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Are Resolutions Unhealthy, and Destined for Failure?



New Year’s Resolutions - a contentious topic! We all know the cliche of the newly-purchased exercise equipment or gym-membership that ends up going unused after the first month or two of the year. The fact is, most resolutions are deserted fairly quickly, and I think that anyone can learn from some of the tips below.


But for the average runner who has already built a pattern of consistent running, are resolutions helpful? Perhaps... but more likely not. As usual, it varies by person. Here’s my take.


Personally, I think about a New Year’s “Intention.” Maybe that's semantics, but to me, an intention is an overall guiding theme that I want to carry throughout the year. By my definition, it’s less “strict” than a resolution, which means it’s easier to get back after on board if you lose sight of it for a few days or weeks. This is important, so I'll come back to it.


As you can imagine, the strict black-and-white nature of your typical resolution can often lead to all-or-nothing thinking that makes it difficult to stick with.


Here are a few ideas on running-related 'intentions' that I’ve had and occasionally recommended to athletes I work with.



Consistency

A goal of consistency looks very different for each person. Some people do a running “streak,” running every day. Some may focus on trying to hit every prescribed training run, no matter what. For long-term training, both of these can be extremely counter-productive, and will likely prevent you from making as much progress.


Run-streaks can be incredibly unhealthy both mentally and physically, and will almost always be detrimental to your training. I have seen many athletes make immediate and significant progress when ditching their run-streak and starting to train intelligently and adaptively.


Similarly, forcing yourself to ‘stick to the plan’ when things are clearly not going well... that will likely backfire as well for similar reasons. We know that pre-determined training is less-effective than adaptive training, so taking a 'stick to the plan' approach just won't be effective.


For athletes truly struggling with developing a routine of consistency, these techniques can be helpful for very short and defined time periods. For example, you might try to stick to the plan for 3 consecutive weeks. Or a two week run-streak.


However I find that they most often lead to unhealthy mental and emotional habits surrounding running. Please be careful and use these techniques with caution and for very short and defined periods of time, or better yet, not at all!


Instead, think about an 'always something' approach. Try to always do 20 minutes where there’s a run scheduled in your training, unless there’s an injury or severe illness concern. Everything going great? Good, stick to the plan! Tired after a 12-hour day and can’t fit in 8 miles? Great, get in 20-minutes and sleep well knowing you kept your mind and body used to consistent running. This builds that routine and the healthy mental habit of adaptability.

 

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Trust

Ahhh a mental goal! This is a tough one, and could mean different things to different people.


First, I think that many runners spend far too much time thinking about, planning, evaluating and judging their training. If you can compartmentalize your day into your running time and non-running time, in all likelihood not only will your run/life balance be better, your training will be better too.


See, fitness improvements happen over long time scales. You're not going to see any improvements in a week, and while you might see them in a month, the real progress happens over many months and years. If you spend time looking at your running data, trying to figure out if you ran too fast, too slow, too high a heart rate... etc., you are probably putting too much weight on an individual run.


So, trust. Trust the process of training. Trust that your body, with proper training, can meet your goals. If you follow your plan (assuming your plan is scientific and adaptive), you will make progress.


It doesn't matter if one single run went poorly, or if you bonked on a long run, or if you ran your workout too slow. It doesn't matter if you had a crappy week of running. It doesn't even really matter that much if you had a crappy month. Your progress happens over those long-time scales, so trust the process.


In addition to the time-scale problem, one thing many people don't realize is that data is not as objective as the watch manufacturers lead us to believe. NO, your watch doesn't know whether your training is productive or not, nor how much recovery you need. It has very little basis in science, for a variety of reasons.



“The Little Things”

We all have a list of running-related things we want to do, know we should be doing, and yet somehow often neglect doing on a regular basis. Strength training, foam rolling, mobility, PT/Rehab exercises, yoga... the list goes on. I have yet to meet a runner who doesn’t wish they were at least a little more on top of things in this department.


My recommendation: make a schedule. It’s unreasonable to expect yourself to do a 20 minute strength routine plus 5 minutes of foam rolling, plus a few mobility exercises EVERY day. You’re already running for an hour, and in the winter it feels like it takes that long to get dressed and undressed. So break it up. Make a schedule so you’re hitting everything you need/want to do at least a few times a week. Every day there’s a little variety, and you’re unlikely to think “ugh I did it yesterday, I can skip today”... eight days in a row.

Another thing that I've found helpful as a coach is to do some of this before running. Obviously you don't want to do a full strength routine before running, and foam rolling is more effective afterward. But you can absolutely toss in some mobility work and lighter strength work before you start your warmup. In fact, I recommend it! Then, if you have to make a choice, it's better to cut your run a little short and still get in the other things on your schedule, than to run that extra 5-10min and skip the 'extras' day after day.


It might just be the biggest "little" thing that you do to improve your running!



Takeaway - Ditch the Numbers Entirely

I believe the biggest factors in 'resolution' success are if it's truly, reasonably achievable, and if it's not a quantifiable, numbers-based goal.


If you are chasing a number, like running X times a week, getting to the gym X hours per week, or really anything with an easily-counted way to measure passing/failing, you are GOING to fail a week. When you do, it is human nature to give up on your goal, because you've already 'failed.' After all you can't finish out the year saying you worked out 3x a week every week, because you missed that first week of February... so just ditch the numbers.


Set an intention, set a schedule, trust the process, but most importantly be adaptable. Not only are you probably going to fall off the wagon, there are times when that's the right, and healthy thing to do.


If you have big goals for 2024, don't hesitate to send me a message – I still have space on my coaching roster, and I'd love to help you meet your goals, and then some!


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