One of the hardest parts of Ironman training was getting out to do afternoon workouts. I kind of cheated myself, especially the second time around, by always doing my runs in the morning and saving the swim or bike for the afternoon session. I love running, but my body is more finicky about running than the other two disciplines. Getting out the door to run when I'm well-rested and well-caffeinated has become second nature but mustering up that same mojo in the pm is another story.
There are many reasons why figuring out how to run later in the day is worth the effort: It frees up the morning for practicing the swim or the bike with a full tank, it gives my mood a much-needed boost in the afternoon, I could potentially have more time to run, depending on my work schedule, it would definitely help with appetite control, and I bet I'd sleep better at night, given I usually feel cozy-tired after a run.
Unfortunately there are just as many reasons why I have failed at implementing the afternoon run in the past: low energy, lack of desire, I get distracted and forget and then suddenly it's time to start dinner, guilt over being gone when my family is hanging out, not wanting to bother with a second shower, dealing with afternoon traffic, and having heartburn or a sloshy stomach from eating too much during the day.
These aren't too different from the excuses other people tell me when I sing the praises of exercise as a natural anti-depressant. I've been doing this so long I've forgotten how hard it is to build something potentially painful into my day, even though I know it's good for me.
Time for that to change.
I've been coaching middle school cross country for the past two months. Our practices are at 3:30 in the afternoon and before our team got so big, I was able to run with them much of the time. It's wasn't a lot of running, but it was consistent, and it was fun. I'm looking at the season from a selfish perspective right now and using it as a springboard to jump into my own afternoon running routine.
I'm keeping the bar low. This isn't about speed or distance. This is about frequency. This is creating a habit that I can sustain that will benefit me in the long run (no pun intended).
Cross country practices taught me several things that I can use to make this mission successful. First, music is an effective mojo-builder. Putting in my earbuds and cranking up my running playlist will tell my brain to get ready to run. I know this to be true not only from our practices, but also because when I hear songs from my playlist in other situations, I feel a little twitchy and a little boost of energy. Second, I'm most successful if I can plan ahead and wear some comfortable running-ish clothes throughout the day. This was tougher to do in past years when I actually had to go out in the world looking put together, but in this year of Zoom, comfy pants and wicking shirts are perfectly acceptable. Third, knowing I need to run later helps me be more intentional with my food choices throughout the day. I'm better about keeping my meals smaller and my snacking to a minimum. Every day around 3pm I find myself wandering into the kitchen. Knowing I'll be running soon will (hopefully) help me step away from the chips.
In order to successfully execute this afternoon run, I need to have the hours around it pretty well figured out. What time am I done with work? What time will everyone be home? What are we having for dinner, and at what time? Do the kids need to transported anywhere? Are there any evening meetings I need to be ready for? If I don't plan ahead, it will never happen. There is just too much opportunity for other things to get in the way.
I'm optimistic. A mile a day seems like a very doable goal. I can tell myself it's 10 minutes, 2-3 songs. Barely enough time to get sweaty. If I'm feeling good, I can do a short core workout from an app when I get home, but regardless, the run is a win.
The one problem is that if I miss a day, my brain tells me to throw in the towel because I've failed again. I cannot let that happen this time. Stuff is going to get in the way and I have to be ready to get back on the horse tomorrow and start again. Every day I accomplish the run, it's a win. Each day I miss will a chance to troubleshoot, adjust, and recommit.
Adding a little mile run to my day is not that big of a deal. It's about the run, but it's also not really about the run. It's about what the run will give me: structure, energy, and a sense of calm. If I can keep these things in mind, those ten minutes will be time well spent.