By: Nikki Reiter
You have set your season’s goals. You have picked your races. Enter: life. For most runners, motivation to start running is not difficult to achieve. However, as winter prolongs and other commitments enter into the picture, trying to get through training days can sometimes be more difficult than initially conceived. I met with Dr. Mary Jung, Assistant Professor in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences at the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus. In addition to her theory-based research in health and exercise psychology, she is an avid runner who likes to practice what she preaches. Dr. Jung and I discussed some common barriers that get in the way of exercise and running, and how to get back on track when you feel you may have derailed from your training goals.
Although it is great to have a grand outcome goal, such as running your first marathon or breaking a specific time barrier, it is important that goals be specific, measurable, adjustable, realistic and time-oriented, in short, they must be ‘SMART.’ Lofty long-term goals require lots of motivation, which can be difficult to muster up when you feel you could be spending your time on other tasks that are much easier to achieve, such as running errands or cleaning the house. Making smaller, more achievable goals allows for a sense of accomplishment to be realized every time you are out there running and allows for instant gratification when attained. For example, ensuring you get out for three runs every week is more realistic and has more flexibility than that much loftier goal of completing a marathon.
For the great majority of the population, the greatest barrier to exercise or maintaining an exercise program is one’s perceived lack of time. Perceived? Yes. Although you sometimes feel you may not have enough time to get in your run, chances are you are not choosing to make time. Sorry to break it to you, but exercisers and non-exercisers alike, have the same number of minutes in a day. In a study performed by Jung and Brawley (2010), aimed at university students during their exam period, both exercisers and non-exercisers spent the same number of hours on studying – but exercisers seemed to find extra time in the day to fit in exercise. Dr. Jung hypothesizes that non-exercisers may not be recognizing how they are spending their spare time. A suggested strategy is for non-exercisers to time-stamp (write down what you’re doing in each half hour block of your day) their activities to realize how they are spending their day. You may be surprised at how much leisure time can add up and be made available for training.
Why is it that some people seem to be able to make time to do it all? Well, Dr. Jung and colleagues performed a study (in press) concerning how working mothers with young children can fit exercise into their busy lives. Being able to spend time on oneself for exercise was definitely the biggest barrier for all mothers; however, they discovered that one’s confidence to manage multiple goals truly influences whether someone commits to regular exercise or not. These people, who like everybody else must tend to their jobs and families, are successful in adhering to exercise because they believe that they can achieve all of their goals, and they do not back down in the face of adversity. They incorporate running into their day in whichever way possible, whether by waking up early, exercising on one’s lunch hour, or incorporating running activities with their children.
You missed a week’s worth of training. Maybe even two. Do not throw in the towel just yet! Perhaps it was due to injury or illness, a business trip or another obligation. Getting back on track is totally possible and the ‘all-or-nothing’ approach is probably due to one’s perceived lack of confidence to overcome this setback. People who have had negative experiences in trying to achieve their goals are less likely to persevere when challenged, making it important to be proactive and ensure you feel success every time you attempt your goal. How do you do this? It goes back to setting smaller, challenging yet realistic goals. Increase your mileage by a reasonable amount per week, for example, and have a running partner or group to hold you accountable. Each week you can look back to what your baseline mileage was, and what you’re doing currently, and feel proud of how far you’ve come. By overcoming inevitable setbacks (EVERYBODY misses a workout or two during their running programs) by lacing them up again and getting out there, you are preparing yourself to face other challenges you are likely to face in your training. Dr. Jung also points out that it’s important to have a ‘Plan B’ because ‘all-or-nothing’ does not always work and sometimes it takes some creative re-scheduling of one’s time to make it fit.
Nikki Reiter holds a master’s degree in biomechanics and is a Mizuno Running Brand Ambassador and the Women’s Cross Country Running Head Coach at the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus in Kelowna, BC. She is also the Laboratory Coordinator in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences at UBC Okanagan where she facilitates undergraduate laboratory learning.