Running + HIIT+ strength training = Fittest version of myself.
Lately I’ve been asked how I find the motivation to run such long distance and how I’ve become so fit (thank you!).
The simple, short answer is: patience and resilience.
The long answer is below…
You need to know that my dad has been a runner all his life. I watched him tie up his shoes and go for a run… for hours. When I was a teenager, it didn’t appear cool. He kept telling me about the runner’s high and all the great places he’d ran in and to me it was just…not exciting.
Then slowly I started running in the Maple woods behind my parent’s house. When I attended college, I started running more in Montreal and mostly in the Mont-Royal ( a large hill in the city). Later when I lived in Helsinki during my student exchange program, I tried to find the motivation to run in the Nordic winter, but only managed it twice. That semester was probably the most inactive I’d been for years. Well, that and the summers I worked in a restaurant/bar in Dunmore East, Ireland. I tried running there too but there were no trails and no sidewalks: that was a challenge!
After college, I started logging more miles and joined a running club. It was a good challenge and kept me on track. I started noticing that because I ‘had to run’, I was starting to enjoy it less. Then I thought maybe a purpose would help. I decided I might run the Montreal Marathon but then I tore my hamstring playing volleyball and I was told I’d never run more than a 5-10 km again. I was devastated.
After that I started physiotherapy, and mostly stuck to gym workouts and eventually bootcamp style training. I found a gym, called Studio Epix, that focussed on running but still mixed with full-body workouts into the hour long session. I got hooked.
Later when I moved to Los Angeles and lived at the bottom of Runyon Canyon, I started trying to run it. It was another good challenge… that eventually led to a stress fracture in my foot. So I went back to the gym… and started swimming in an indoor pool. The LA Fitness scene is not the most inspiring gym, particularly the one in Hollywood.
I was looking for a new challenge, so I signed up for a Crossfit box. I instantly fell in love and got hooked with their bootcamp type workouts and eventually transitioned into the Crossfit zone… and since the training was mostly strength based, I started gaining muscle and my runs started to feel harder and heavier. I made some very valuable friendships at this Crossfit box and am so grateful for them.
Eventually life brought me on a different course, a hectic one, where I was constantly changing gyms (mostly hotel gyms) when I was on the road and could not keep up with the Crossfit monthly fees as well as my strength. I found a multi-class type gym called Set and Flow, right around the corner from where I lived, and started experimenting with homemade workouts on the road… and running.
With all the trips, and eventually moving to the South Bay, I started upping my running mileage but was not consistent. I’d always pack my running shoes in my bag if I knew I’d be close to a city or fun trails. I started googling them before I left my house.
There is no better way to explore a city (a safe one of course) than by running it.
You get to see it in fast forward and more of it (vs walking). You get to smell it. You get to feel it and get a vibe.
Before COVID hit, I was running between 6 km and 12 km once or twice a week but it always felt hard. I’m unsure if it was the hard-running surface, the heat, or just my fitness level, but I never imagined I could get where I am now. I’m currently running about 48 km a week, for an average of 190Km a month.
So how do I do it?
Now you know my history with running but you still don’t know how I get motivated to actually go out and run.
Running is a very cheap sport but you need some good basic equipment. A good shoe, fitted for your type of foot, the type of surface you will be running on and the mileage you intend to do is important. Throughout the years, I’ve been through different companies and dozens of models. Currently, with my orthotic and hip/lower back issues, Clifton 6 by Hoka One One, is the best shoe for me. They are ugly, but as my dad would say, ‘it’s not a fashion show’.
About that. I think it’s important to get good running clothes, in which you feel comfortable. I love Lululemon’s bottoms with side pockets for your phone (for example, I like the Fast & Free shorts). I have the biker short version, the knee length one, the 3/4, the 7/8 and the full. Needless to say, I’m addicted to them. They have lasted me for years, and they are so comfortable to run in. I also love their sports bras. 2XU also has good compression leggings. As for tank tops, that’s always been a challenge. I need something light that can breathe – for the summer- and a wind shield, warm but breathable top for winter. I love Nike’s fall/winter upper body gear. Currently, I’m obsessed with Balega running socks. They have also lasted me a long time and are very comfortable. I like to run with a baseball hat because it protects my face from the sun and also holds back sweat from dripping in my face. I particularly like Under Armour’s Women’s UA Fly-By Cap. If you run in harsh winter weather, I’d recommended spikes for ice, higher length socks, a neck guard that’s breathable as well as a good light winter hat and e-friendly gloves. It’s not a fashion show… but you should be excited to get into your running clothes. First and foremost, they should be comfortable.
