Posts Tagged With: setting goals

Small Successes = Big Results

First, I need to just announce that exactly one month from today, I will be arriving at the Walt Disney World resort for the Disney Princess Half Marathon weekend [insert sheer panic here].

tkd

Finally an orange belt!

This weekend I completed what might be, to many people, pretty small successes. On Friday I finally graduated to orange belt in Taekwondo. Because I can’t attend as many classes as I would like each week due to my work schedule (I moonlight as a private piano teacher, so I’m usually tied up until 7pm or 8pm each night), it takes me a bit longer to earn the necessary stripes to be considered for my next belt level — and it seems like I’ve been at white forever!

Although it was slightly awkward that all of my “grown-up” friends who are enrolled in the program graduated ahead of me, and I therefore was the ONLY adult participating in Friday night’s ceremony, to me earning a new belt in either of my martial arts programs is still very much a symbol of setting a goal and following through — a concept that was completely foreign to me just a few years ago.

At the end of the day, it’s basically just a colorful cotton belt and a silly little graduation ceremony, but for me it’s a reminder of what can happen when you summon the courage to try something new. While Muay Thai is physically taxing — I pretty much always end up in a puddle of my own sweat — Taekwondo’s precise, rigid movements and complicated forms requires a mental focus and physical flexibility that I really didn’t think I was ever capable of achieving. It’s hard work, but I’m doing it!

Speaking of hard work, I also managed to complete my longest long run yet this weekend: 11 miles. It was my first time breaking 10 miles on a long run, and I have to say that I completely agree with whomever first said that running is more mental than physical.

When my legs are starting to feel like lead and I just want to be DONE ALREADY, I really have to dig deep to find the motivation to finish. My mind seems to just completely take over, and I then can somehow manage to ignore an achy knee, blistering toe, grumbling tummy, or, let’s be honest, just plain old boredom.

2013-01-18 15.05.13

11 miles down!

While heading out for a quick 3-, 4-, or even 5-mile run is starting to feel pretty routine to me, those runs that are over 6 miles long are still mentally and physically exhausting. I was thrilled when I ran my first double-digit run, but to be honest it has been at least 2 weeks since my last long run…first there was the holiday craziness (read: I was too busy buying out the malls during the post-Christmas sales) and then I was too focused on my Muay Thai kickboxing test to carve out two hours for a long run.

I decided that since I try to take kickboxing on both Saturday and Sunday mornings (it’s hard for me to make the weeknight classes), that I’d move my long runs to Friday afternoons. And, since my first half marathon is but four short weeks away (!), I decided it was time to attempt breaking 10 miles…even though most training plans go up to 10, I felt that finishing 11 miles would somehow put me in the “half marathon zone.” I really just want to prove to myself that I CAN do this.

Here’s how my long runs typically work:

Miles 1-2: Warming up, finding my pace (I try to slow down to a 10-11/minute mile)

Miles 3-4: Feeling good, pumped up for the run

Miles 5-6: Starting to get a little tired, looking forward to whatever treat I have stashed in my fuel belt (side note: I’m still experimenting with fuel options because gels seem to make me nauseated, so I’m very much looking for suggestions!)

Miles 7-8: Questioning my sanity, wondering why the hell I committed myself to this

Miles 9-10: Exhausted, doubting that I’ll ever be able to make it to 13.1

Miles 11+: Glad it’s over, so incredibly PROUD that I finished

As I’ve gotten more serious about martial arts and my half-marathon training, I’m seeing more and more just how important these “small successes” really are.

Now that I’m slowly (and I do mean slowly) starting to get over my reluctance to set goals — I was always afraid I would just end up a “failure” — even the tiniest accomplishments are enough to make me over-the-moon excited. And, surprisingly enough, I’m even starting to allow myself to feel proud of my efforts instead of constantly tearing myself down.

Memorizing Taekwondo forms can be hard, and increasing your mileage in preparation for a half-marathon can seem insane, but somehow something as small as breaking a wooden board or slipping a finisher’s medal around your neck makes it all worth it!

What are some of your long run tips?

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Welcoming 2013 with New Goals…Not Resolutions!

First things first: for those of you who have followed me over the years, as well as those who are seeing this blog for the very first time, I vow to you that THIS will be the year that I uphold my promise to update more frequently! I’ve set a very realistic and manageable goal — two posts per week — and I’m sticking to it.

