Increasing Your Fitness Level Without Killing Yourself

Every year, I set some kind of fitness goal (doesn’t everybody?). It used to be something vague like “walk at least three days a week” but ever since I started running, I have become much more ambitious. My goals nowadays are usually in the form of mileage; that is, how many miles do I want to run, walk, bike—move—this year?

This is a fun goal for me (more of a “challenge” goal than a “change goal”), and I give it a lot of consideration. I don’t want to push myself to the point of injury or exhaustion. Exercise is, after all, not the only thing I do, and it is a means to an end: making me healthy and giving me energy for the most important things in life. But I don’t want to be too easy on myself, either. I want to challenge myself and, in the process, I’d like to have some fun experiences with my fitness goals along the way.

Last year, my goal was to “move 1,000 miles.” That means, when I added up all my walking, running, hiking, elliptical and biking miles, I wanted it to add up to no less than 1,000 miles (I actually only counted half my biking miles, as I didn’t feel justified in counting “coasting” miles, and my biking consists of a lot of coasting). Did I reach my goal? Regretfully, no. I was within 40 miles of reaching it, but very bad weather at the first of the year kept me from racking up the mileage I needed, and I could never make it up through the rest of the year. Nevertheless, I do not count 2014 as “a failure,” because I moved more miles last year than I ever have before. Significantly more. The year before I logged just under 800 miles, and the year before that “a measly 700 miles.” 😉  So in comparison to my previous mileage, I was very successful!

Changing Things Up

This year, I am changing up my approach. Instead of adding all my miles together, I thought it might be beneficial to set separate mileage goals for walking and running and to also add a little more of a challenge in the biking arena. Here’s my thinking on this.

The past three years, the goal was simply to “move.” I think that is a very worthy goal, and for anyone just getting started, I highly recommend this method of building your activity level (as already noted, it worked for me). However, I began to realize last year that the generality of that goal gave me license to be a little lazy and to not push myself at times (I’m not talking about pushing myself beyond my capabilities, but pushing myself beyond my “comfort zone”). So there were occasions when I planned on running, but because I was tired (or lazy; whichever the case may be), I would walk instead. Or there were days when I had not fulfilled my GymPact commitment, and to easily meet it, I would go on a nice leisurely stroll.

Don’t get me wrong. There are days when a “nice, leisurely stroll” is just what the doctor orders. I really enjoy nice, leisurely strolls! However, strolling does not keep me as fit and strong and energetic as running does. Also, strolling does not prepare me for half-marathons and such, and that is important to me, too (more on that in a bit). So I felt that I wanted to put a little more pressure on myself to run. At the same time, I don’t want to minimize the positive effect of simply being active, in general, so I want to set a walking mileage goal, as well, to keep myself active even on those days that I don’t run. I acknowledge that I can run only so many miles a year!

And finally, I want to push myself a little to shake up my routine and add in more biking. I don’t really consider biking a workout—not the way I bike! But what I really enjoy about biking is that it gets me outside, it takes me to different places than where I typically run, and I can bike while enjoying the company of others. Not so much with running, as I am too busy gasping for air!

With these three components in mind, following is a summary of my fitness goals for this year and how I landed on my numbers.

Run 840 miles in 2015

I typically run 4-5 miles at least three days a week (12-15 miles a week). This year I want to push myself to do just a little more but without pushing my body to the point of injury or distracting soreness. It’s important to me to keep this fitness dimension of my life in proper perspective. It’s a means to an end! It’s not all that my life consists of, nor is it the source of my identity (See Identity: Discovering the Real You). However, it is an energizer, a stress-reliever, and it keeps me young at heart. So it is not to be taken lightly, either.

Since I run about 15 miles a week, if I bump that up to 16 miles a week, that amounts to 832 miles a year (16 miles x 52 weeks). And if I round that figure up to a nice round number—say 840 miles—I will be shooting for a weekly average of 16.15 miles a week. That may not seem like much of an increase, but over a year’s time, it represents 60 more miles of running.

Walk 260 miles in 2015

Some might think that walking miles are not necessary if I’m doing all that running, but I disagree. Walking has a benefit all its own. I don’t get in a rush when I’m “out for a walk.” I take it nice and easy, and I smell the roses, listen to the birds, feel the wind in my hair or the sun on my skin.

And I think. Or pray. Or plan. In a word, I “chill.” Running keeps me fit, but walking keeps me centered.

Besides the mental and spiritual benefits of walking, it is still exercise. It is still better for me than sitting (haven’t you heard that “sitting is the new smoking”?)—and it is not as impacting on the body as is running. So I would be serving myself well to complement my running with some walking.

When I walk, I usually go for a couple of miles. If I add just a little more—say a half mile—to my usual walk circuit and do it two days a week (non-running days, of course), that’s 5 miles a week, 260 miles a year (5 miles x 52 weeks).