Now let’s talk accessories. As I mentioned before, I prefer running with Lululemon’s leggings because they have pockets to store your phone. If you don’t have that, I’d recommend getting an armband or a little belt (Mirage Pas Adjustable belt is great) to store it. Running with your phone in your hand is not good for your strides, nor for your phone if you fall and break it! I use the Body Glide Original Anti-Chafe Stick to stop chafing when I know I will be running a long distance and am wearing shorts. I’ve gone through multiple types of headphones. That’s a personal decision to take, and most of the time you figure it out by trial and error. The AirPods didn’t hold in my ears (due to the sweat) and the Beats by Dre were too clunky and heavy to run with. I as a big fan of my Bose Free SoundSport earbuds (button like), because they never slip out and are very light, until they started acting up on me and someone gave me a gift of PowerBeats. I’m not a fan of the wire behind the neck but I will say they hold in pretty well. The latest addition to my running accessories has been a hydration backpack. I strongly recommend Teton Sport TrailRunner 2.0 Hydration pack. It has CHANGED MY LIFE on long runs. It is so cheap, light and user-friendly. Lastly, depending on where you run, you may feel safer running with a little container of pepper spray for self defense. It’s for this same reason that I like to run with my phone: to be able to call an Uber or use google maps if I’m lost or call a friend if I feel unsafe.
An important tool for my runs is my phone and the apps I use. I don’t care what they say, running with music is essential for me. It helps me get into my zone, drowns out the other surrounding noises and makes me happy. I use Spotify daily and have my favorite playlists downloaded on it. My sister likes listening to podcasts when she runs. Personally, I don’t like it but maybe you will. I’ve been using the Nike Run Club app since October 2014 (when you had to get a special chip to tie on your shoelace). It’s ridiculous, but I feel a sense of loyalty to the app and have not been able to change. I know friends who use STRAVA, Runkeeper, Map my run or simply use the Apple Watch fitness feature (or other watches). Tracking your mileage and time helps you see progress. All the wins need to be celebrated.
Now let’s talk mental tips. I know how hard it is to start running. Due to multiple injuries, including a torn hamstring that forced me to retrain my left leg how to run, I’ve been through the struggle. Here are some tips I give friends who are starting out:
- Start slow.
- Use interval training to start. Run/walk/run/walk.
- Keep showing up. Don’t give up. Don’t make excuses.
- Be patient and put in the work.
- Acknowledge all the wins. Even if it’s just an extra 500m or shaving off 5 seconds. (This is why a tracking app is good to have.)
- Put your phone on do not disturb: doing so will help you get into that bubble. See running as meditation. Your mom’s text can wait and your friend’s IG video too.
- Set an intention. I know it sounds stupid, but trust me, when that hill shows up, or the wind starts pushing you backwards and you think about that person/thing, you will keep pushing through.
- Change it up. Just like everything in life, doing the same thing over and over is boring. Change your route. Do it the other way around. Explore some new tracks. My best, longest runs have been when I decided to venture away from my usual trail and went exploring. (Don’t get lost!)
- Stop and enjoy the view. This is something I’ve learned to do in the last year. I used to run without enjoying my surroundings. I saw stoping as a failure but now I realize that making that stop to appreciate the flowers, or to eat a few raspberries is a huge reward.
- Have an easily accessible power song. When things get rough and you’re about to give up… Play it loud and keep on running!