So here it goes.happynewyear

Although I love the idea of a fresh start every January 1st, I’m really not a New Year’s resolution kind of gal. Anyone who has ever promised themselves that they’d lose weight in [insert year here] only to find themselves back on the couch with a bag of chips by January 15th knows that it takes a whole lot more than declaring a “resolution” once a year to make a permanent lifestyle change.

I prefer to live my one and only “resolution” — leading a healthy lifestyle — 365 days a year.

However, if there’s anything that the last six months of 2012 taught me, it’s that consistent goal-setting really is EVERYTHING. And best of all, you don’t have to wait until January 1, 2014 to set new goals for yourself…you can do it all year round!

Early last year, I would describe myself as a recreational runner at best. It was something I did to exercise, and that was pretty much it. At that point, I had participated in a few 5Ks and 4-milers “just for fun,” and had to admit that the thrill of crossing the finish line was unlike any I had ever experienced. I couldn’t deny my growing desire to give running a real shot.

I wanted to try a real training plan and I wanted to learn how to get faster and stronger, but I still couldn’t quite deny that nagging little voice in my head telling me that I would ALWAYS be too fat to run.

So when I raced in my local Firecracker 4-Miler on July 4th and found that my finishing time had not improved one little bit from my first time running the race in 2011 (it was also my first race overall), I decided it was time to make a choice.

Was I going to be a “real” runner, or what? And if so…what the heck was I waiting for?

I had to set a goal. A real goal. One that I couldn’t back out of even I wanted to. And that’s why, last August, I ended up setting the ultimate goal: to run a half-marathon. And not just any half-marathon…the Disney Princess Half Marathon in Feb. 2013.

I paid the pricey registration, booked myself an on-site room on the Walt Disney World resort, started comparing airfare, and Googled like crazy to find half-marathon training plans and advice on how I was actually going to make this goal a reality.

In the last six months of 2012, I followed training plans from Cool Running and raced in a handful of 5ks, 4-milers, and a 5-miler — and, surprise, surprise — my times started getting better and better! I even participated in two 10Ks, and much to my amazement, finished both in under 60 minutes.

I began the year struggling to maintain a 10-minute/mile pace, and now I’m averaging a 9-minute/mile pace. In 2011, I was running a 40-minute 4-miler, and now it takes me about 35 minutes. My 5K PR once hovered around 29 minutes, and in October I completed a sub-28 minute 5K for the first time.

thanksgiving

I celebrated the holidays not with alcohol and turkey and sweets (okay, fine, there was SOME of that going on!) but by racing in “turkey trots” and “jingle bell” runs. My Christmas list consisted of pretty much nothing but running gear and accessories, from a Garmin Forerunner 410 to more BondiBands and Sparkle Skirts to another Spibelt and fuel belt for long runs.

Yes, that’s right…I’m even doing “long runs” now! I used to think that the idea of me running five miles was laughable, if not downright impossible. And now my long runs are up to 10 miles and counting!

christmasBottom line? I am absolutely, utterly addicted to running. And it’s because I finally mustered the courage to set a goal that I can proudly say today that I am a “real” runner.

Whether it’s a weight loss goal (say, shedding those few extra holiday pounds!) or a running-related goal (like setting a new PR), consistently challenging ourselves with new feats to accomplish is how we grow. And that is why I’ve decided to make it official and declare my top three goals for 2013:

1.) Cross the finish line of my first half-marathon. An obvious choice! Aside from my weight loss, I don’t think I’ve ever wanted anything this much. I don’t care how long it takes me, or if I have to crawl across the finish line…I WILL do this!

2.) Pay closer attention to what my body is telling me. This is a big one for me. In the last few months I’ve dealt with a few minor injuries that I know resulted in pushing myself too hard. I combine my half-marathon training with my Muay Thai kickboxing, and because my two workouts of choice happen to be very high-impact, I’m working on learning how to just let my body rest (without the need to call myself “lazy”) and to know when I need to scale back my efforts for the sake of my well-being.

10k3.) Strive for improvement, not perfection. I am notoriously hard on myself, so when setting new goals this year, I will focus not on being “perfect” but on recognizing and celebrating my own personal improvement. That means no more beating myself up at the finish line when I miss setting a new PR or other time goal, or berating myself for indulging in dessert or not exactly following the day’s food plan. I am not perfect. I will never be perfect. And it’s time I start admitting it!

What are some of your goals for 2013?

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Reaching New Goals: My First 10K

Okay, so I haven’t posted in a while — but with good reason, I swear! I finally went ahead and contacted a web designer who could help make my blog a bit more user-friendly (and, let’s face it, prettier) — thanks again, Shannon! And then I disappeared on a 10-day getaway to my happy place: Walt Disney World (and Universal and Sea World, too), to celebrate Halloween with my favorite Disney pals at Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and stuff my face at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival.

