Sustainable Fitness: Redefining Success

>> Friday, December 27, 2013

Once you've assessed your (unique) situation with regard to fitness + life, it's time to set a goal for yourself. No matter what's going on, having some goal -- any goal -- is essential to sticking with an exercise program. But with so many races and milestones, it can be hard to choose just one.

Even more frustrating can be mixing up your own goal with the goals of others.

Here's an abridged history of my own running goals:
  • When I started running, I had an immediate desire to run a 5K distance so I could participate in a race. It took me an entire summer to reach that distance goal. It took me a year beyond that to muster the courage to sign up for an event.
  • After I'd been running several years and had a variety of races under my belt, I became active in our local runners club. Seemed like every runner on Earth (besides me) had run a marathon (or 10), was training to run a marathon, or was considering training for a marathon. Eventually I got sucked in and spent months preparing for my first 26.2 mile race.
  • Then, of course, because that first race didn't go as planned, I wanted/needed to break 4 hours. So, I devoted the bulk of a year to reaching this goal -- ultimately ending in 1 DNF, 1 DNS . . . and lots of heartbreak + injury.
  • When I was pregnant, I just wanted to run as long into the trimesters as possible. I ended up completing a half marathon at the end of my first trimester, a 15K long run at 20 weeks, but after not too long -- speed and distance didn't matter anymore. I just wanted to move to move (and did until around 37 weeks). 
  • As a new mom, I wanted to regain the speed and endurance I had sacrificed for over a year, so the motivation was getting back into previous shape and beating my best half marathon time.
Now, though, I'm in this weird crossroads.

I don't have some glaring motivation. Racing hasn't been as enticing. It all takes coordination, babysitting, and money. I don't feel I have anything to prove to myself (though I do get fleeting desires to beat old times -- I think we all do) or others. Honestly, I could see getting pregnant again in the next year or so, and I don't want to make any huge plans (sub-4 marathon, I'm talking to you!) I might later want/need to break.

What I've focused on:
  • Instead of trying to get in 30 miles a week, every week -- I focus on running a certain number of days per week (for me, it's 4 or 5). Of course, I like reaching certain distances and try to keep one weekly long run over 10 miles, but it doesn't always happen.
  • Half marathons have become my sweet spot because I've reached a level of fitness where I can compete with myself . . . but not give up my entire life to do so. By reaching to run at least one double digits run on a weekend, it's only a few weeks to step up to the 13.1 mile distance, so I like that comfort zone.
  • I run fast on days when I feel like running fast. On days when I feel run down, I take things slower. If I find I'm feeling slow for a long period of time, I figure out why. If I feel like I have excess energy, I take full advantage.
  • There are a number of local, inexpensive races from the 5K to marathon distance. Many allow sign-up the day of. If I'm feeling it, I race. If not, I do my own thing and pocket the $$$. Sticking to local races with less rigid signup processes has been helpful.

That all being said, I surely go through periods of time when my training calendar is blank and I just run without a watch or set path. There are also times when I buckle down and train hard to race. I am actually beginning to figure out my spring half marathon calendar because I'd like to get closer to 1:40 this time around. We shall see!

  • Having kids or a busy full-time job or some other situation that makes running/exercise more inconvenient isn't necessarily an excuse to do less. In fact, several of you have said these things have inspired you to shift around your lifestyle or even do more. 
  • For me, I've had to scale back from my previous running/exercise schedule to feel like my best self. But it's all about what works for you in your situation.
  • At the end of the day, I like to get my work done + deadlines crossed off. I like to relax and spend time with my family. I sleep well, prepare healthy meals, and -- because it's still very important to me -- I move my body. I run for health, both physical and mental.
  • If I can do all of these things and still feel happy and energized, I use this as my definition of success. To me, that's what sustainable exercise is all about. If one of these life areas starts overtaking the others for too long, I step back and reevaluate.
Do you feel your exercise/life are in balance? What do you do to keep them that way or adjust when you need a change?

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