Running for Perfectionists

November 04, 2012

Note: I am not a doctor, or a fitness instructor, or in any way professionally qualified to give fitness/health advice.

I am a perfectionist. I realized this around my second year of college. An accompanying trait of perfectionism is black-and-white thinking. All or nothing. Win or lose. You get the picture. This kind of thinking is particularly problematic when it comes to my fitness and health. I'm committed to eating healthy or I'm eating junk. I'm working out every day or not at all. It is very unproductive. So lately, I've been trying a different approach, which is to exercise as regularly as I can, eat as healthfully as possible, and stop beating myself up about it. And through this process, I've learned a few things about my personal fitness & health preferences. They are as follows:

+ I do not like gyms. They are the opposite of inspiring to me. At the gym, I am eternally comparing myself to other people (that's what us perfectionists do!). If instead I lace up my shoes and head outside, I am more likely to keep running. This is especially true in the fall. I tried to start a running program in the summer and became very discouraged by the heat.

+ I do not like running programs. I tried the Couch to 5K. I tried using Runkeeper to track my distance and pace. All of these things served only to discourage me. They work for some people. But not for me. Instead, I choose to have an open mind, limit my expectations, and see how my body feels. Some days I can barely finish a mile. Some days I feel like I can run for hours (with walk breaks, of course).

+ I prefer silence to music. Most people I talk to would not dream of working out without music. I thought I was like this, too. But lately, I've been leaving my phone and my headphones behind and simply getting out the door. Without music, I am more in tune with my surroundings. There is a river I pass over on my typical neighborhood route. Instead of kicking out the jams, I like to listen to the sound of the water running below me as I pass over the bridge. Another reason I detest gyms is the propensity to distract ourselves from our workout. This actually does not make sense. We should be listening to our bodies. I never enjoyed running on the treadmill while watching old Seinfeld episodes. It wasn't fun, and it didn't feel as good as going for a run outdoors.

I realize that running is not for everyone. I used to believe that it wasn't for me. But as I've gotten older and more concerned about my health, I've realized what a gift it is to be able to run safely through the neighborhood in which I live, to run and keep running and feel good afterwards, to make time for exercise (no matter how many excuses I can and do employ).

My advice for anyone who has decided that running is to be their primary form of exercise (and especially to those feeling discouraged because it is new and difficult and doesn't always feel great) is this: let go of expectations. Don't push yourself too hard. Run to feel good. Run to be outside, in nature, in the sunlight that nourishes us. Focus on your breathing, not your pace. Look around while you run; you will find beautiful things you did not notice before. Drink plenty of water. Stretch the parts your body tells you to stretch, and then some. Do not worry about your stats; you can focus on those if you decide to train for races. Think of running as a hobby to explore, rather than yet another set of challenges. Finally, consider joining a running group once you've built your confidence a bit. I'm not there yet, but I hope to be soon.

What advice would you give to new runners, or to those beginning a new workout/health regimen?

I feel the need to add, as I sit here proof-reading and drinking this amazing and surprisingly delicious tea, that I am very nervous about this entry because it contains no photos. All you have are my words. Please feel free to comment below.

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  1. This is a great post. I think your advice is extremely sensible and encouraging. I do not like gyms myself. Well, public gyms. I have a home gym of sorts; big rubber floor mats, free weights and benches, cable fly machine. I think that "all or nothing" mentality is quite common, and it's great that you have recognized it and can work around it. I have fallen victim to that mind set myself on occasion, and the way I pulled myself back was by accepting that I might not every time have the energy or inclination to do a full one-hour aerobic workout, followed by lifting and yoga, but that a 2-mile walk was really relaxing and kept me on track.
    Also, that tea sounds good.Except for the cilantro, which I would substitute with mint, probably. I eat a spoonful of tumeric every day, just wash it down with water. This tea would probably be more enjoyable!

  2. I love this. Break the rules! No photos! :)

  3. Thanks, Crystal! I was nervous!

  4. Thank you! I've felt better about working out since I took this approach. Also, I've dropped at least 2 pant sizes over the past three months. I now own three pairs of pants (2 skinny jeans and a pair of trouser leggings) that I actually feel good in. And I've dropped two sizes since the summer. Feelin' pretty good!


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