As you may know, I’ve been dabbling in the world of half-marathon training since July, and I decided that before jumping from community 5Ks right into the Disney Princess Half Marathon in February, I’d try my hand (or feet, as it were) in a 10K.

That’s right. I ran my first 10K — Brian’s Run in Wayne, NJ — the day before I left for vacation (not a smart idea, by the way…walking for miles and miles all over the Disney World resort with stiff, achy legs was not fun). The event raises money for Tomorrow’s Children’s Fund (TCF) at Hackensack University Medical Center, which benefits pediatric cancer patients — I’m always thrilled to know my entry fees are being used for a great cause.

I had been following my own unique blend of a 10K and half marathon training program for weeks, altering workouts slightly to accommodate my robust martial arts training schedule (I recently signed up for Tae Kwon Do in addition to my Muay Thai kickboxing, but more on that later). However, during my training runs, I had been doing a lot more walking than I cared to admit, taking breaks in between each mile or two. I expected to do the same during my 10K.

Still, I went into the race feeling fairly confident that my training would push me through all 6.1 miles…but gave myself full permission to stop for a leisurely stroll if I needed the rest. And, as per my usual MO, instead of allowing myself to actually set a goal — because heaven forbid I “fail” — I tried to ignore my secret desire to complete the race in less than an hour. In fact, didn’t even allow myself to say it out loud. I was so sure I couldn’t do it.

Once I began the course, I had decided it was going to be impossible to meet my super secret goal, anyway, given that there was an enormous hill to climb every quarter mile! Don’t get me wrong, I knew the area was somewhat mountainous, and it was a lovely scenic route to take on a crisp early fall morning, but I never could have imagined that I would be running up and down countless hills, many of which were so steep I couldn’t see over the top. No exaggeration! After the third or fourth hill (which, admittedly, I don’t train on consistently enough), I decided I’d be lucky to cross the finish line in an upright position.

But then something amazing happened. I ran the first mile, and then the second, and then I finished a 5K and still didn’t feel the need to stop to walk. I just kept running. Though going uphill slowed my pace down a bit, a quick glance at my Garmin now and then (which I try not to stare at incessantly, because it drives me crazy) indicated that I was still maintaining my average race pace (9:30/mile).

And then there were miles 4, 5, and 6, which I had been having nightmares about for weeks. I’ve participated in my share of 5Ks, and I know how tired I am when I cross the finish line…so I couldn’t help but wonder how well I’d fare running two 5Ks back-to-back. You can imagine how many nightmares I’ve had about running a half marathon.

Guess what? I ran all three of those remaining miles…and still did not stop. Not once. I jogged through the water stops, ignored my burning quads on those hills, and just kept going.

Was I tired? Absolutely. Was I mentally writing a letter to the race day organizers requesting that, in the future, they should please describe the course as RIDICULOUSLY HILLY? Yes.

But for the first time, I actually heard my mental dialogue during a race transform from “you’re so slow, give it up” to “you’ve got this, keep it up.” I was doing something I never thought possible, and I was utterly astonished to find that, yes, all of my hard work was actually paying off.

Crossing the finish line of that 10K made all of the training runs I had done in the rain, or when it was 90+ degrees outside, or when my legs were sore, or when I was tired, or when I had all sorts of better things to do, so incredibly worth it.

The cherry on top of it all?

115    59:18.8 0039 JENNIFER NELSON          CRANFORD             NJ F 27  09:32

I actually did it — I finished in under 60 minutes!

I have to stop being too afraid of failure — or assuming I’m just not good enough — to set and reach a goal.

To some of the runners that day, it was just a 6.2 mile run. But for me, I will always remember it as the day I accomplished something I never thought possible…and all because I finally allowed myself to believe that I could.

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Persistence Pays Off

If I had a nickel for every time I quit something…well, let’s just say I wouldn’t be writing this blog post from my tiny apartment, surrounded by furniture purchased from the likes of Walmart and Big Lots.

My weight has fluctuated up and down (and up and down again) since I was in elementary school. I’d start a weight loss program (read: starve myself), lose 10 pounds, then quit. I’d start a new diet a year later, drop a dress size, and quit. After ballooning to 220 pounds in middle school, I managed to lose 60 pounds in time for my my senior prom…but then, that’s right, I quit again, and returned to Weight Watchers (my weight loss program of choice) for the final time as a 267-pound 22-year-old.

