I’ve been planning to write something about fitness, what I’ve learned and what I do over at Operation Move for a while, and in all honesty I’ve struggled to. I’ve written about four different versions and none of them I was happy with.
And I guess I wanted to talk about why it is so important to me when I’m talking about Operation Move and women and fitness that I get it right.
I was that obese pack a day smoker who believed that I just didn’t enjoy exercise, was unathletic and undisciplined. And I was too self-conscious anyway. I didn’t really like being seen in public or to have people looking at me. Because of that I had a talent for melting into wall paper. And the reality of exercise is that it forces you to take up space (on the gym, in a class, on a run) and when you want to be invisible that is a pretty confronting thing.
But then I started to run and it changed my life. That’s not an overstatement or hyperbole. It literally changed my life. It dragged me out of the depths of a severe clinical depression (with the help of GP treatment and medication) and put me on the path I was destined for. It challenged every idea I had ever had about how I saw my body. And it taught me that there is no impossible. When you break through barriers that you thought were absolutely impossible in running it allows you to see that nothing in your life is really impossible and it blasts you into a path of possibilities.
So when I write about it, I don’t want people to dismiss it and say well that’s not for me. Because I was there. I know what that looks like. And you is exactly who it is for. And I want to reach that person who maybe feels like something is off. And maybe like me it won’t be until long after they first started running and they are out there cruising along and feeling like they are home that they realise just how desperately lost they were before.
I might not have known it at the time, but I was lost.
And I don’t know if it was just the stresses of early motherhood but being able to go for a run for 30 minutes a few times a week gave me something that I could feel achievement in. I loved having the privilege of being at home with my kids, but like most new mothers it felt like floundering most of the time as I worried over if I was doing the right thing. Whereas running was a concrete thing. I either went for my run, or I didn’t. And improvement was easy to track. Further or faster, I didn’t care but I was moving forward.
Eventually that led me to ten half marathons, three marathons, one ultra marathon, two coaching qualifications and being able to coach people in Learn to Run and Far and Fast. And that’s the best part because I get to see that point where people go from not believing they can to knowing that they can and it’s magic and I get to see it.
Along the way I’ve learnt a few things about fitness.
1. Usually people start with a goal to lose weight but that doesn’t last for very long
That was me too. I had a whole heap of pregnancy weight that I wanted to lose and that’s why I started going to the gym and learning to run. But along the way something happened and that wasn’t so important any more. It became about what I could do. How far could I run? How fast? And the great thing about that is that on days when I might not be feeling so comfortable in my body I still have the confidence of knowing what my body can do. It’s my belief that the more you make the goal about what you can do the more likely you will be to stick with it.
2. Body hatred and fitness are an uneasy partnership
If you want your body to perform at its best, you need to appreciate what a kick ass job it’s done for you so far. Sure you might want to change your body, but you can still appreciate it in how awesome it is. Because exercise is not a punishment and food is not a reward. Exercise (or training as I prefer to think of it) is a celebration of your body.
3. Calories aren’t as reliable as you might think they are
In the beginning it’s easy to think it’s all calories in/calories out, right? But it actually doesn’t work like that. A lot of it depends on your metabolism as to how much energy you burn and how much you need. And once your body gets efficient at a movement (like running) it doesn’t really burn as much as my fancy watch would suggest it does. Not to mention that while weight training would be considered a vastly inferior burner in terms of calories to activities like running or cycling – it actually builds muscle which then creates more of a calorie burn at rest, so it’s all relative.
4. The best exercise you can do is the one you want to do
I could lay out the ideal week for optimum fitness which would probably be a mix of running, strength and HIIT training but in the end it’s all about what you enjoy. If you aren’t going to enjoy it, it’s not going to stick. So much of your success depends on being willing to try out different things and see what you like.
5. There is no ideal body type for running or fitness
This is what I love about going to running events and about being at my Crossfit gym. You learn pretty quickly there is no body type for running or fitness there are just awesome people giving it a good crack.
6. When you breathe deeply into one passion you provide oxygen for others
Fitness or running have a habit of changing people’s lives. When you break down barriers, barriers in other areas of your life break down as well. When you start, running for more than 200m seems impossible. And then one day you run 5km without even stopping and all of a sudden you are this invincible person who is capable of absolutely anything you set your mind to. To quote Bruce Lee: “There are no limits – there are only plateaus and you must not stay there.”
7. One day it will be easy
Don’t believe all of those memes on the internet about how it doesn’t get easier. That’s exactly what happens. It does get easier. In the beginning it feels hard. But over time it’s like breathing – you don’t even think about it. Okay, so maybe not running speed intervals, but on a normal run it is like breathing. It’s effortless.
8. There is no failure, there is only tomorrow
It’s easy to think of things in absolutes. Success and failure. Black and white. But change and habits don’t work like that. They aren’t one choice, once. They are a million choices every day. So there’s no all or nothing – there’s just tomorrow. What are you willing to do tomorrow? What am I going to do this week that is going to take me closer towards my goals, rather than further away? And really, a run or a workout is a date with yourself – why would you cancel on yourself? You are outstanding.
9. Athletes eat and train. They don’t diet and exercise
Habitual dieting will land your metabolism in the toilet and is likely to cause weight gain. Fuel your body for performance and the rest will take care of itself. Listen to your body. If you are having mad cravings more often than not it’s because your body isn’t getting the nutrients it needs so it’s going for the shortcut of max carbs with limited effort (sugar) to get something close to what it needs. Take a third of the time that you would spend on training and spend it in food prep in the kitchen, and your body will thank you for it.
10. Find your why
You need it. Your why will get you out of bed in the morning. Your why will coax you into workouts when you don’t want to go. Your why will provide you with joy and happiness and fulfillment. But you need to know what it is. I’m fond of saying that on a bad day, a run will show me who I am and a good day a run will show me who I could be.
Starting is half the battle. It might be time to start.
Zoey is the Director and Running Coach at Operation Move. She lives in Northern NSW, and when she’s not running you can find her baking or crocheting. She is passionate about people creating a life they love by finding movement they love. If you’d like to get moving we are currently accepting registrations for our January intake for Learn to Run and the Total Fitness Challenge.