Monday, April 21, 2008

Sticking With My Morning Workout

To make running a daily habit, I’m setting concrete goals
by Amanda MacMillan

I never thought I’d say this, but my long weekend runs have become the easiest part of my training program. Sure, it took me 98 minutes to run 9.5 miles on Saturday, but 98 measly minutes out of a full weekend of leisure is an easy sacrifice.

Trying to run three to five miles three days a week, on the other hand, is a different story. With long work days, dinner dates, and meet-ups with friends, I’ve been having trouble squeezing it in.

During the winter, I had no choice but to use the treadmill; that meant I could run on my lunch break or right after work. Now that the weather’s nicer, I’ve been spoiled—and suddenly, it just seems wrong (and really, really difficult) to run in the sticky, sweaty gym.

Running in midtown Manhattan isn’t an option I want to consider either, thanks to the crowded sidewalks and vehicle exhaust. And for safety reasons, I don't particularly like running anywhere after dark. So that means I have to either cut my day short and hightail it home to Brooklyn at a decent hour, or do the unthinkable: Wake up early.

I am not a morning person. But for the last two weeks, I’ve been trying desperately to haul my butt out of bed for a sunrise workout. I've marked my calendar. I've programmed “Gonna Fly Now” as my new cell phone alarm. I've asked my boyfriend to call me at 6 a.m. and scold me for being lazy. A few ambitious mornings I’ve made it out, but nothing’s been able to consistently beat out the allure of the snooze button.

I posed my dilemma to Walter R. Thompson, PhD, professor of kinesiology and health at Georgia State University and an expert in exercise adherence. Give it some time, he advised: It will probably take about a month of regular morning workouts before I start to notice their benefits and actually look forward to them. A big part of this, he explained, is breaking old routines and establishing new ones.

“You’ve spent the last 25 years getting out of bed and not even thinking about exercise,” he told me. “That’s a hard habit to break.”But my Monday-Wednesday-Thursday schedule is a good start, he added. “Sleeping in once or twice a week gives you a breather to look forward to, but you’re still exercising enough to meet your goals.”

Speaking of goals, he suggested setting both short-term (to keep from losing focus) and long-term ones (to remember the progress I've made, even in the event of setbacks along the way).

So for the remainder of my training, I’m doing just that: My long-term goal is to run the entire Brooklyn Half Marathon on May 3. And next week, maybe I’ll aim to shave another minute off my five-mile time.

This week? I’m just focusing on getting up and out the door when I say I will.

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