When I first started running — strictly as a way to torch as many calories in as little amount of time, mind you — there were weeks when I was committed and consistent, squeezing in at least 3-4 runs each week and basking in my ability to run longer and harder without having to take as many walk breaks.

I didn’t start registering for races until a year ago, and suddenly, my finish time in local 5Ks started affecting my attitude about running in the same way the scale had always managed to sabotage my diet plan of the month.

If I had a bad week on Weight Watchers and, heaven forbid, gained a pound or two, I’d get discouraged and start letting my efforts slide. I’d go into hiding for several weeks, vowing to return to my meeting only when I was satisfied that the scale would not show a gain again. I probably don’t need to tell you how many times I simply never returned.

When I struggled through a 5K — even if it was because I hadn’t been training properly, or the weather was humid, or I wasn’t eating right  — I’d take what I believed was a less-than-satisfactory finish time and use it as an excuse to quit running for a month or two…because, after all, one bad race surely meant I was just too fat to run. Why bother?

I guess with age comes wisdom (or something like that), because the secret of what it takes to lose weight, or to become a better runner, finally clicked: persistence.

When I began my most recent weight loss journey in November 2007, I made a promise to myself that no matter what, I was not going to give up. Nearly five years later, I’m still not at “goal,” and I’ve certainly had my share of not-so-successful weeks (and months), but I never once allowed myself to completely throw in the towel and return to my old ways. I’ve lost 90 pounds, and am maintaining my weight loss for the first time in my life…and all because I just keep going.

After my unsatisfying performance in this July’s Firecracker 4-miler, I realized that I had a decision to make. Was I going to continue running recreationally as a cardio workout, or was I going to take the sport seriously and commit myself to trying to improve? I realized that my 2-3 mile walk/runs every few days were probably not doing anything for me (duh), and that if I was going to keep dropping 20 or 30 bucks on races every couple of months, I should probably give a real training plan a shot.

You know…actually try to succeed at something before convincing myself that I’m going to fail.

And that’s the real reason why I signed up for the Disney Princess Half Marathon…I needed to plop down a few thousand dollars (yes, that’s right…I just booked a six-night getaway at Disney’s Port Orleans Resort — French Quarter for $1,500, on top of race fees, airfare, park tickets, etc.) to force myself to choose a running-related goal — complete a half marathon without being hauled away in a body bag — and then actually stick to it.

And the crazy just keeps on coming. I’ve already signed up for my first 10K this fall, Brian’s Run in Wayne, NJ — the day before I leave for a 9-day vacation to Disney World in September. I have my sights set on a few other 10Ks in October and November.

But it’s working.

The Cranford Jaycees’ Firecracker 4-Miler and the Central Jersey Road Runner Club’s Not Quite Fall Classic 4-Miler, which I just ran this past weekend, both follow the exact same course.

On July 4, I came in at 40:37, for an average pace of 10:09. I constantly kept having to stop to “tie my shoes” just to catch my breath, and the 4 miles felt more like 14 miles.

After a month and a half of following my own unique blend of a 10K and half marathon training plan that I found on Cool Running, I ran that same course on August 26 in the Not Quite Fall Classic 4-Miler in 35:46, for an average pace of 8:56.

Not only have I been training consistently, but I went into the race with a very specific plan: I wanted to finish the first mile at an 8:30 pace, the second at 9, the third at 9:30, and the last mile at 10. Much to my utter and complete shock, I finished the first mile in 8:30 and then maintained a steady pace hovering right around 9 minutes for the duration of the race. Best of all, I legitimately took 3rd place for my age group (but was awarded the 2nd place medal because there are no double awards).

People have asked me how I stay “motivated” to lose weight, or continually put my body through the rigors of running. I can promise you this: whether you’re trying to shed a few pounds, or you’re a fledgling runner training for a race (or both, like me), “motivation” often has very little to do with it.

You don’t necessarily have to be motivated to achieve a goal — but you do have to be persistent.

I’m rarely “motivated” to choose a veggie burger and side salad over a juicy cheeseburger and fries, or to log a 5-mile run when my legs are sore or I’m tired from working all day or I just plain don’t feel like it. To me, it’s kind of like asking someone how they stay “motivated” to brush their teeth every morning. It’s just something you do.

I can definitely feel motivated by the way my jeans fit or setting a new PR, but on those days when I lose a battle with a bag of kettle corn or struggle through a slow 2-mile run, it’s persistence alone that keeps me moving forward.

How has persistence helped you achieve your goals?

 

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