Free The Hops were accomplished. The group continues on advocating for the consumer’s voice in the continuing changing landscape of beer law reforms in the state.

This year Brewfest exists in the context of a new, very different goal for me. I’m a dedicated runner working towards the highly ambitious goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon (adventures on that recorded at From Birmingham to Boston​).

Just like the old goal of reforming beer laws shaped my actions ten years ago, this new goal shapes me today.

Today it occurred to me that my usual 6 am Saturday morning long run was not going to be feasible. The Friday session of Brewfest doesn’t end until 11 pm, and I’ll have some cleanup to do after it ends. I probably won’t be in bed until 12:30 am, which is unfathomably late for this old-at-heart man. I’m not getting up a mere five hours later to go run.

So I thought, “no big deal, I’ll sleep in and go running whenever.” Saturday’s session doesn’t start until 4pm. But then I remembered the brunch for industry folks and festival two-day volunteers. Ohhh that brunch. The homemade cinnamon rolls. The biscuits and tomato gravy. The grits. The sausage. The locally roasted, french pressed coffee. It cannot be missed, and so last year I just skipped my Saturday morning run.

But my goal is too important to slack off. I’m not going to skip a long run if there is any way to make it work.

Thus I spent several minutes working backwards figuring exactly what time I’d have to wake up to do a long run and still make it to brunch by 11:00. 15 minute drive from the house. 30 minutes to shower and get ready. 5 minutes to get from driveway and get undressed into shower. 10 minutes to drive home from run. 2 hours to run. 10 minutes to drive from home to run, 25 minutes to get ready and get out of the house after waking up, 5 minute buffer… Set my alarm for 7:20. So, a little less than 7 hours of sleep. Doable.

Having a specific, significant goal with a plan to achieve it changed my mindset. I can work towards my goal and still enjoy one of my favorite weekends of the year.

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Some Thoughts On My Two Year Runiversary

After Mercedes

That’s me on the left, after finishing the Mercedes Maraton.

Exactly two years ago yesterday, I completed my first run of what would become a new lifestyle for me. Well, it was part slow jog, part walk. But that’s really the only way a couch potato can start. Since that first run, I’ve lost over thirty pounds and I’m in the best physical shape of my life. Also, I eat a lot.

I haven’t always been active or athletic or anything of the sort. I didn’t play sports in high school or college, and I spent most of my life at least a little overweight and sometimes a lot overweight. I only say that to say I’m convinced if I can do it, anyone can do it. It didn’t come naturally to me and it wasn’t easy.

In the past two years, I’ve run two 10K races, three half marathons, and one full marathon, and I’m planning for more. I now run six days a week, every week, unless I’m sick or something major interrupts my schedule. My distance varies, but I usually run over forty miles a week. I ran over 1,500 miles in 2014 and my goal is to run at least 1,800 miles this year, although I might break 2,000.

Some thoughts on how I went from couch potato to marathoner:

Previous stretches in my life where I ran with any regularity were knocked off track by my distaste for running in bad weather. If it was particularly hot, or cold, or rainy, I’d skip it. One key to me being consistent this time was a gym membership. For the first several months I didn’t run outside at all. I needed a routine to keep me in line with no opportunity to talk myself out of it. So every weekday I’d get up, put on running clothes, take the kids to school if needed, then head to the gym. I never let myself debate whether or not I’d get dressed out for running. I just climbed out of bed and did it. And not having to deal with bad weather ensured I had no excuses. Other perks of running at the gym include having easy access to a bathroom and a place to set a water bottle.

As my love of running has grown, I now try to avoid the treadmill whenever possible. I’ll run in the rain (if it’s not too cold out), I’ll run in freezing weather (if it’s not raining), and I’ll run in 90 degree heat (where I welcome the rain). I still have a gym membership so that when the weather is really bad, I can still run. I also do a little upper body strength training a couple times a week. But it took me a while to develop the desire to battle the elements for the sake of a run.

Bigger Me

Me on the left again, a few months before I started running.

I think one thing that discourages people trying to get healthier with exercise is a lack of noticeable progress. The most common way people measure progress in fitness is with a scale, and if the needle doesn’t move, folks get discouraged. And they don’t see progress because they don’t put enough effort into it. Too many people put in the minimum effort for a while then give up when it doesn’t get them anywhere. So I would encourage people to give at least a little consideration to the cliche “no pain, no gain,” where pain is defined as actual sweating and maybe a little soreness after a run. I’m not talking about ignoring serious injury, just dealing with the normal aches that properly accompany a shift from a sedentary lifestyle to one filled with regular exercise. Pro tip: soreness will stop being an issue if you’re consistent for a few months.

After I got over the hump early on and could run for a few miles, I set mileage goals. Over time my positive reinforcement shifted from seeing the numbers on the scale decrease to seeing my mileage and pace increase. Now, instead of trying to limit my portions during meals in order to lose weight, I worry about satisfying my insatiable appetite. I’m always hungry.

I have a drive to compete with myself. I always want to run farther and faster and go harder. I want to be a little better than I was a couple weeks ago, and I want do things that would have seemed impossible a few months ago. I’ve gone from a place where 4 miles at an average pace of 12:00 minutes per mile was a strong run for me to a place where 8 miles at an average pace of 8:15 minutes per miles is a strong run for me. And I’ll keep pushing.

As I said above, if I can do it, anyone can do it. I’m not a health nut. I don’t have a bunch of health nut friends. I don’t have a lifelong history of regular exercise. I eat hamburgers and BBQ and hot wings and pizza and drink lots of beer, and I enjoy every bite and every sip. But by being deliberate about making running a habit, I’ve come to love it.

Finally, I close with a link to a comic from my favorite comic artist, Matthew Inman, author of The Oatmeal. His magnum opus, “The terrible & wonderful reasons why I run long distances” was first published just a few months after I started running, and it struck a chord with me then.

The terrible & wonderful reasons why I run long distances. by The Oatmeal

Although as someone who at the time still viewed five miles as a long distance, I couldn’t fully relate to it. I recently revisited it after finishing my own first marathon, and it resonated deeply with me. I, too, was the fat kid. I, too, am the Blerch. I, too, hate eating iceberg lettuce. Inman’s reasons for running are my own.