Bike 100 miles in 2015

I admit this is an easy goal, and that I am not setting my sights very high. That’s because I consider running and walking my main form of exercise, and I have another purpose for biking: to get me out of the rut of doing the same ol’, same ol’ all the time. I love what running does for me. But I also recognize the value of doing new and different activities.

Bicycling is considered a form of “cross training” for runners, a way to get the benefits of a workout without overusing the running muscles and without impacting the body so much (except for the derriere; biking is much more impacting there!). Even so, my attraction to biking is not so much for the workout as it is for the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and the fellowship of friends. The fact that it also is an opportunity to change up my routine is just a bonus.

Just as with running and walking, I came to my biking mileage goal by measuring it against my previous pattern—and then adding that “little bit more.” When I bike, it is not as simple as hopping on the bike and taking off. It is an event. I make arrangements to meet up with friends, I load the bike onto a bike rack, and I go somewhere (I don’t consider the area around my house to be safe as the roads don’t have much of a shoulder, if any, and there are no bike trails). In spite of the hassle, when I get there (wherever “there” may be), I always enjoy myself. Most of my biking “events” include no less than 10 miles of riding, so I used that mileage as a standard. 10 bike “events” would equal 100 miles. I may do more, but if I do 100 miles this year, it will be more than I have done in the past. And who knows? I may break some kind of mental barrier (a “hassle barrier,” actually) and do many more than 100 miles. But the goal is 100.

Overall Potential

If you do the math, you will note that my total mileage goal this year is far more than I have ever done: 840 + 260 + 100 = 1200 miles! Now why would I shoot for 1200 miles if I couldn’t even reach 1000 last year? It’s all in the strategy.

Last year, my goal was too nebulous. By breaking down my goals according to type of exercise, I have a very clear picture of what I need to achieve each week. If I fall short one week, I know how much I need to make up in the coming week(s). The most important thing is I will be active just working towards the goal. And I’ll be introducing more biking (and, thus, relationship) into my routine.

Fun Experiences Along the Way

I recently latched on to the term, “destination race.” It speaks of going somewhere special to participate in a race, followed by a few days of relaxation and sight-seeing in the area. I did this—and wrote about it—in 2013 when my grandson, Hudson, and I ran a half-marathon together in the California Redwoods (See The Perfect Vacation: Structure and Serendipity). It was an amazing experience, and I would love to replicate it many more times in my life. I have been scouring websites and noting races that I’d like to participate in—races in inspiring places with beautiful views or interesting history or fun themes.

My race of choice for a destination race is the half-marathon (13.1 miles). You may wonder why not a 5K, or a 10K, or a full marathon. I feel that a destination race should require a little “work” to justify the time and expense of a mini-vacation/destination race. A 5K or a 10K does not qualify for me, as I usually run those mileages as a matter of course. As for the full marathon, at this time I personally don’t have a green light from my Partner to spend that much time and effort in training (see A Holy Partnership). But a half-marathon, to coin the words of Goldilocks, is “just right” for me. It takes some time, but not too much time to train for. It stretches me physically, but it doesn’t debilitate me. It challenges me without becoming an obsession.

All that being said, another goal for 2015 is to run two half-marathons (destinations yet to be determined, but the planning and anticipation are part of the fun!) Two “halfs” a year will help keep me in good shape. I want to shoot for one in early Spring before it gets too hot (I’m a real wimp when it comes to heat) and another in the Fall.

“If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.”* Think about that for a moment; it should bring a smile. I share this quote to say that this month I am a little short of my monthly goal, and that’s because I did not fully hammer out my strategy till later in the month; I didn’t yet know where I was going. But now that I know, I make a mental note that I already have about 10 miles that will need to be made up. That will probably happen in the course of training for the first half-marathon—or maybe I’ll choose to add a little extra mileage each week in February. At any rate, just having a very specific goal and faithfully tracking my progress (I have created an Excel spreadsheet for this purpose), I should be able to stay on the mark. I am looking forward to the journey!

I have shared my goals with you, and I’d love to hear yours. Will you leave a comment?

*quote attributed to Lawrence J. Peter
The wonderful photo is compliments of Massimo Regonati via Flickr

 

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2 Responses to Increasing Your Fitness Level Without Killing Yourself

  1. Emma Williams says:

    Inspiring as ever Diane, thank you! I definitely need a goal to get me moving! Last year I ran a 10k race in Warwickshire UK, and I can honestly say without that finish line to aim for, I would never have put in the training I needed to get me round. Now the days keep whizzing by and turning into weeks, and it’s a good month since I last went for a run, and I want to get back out there, so I love the idea of setting a more long term goal as an incentive, such as “moving 1000 miles”. It’s definitely given me something to think about and challenged me to come up with something to motivate me to get back into running!

I love to read your comments!