Saturday, August 30, 2008

Fitness File: Back on the Horse

There's nothing like a vacation to thwart efforts to get back in shape. There was a gym in one of the hotels in which we stayed, and I even packed work-out clothes, . . . but, somehow, I never ended up taking advantage of this convenience and forethought. This isn't to say there wasn't any exercise happening on our trip. We did a fair amount of walking around and went on a few short hikes. Just nothing that could be considered aerobic.

When we returned, I knew it was going to be difficult to start up again. I had been making slow progress for about a month and I knew that two weeks off had likely set me back to square one. (Of course, it doesn't help when you also spend those two weeks doing things like polishing off bottles of wine, taking a Ben and Jerry's factory tour, stuffing your face with Italian pastries, and eating your weight in fried seafood and homemade eggplant parmesan.) But, when you fall off the horse, there's really no other option but to just get back on again, so, with reluctance, I laced up my sneakers, did my requisite stretches, and threw myself out there.

The key factor in making that first post-vacation run a success was to set the bar low [said in a baritone voice for effect]. I decided my goal would be to either 1) run as far as I had before but not care how long it took me to do so, or 2) run for the same amount of time as I had before but not care how far I went. As expected, I felt like crap. Let's make that royal crap (side stitches, muscle fatigue, trouble setting a consistent pace, problems syncing my breathing with my running). But I'm happy to report that I accomplished goal version #1. And, you know what? After all the low bar-setting, my time wasn't that far off from my pre-vacation pace! Not bad.

I could pat myself on the back for picking up where I left off, but I know that's not the end of the challenges that lie ahead. I haven't yet hit the stage where I'm getting a "runner's high," which has worked nicely in the past as a motivator. Right now, my motivation is simply 'the sooner I go for a run, the sooner it will be over' (i.e., "The good thing about hitting yourself in the head with a hammer is that it feels so good when you stop.").

I'd like to think my knowledge of operant conditioning will fair me well in this pursuit of behavior modification, but, honestly? Despite learning and motivation, it almost always comes down to willpower - and I have to expect that will fluctuate. So, for now, I've decided to adopt the Alcoholics Anonymous strategy of taking it "one day at a time." Not to make light of alcoholism; I realize it's a serious addiction/habit - a terrible disease. My point is just that, if this strategy can work to help stop such a bad habit, it should certainly be effective to help start a good one.

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