I love spending time in nature, so taking walks and hikes in the Ottawa outdoors comes easily to me. Running? Not so much. But this summer and fall, I chose to learn to run. Why did I choose running? It was an activity I could commit to on my own that would get me outdoors, many of my patients loved it, it was a quick way to feel energized, and it looked easy...
As easy as it looked with all of the spandex-clad professional runners in my neighbourhood gliding by effortlessly, I soon discovered that running takes a lot more work and perseverance than I’d imagined. Like any new skill, it takes time to learn and ingrain into your daily schedule before it becomes almost second nature. I’d tried running in the past, but never seemed to be able to push through the barrier of feeling that exhilarating rush of endorphins rewarding me. I only knew to expect the stretch of lungs nearly exploding or a painful side stitch after only a few minutes in. But this summer was different. This summer, I had a goal. I was going to run a 5K. Seems easy, right?
I had bought myself a new pair of runners last year (after an assessment with Dr. Steve Pelletier, a colleague and chiropractor at my In Balance clinic), so I already had the best pair of shoes I had ever owned, only lightly used since last year. I was inspired by patients who were running in the Ottawa Race Weekend in May. And, I had just gotten a new phone in June, which propelled me into the “new” world of app technology, and downloaded one of my first apps, the Couch Potato to 5K app. This app was a lifesaver for me, as it broke my 5K goal into small, manageable steps of 3 workouts a week for 8 weeks.
So off I went on my first day. I passed by seasoned runners and felt like a fake when I zoomed by someone during my 1min running spurts (only to turn the corner and go back to walking), but at least I was running! The first few weeks were easy enough. I was alternating between walking and running, slowly increasing the length and frequency of the runs. When I felt like giving up, I would encourage myself to keep running until the lady on the app chimed in that it was time to walk again. The app was great for keeping me accountable and for pacing me so that I wouldn’t try to do too much too fast!
By the end of the second week, I was already starting to feel good after my runs. I could feel my lung capacity expanding, my confidence growing, and felt energized after my runs (not exhausted like I had after my previous attempts years ago)! And that was after only a total of 9 minutes of running! My goal was to run non-stop for 35 minutes.
By week 5, I was running at least 6 minutes straight, and enjoying it! I was proudly telling my friends and colleagues that I was running a total of 16 minutes. However, I had a setback during my two weeks of vacation, when I fell out of my usual routine and didn’t make time for running. Following that, I had a few busy weeks where I kept running on the back burner... Since I had told so many people about my running goal, however, they started to ask me how my running was going. Those promptings helped me to pick up my running shoes once again and hit the pavement. I was a little apprehensive about hitting the road again after a few weeks, as I didn’t know if I’d have to go backwards in my running regimen. I was surprised that all I had to do was repeat one workout before I felt good enough to continue right where I had left off!
The last few weeks were tough, I admit, especially when moving from 10 minute running intervals with a 5 minute walking break, to 20 minutes of running non-stop. But once I hit the 20 minute mark, continuing to run a bit longer was not as big of a mountain as it once seemed! I hit my 35 minute running goal on October 5th, and was so proud of myself! And today, I finally hit my 5K non-stop running goal, with my best pace so far!
I’m definitely not done running, but I wanted to share some of the things that I learned about forming new healthy habits through my running experience so far. This doesn’t only apply to running! It can apply to any health goal or new habit that you want to form for yourself.
1) Break your big goal into small, bite-sized, micro-goals
Sure, it’s great to have a big goal and to dream big. But it’s the day-to-day effort, in which you may not see much progress, which gets you there. Every single day, you have to make decisions that will either help move you towards that goal, or away from it. The key, I have found, is to break the goal into so small chunks that you have almost no resistance to swallowing them! Dream big and visualize your end goal, but start small so that you don’t overwhelm yourself. For me, following the app I used helped me to break my effort down into manageable chunks which only required my time 3 days of the week.
2) Identify your obstacles (so that you can come up with solutions to overcome them)
If you can’t keep up with your micro-goals, don’t give up! Keep reassessing and take a minute to analyze what is stopping you from reaching them. Are you going to sleep too late and can no longer get up early for your run? Then work on changing your bedtime routine. Are you developing knee pain? Get assessed with a chiropractor or osteopath to make sure that you are running correctly and do the proper strengthening exercises (I had this happen and got some great advice from Dr. Pelletier). You may need to adjust your micro-goals to be more realistic, or remove other non-essential habits that are taking your time from your daily routine. Perhaps you need to change the negative soundtrack in your head that is telling you that you can’t do this or that you will fail. Change is difficult, but the right type of change is worth it! Don’t give up!
3) Have an accountability buddy
Share your goals with friends that will be supportive in helping you reach them. Having an accountability buddy can really help you get out there when you really don’t feel like it. As you head outside, you’ll hear their encouraging cheers fueling you along when your own cheers start to fade. This is also a role that your naturopathic doctor can play in helping you reach your health goals! We help keep you on track so that you can reach your health goals quicker and easier.
4) Attach your new habit to an old one
I often tell my patients who forget to take their Vitamin D drops to keep them next to their toothbrush (one of the brands I recommend is also appropriately peppermint flavoured). That way, each time that they brush their teeth in the morning (an already established habit), they will have the cue they need to remember to take their Vitamin D. In the running example, attach your new habit to an existing one. For example, “after I get up in the morning and before I shower, I will go for a run on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays”. These contextual cues can help you have a built-in reminder to stick to your new habit.
5) Redefine success = effort
It’s easy to give up when there are bumps along the way. In running, I had some days where I had less stamina and had to run much slower. It’s ok to not feel your best every time. You don’t have to do it perfectly every time. Remember why you are doing this (for your health and well-being), and that luckily we don’t have to run like a seasoned athlete to reap the benefits. Savour the process itself. Enjoy that split second you feel like you have wings under your feet lifting you off the ground. Breathe in the fresh air! Celebrate the fact that you have made the effort to go outside. After all, reaching your goal doesn’t happen overnight.It comes from a series of day-to-day efforts. Why not celebrate your efforts, your day-to-day successes?
I hope that these 5 tips will help you to take the first step to build new health habits that stick! As you can see, a big part of the whole battle is a battle of the mind. And it’s not all about willpower either. Remember, make the transition to the new habit so easy that it’s almost impossible to say no.
If you have plans to get healthier but don’t know how to get there or what that would look like for you, I’d be happy to be both your naturopathic doctor and your accountability buddy!
Dr. Tamar Ferreira is a Naturopathic Doctor in Brampton, Ontario. Her areas of focus include digestive health, hormone balance, and skin conditions.