- Visualize the finish line of a race. It doesn’t matter if you have never run a marathon or event in your life. You’ve seen the scene in movies, you know the excitement and pride that athletes feel when they hit the finish line. I remember reading about this tip in a runner’s article and at first I thought it sounded ridiculous…. Until I started visualizing in the hardest parts of my run. It works so well. As a reminder, I’m a solo runner and most of the running I’ve been doing in the last 6 months have been in nature, with not one single sign of civilization so if I can do it- you can too!
- Listen to your body, but don’t listen to the excuses. If you are in pain, if something doesn’t feel right, scale back. Give your body the rest it needs.
One day, as my sister and I set out to walk around Central Park on one of my layovers, we decided to put our running shoes on, just in case. Five minutes into walking around the park we decided to start running, with, of course, huge smiles on our faces. My sister looked at me, and almost simultaneously, we excitedly shouted out;
‘ Why walk when you can run?’
It’s been my motto ever since.
And if you think you can’t do it, think again. My 63-year-old mother, who started running at age 50, is running 11 km for fun. And my father, at the same age, is competing with me on my long distances. Excuses are in your head, you’re stronger than you think.
If you’d like an inspirational book about running, read Can’t hurt me now by David Goggins.
- Tell the truth about the real reasons for your limitations and you will turn that negativity, which is real, into jet fuel. Those odds stacked against you will become a damn runway!
- I knew that staying in the fight is always the hardest and most rewarding. In every failure there’s something to be gained.
- In order to (achieve feats we thought were impossible), we must change our minds, be willing to scrap our identity and make the extra effort to always find more in order to become more.
- To defy the trends, you will have to be willing to go at war with yourself and create a whole new identity, which requires an open mind.
- Life is one big mind game. The only person you are playing against is yourself.
- Control your mindset.
Dominate your thought process.
The most important conversations you’ll ever have are the ones you’ll have with yourself.
Enough talk about running: I think you got the picture. Now, what else can you do if running is not your thing, if you’re injured or can’t do it due to space constraints? You can download the Nike Training Club app, for free, and get moving with that. I’d also recommend the Peloton app (for $). It’s been the best discovery of this year. It has every class you can think of, from bootcamp to strength, to spinning, HIIT, yoga and, of course, running. I have friends that love to dance and have found YouTube channels for dance-like workouts. Get yourself a spinning bike or a real road bike if you prefer being on wheels. As a last resort, do 10 rounds of 20 burpees, 20 push ups, 20 sit ups and 20 squats daily. That’s a good workout to start that requires no equipment. There are no viable excuses. Just put your workout clothes on and press play.
A few last thought on fitness. I’ve gone through various types of workouts throughout the years: heavy lifting and Crossfit, Pilates, yoga, running and swimming. My body morphed into all types of shapes and forms. The important thing, for me, is always how I feel in my body. Do I feel good about it? Yes, great keep going. No, then switch it up. But give it some time, results don’t happen over time. There is no secret pill.
A few other secrets about how I got in such great shape during COVID19:
- I set rules for myself: no drinking during the week, except for special occasions.
- Stay consistent with pre-Covid lifestyle: keep doing my intermittent fasting.
- Eat well: I must admit I may have been eating a little bit more cookies than usual, but mostly my diet has been very clean. Eat slowly, taste what you are eating, check your portion sizes and enjoy your meals! (I’m not a fan of diets because I workout hard therefore I think I should be able to eat what I want. I do have a sweet tooth so I need to be careful but I do indulge in moderation.)
- It’s the only thing I could control: I lost my job, I moved away from my apartment and I was single amid a pandemic. Working out is the only thing I felt like I could still plan and control when all hell broke loose. It made me feel good, mentally and physically.
It takes a lot of determination, consistency, discipline, patience and …. Sweat to get to your desired fitness level. It won’t happen overnight, but I promise you it will be worth it.
As Justin Sua, creator of Increase your Impact daily podcast, says:
Excellence is built on years of mundane, repetitive, focused-effort, with a willingness to learn from failure and a love for the process.
So get off your couch, and start moving!
For added motivation, follow my fitness stories on Instagram. And If after all these tips, you’d still like someone to help you out with a fitness program and keep you accountable, contact me! I’d be happy to help you sweat!