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January 3, 2009

You Can't Be Perfect

For as much as I love running, I’ve never been very good at encouraging others to get started. Rather, I’m often the first to admit that it might not be the right activity for everybody.

This pet philosophy of mine leads to some differences of opinion with my friend Mike, who also happens to be my fellow Monterey Herald columnist. Mike believes that anyone, anywhere, at any age, in any physical condition, can start a running program and enjoy all of the benefits the sport has to offer. He's absolutely passionate about recruiting as many runners as possible to join him, and I'd never try to dissuade him from his cause. Unfortunately, I’m not nearly so optimistic.

I’ve known enough people who have given up running programs to recognize that running might not always be the ideal path to fitness. Some folks may be predisposed to injury or joint pain. Some might like to push their bodies in a different fashion than the repetitive, simplistic manner that is fundamental to running. Some won’t share the emotional connection to the process that many of us feel as strongly as any drug.

My personal opinion about overall health and fitness is that success lies not in what particular activity you choose, but in finding something you love and enjoy; that way, exercise sessions are something you look forward to and will continue for the long term. Whether it's running, swimming, cycling, tennis, aerobics, rollerblading, or countless other options - the specific method doesn't matter nearly as much as the degree and consistency of participation.

However, when New Year’s Day rolls around, and the newspaper looks for an article that speaks to casual readers who have made resolutions to start a running program, I have to put my own suppositions aside for a garden-variety “You can do it!” type of column. This year, we focused less on encouraging people to dramatically change their lives, and more on reassuring them that doing so is neither a short nor easy process.


Running Life 1/1/09 “You Can’t be Perfect”

Wait! Don’t tell us – you are reading this with bleary eyes and a pounding head from last night’s festivities. Or maybe you made a resolution to lose weight and get healthy this year, and you’re already questioning your motivation.

Everybody sabotages their fitness plans from time to time – even your local running columnists. So we’re not going to beat you over the head today about all the reasons you should be running.

Runners certainly aren’t perfect. Many of us will overindulge at New Year’s Eve parties, throwing back drinks and eating dozens of little sausages on toothpicks, finally crashing into the sack in the wee hours of the morning.

So if you chastise yourself for not beginning your training program today, don’t take it too hard. Just start in small doses, a little bit at a time. Even walking a mile is an accomplishment if you haven’t done it for a while. Start with small changes, and they’ll eventually become larger ones. You don’t have to be perfect every day.

Most health experts say that you need sixty minutes of daily activity, but that’s tough for anyone to do. On the inevitable days when you fall short, your long-term success and self-esteem depend entirely on your outlook. Don’t feel bad if you only have time to walk for a twenty minutes instead of an hour, or if you run only two miles when your training plan called for three. Just keep plugging along and don’t quit or lose your focus.

The key to any training program is to simply do something more than you used to. Or – in the case of eating – do something less than usual. Switch from walking one mile to jogging two, or from eating double cheeseburgers to frequenting Subway. Remember, progress happens in little steps on a regular basis.

Bad habits don’t become perfect ones overnight and fitness doesn’t happen immediately. Don’t get discouraged if changes are small at first – just dedicate yourself to achieving them, you’ll gradually make big improvements over the course of the year.

Perhaps by next January 1st, you can join the hundreds of runners who, by the time you are reading this, have already finished the Rio Resolution run and are eating a great post-race breakfast. Even though many of them were up late, they all made the decision to make fitness a priority for the New Year’s holiday.

On a personal note - many of us at this year’s race are wearing shirts in honor of Mickey [omitted], a local running club member who had run every one of the 17 previous Rio Resolution Runs prior to today, and always brought champagne to celebrate with everyone after the run. This year Mickey is recuperating from a very tough operation due to his recent diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, and was unable to attend the race.

Running makes our lives better, but it doesn’t make us invincible. We hope that your 2009 is filled with fitness and health, and many more good days than bad ones. And please join us in thinking good thoughts for Mickey.


justrun 1/3/09, 2:11 PM  

"The key to any training program is to simply do something more than you used to." That is a great statement to remember. I like the simplicity of it, considering years of running tends to make us forget the simple things. (I feel better about my measly 5K on New Years day now, too.)

Mike told me about your blog a couple months ago and I've been reading ever since. Thanks!

Darrell 1/3/09, 2:41 PM  

I think you and Mike are both right on the running issue. I think nearly anybody can make running part of their plan to reach their fitness goals. But to your point, certainly not everybody is going to "love" running. To be truly successful you have to do something that you will love (or at least can tolerate).

Paul Charteris 1/3/09, 8:52 PM  

You are right on the mark Donald.

There's no way I would pressure people into running if they simply are not into it. I know a lot of people who's genetic lineage has adapted them to wrestle aurochs to the ground or throw big rocks at mammoths. I admire them for their feats of strength and revel in the enjoyment they get from it.

Cheers, Paul
P.S. I think my genetic lineage has adapted me to running semi-naked across the tundra chasing reindeer.

Anne 1/4/09, 1:54 PM  

I've actually discouraged a few people who I felt were running for the wrong reasons and likely to get injured and badmouth the sport from thereon. So, I'm with you on this one. And I hope Mickey comes through his cancer operation with flying colors.

Annette 1/4/09, 2:59 PM  

Happy New Year! I agree with your pre-column opinion that everyone needs to find something that they enjoy. That's the only way they'll stick with it.

David 1/4/09, 3:02 PM  

Some people just don't have the working parts that allows them to run. I let 'em go, as you would. It's a personal challenge to get the couchers to walk, then jog, then run and finally race. I bank those big smiles and know it was a good deed done.

triguyjt 1/4/09, 6:44 PM  

good words..good thoughts...
and many good feelings toward your friend Mickey./.

to his health!!!

Thomas 1/5/09, 6:24 AM  

The two people I tried to get into running (I didn't come to them - they asked me for advice) both gave up within weeks citing knee pain and back pain respectively.

While I don't know the true extend of their problems I have come to think that most people will shy away from running as soon as the first problem appears. And since running without minor issues is simply not going to happen they will never get into the sport properly.

Rainmaker 1/7/09, 11:51 AM  

What about foozball? Does that count as a sport? If so - I'm there!

wWll written article though! I agree, not everyone can be runners. My dad can't run to a a slew of lower body injuries that at times make a long walk painful. But he can still bike!

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