How to Never Stop Training

I have started and stopped trained so many times – sickness, injury, travel – but usually it’s “laziness” or the dreaded “lack of motivation” that is experienced by so many seasoned and novice athletes. This experience can make your progress feel like the first time you learned a stick shift. In past posts, we’ve talked about setting good exercise and performance goals. Let’s talk about rewarding yourself to avoid this feeling of burnout. 

Reward is not a dirty word.

Rewards is the reason that you continue to work out. Lose the reward factor and no one keeps going. They can be different for each of us. Money, food, seeing muscles grow or sizes shrink – these can all be rewards. Unfortunately, in exercise circles, the concept of reward is treated like a roach at a fast food restaurant. 

1) Reward yourself frequently. If you are just starting to work out or experience the stop-and-go phenomenon in your workout schedule, using frequent rewards can be the best thing. Elite athletes have been trained to push their bodies for long periods of time without rewards. You need to build up to it. This brings me to my next point: 

2)  Be specific about how much of a reward for how much effort. Especially with food, you need specific boundaries to prevent eliminating all the hard work you put in. I am not personally a fan of using food as a reward but it may be a starting point for you. Your reward should be a reasonable size. I find layering rewards to be easiest (Example: 4 workout days in one week lasting 30 minutes earns a beer, 4 weeks with 4 workouts per week earns new piece of clothing under $10).  You will have to adjust your own reward system but the example above is what works for me.

3) Give the power away. Rewards, to be effective, need to occur when you meet the requirements and not occur when you do not. Enlist someone to keep you honest with your workout goals. Give them the power to deliver or withhold the rewards. 

4) Adjust. You will need to adjust your rewards (how much, how often) when you’re beginning. You may need to increase how much effort you put out to earn those rewards or you may find that rewards that happen naturally (Examples: growing faster, stronger, slimmer, etc.) are enough to keep you working out. Neither is wrong – just different. 

One exception that is notable is that sometimes you may overtrain – physically exerting yourself too much too quickly. Resist the temptation to set too lofty goals. Start small and, as you reward yourself, you’ll find it easier to build up to the frequency or schedule you envision. 



Write Good Training Goals

When I started out running Spartan Races, their slogan was simple: You’ll know at the finish line. Know what? It is different for everyone. Not knowing works when you’re running 3.2 miles but if you endeavor to longer distances or more grueling events, you need to be able to write clear and effective goals.

  1. Write out your long term goal(s), no matter how outlandish they may seem. I have two goals this year. One, finish the NJ Spartan Ultra Beast in less than 12 hours (4/29/16). Two, complete the 170 mile Grand to Grand Ultra (9/30/16). These are big goals – huge. If you are not clear about exactly what you want then you will never achieve your goal. This also works if your goals are more performance-based (e.g. Run a 7 minute mile, Run 10 miles without stopping, etc.)
  2. Write short term goals that relate to your long term goals. If you’re running a 5K, don’t write a distance short term goal unless you haven’t already run 3.2 miles. Focus on what you need to complete your goal. If you want to run a 30 minute 5k, that’s a 9:37/mile. Alternatively, if you’re planning on running a marathon, you’ll need short term goals that reflect the increase in mileage and pacing over long distances.
  3. Write short term goals that are easy to measure and include dates. Do not cop out with a goal like “Run five miles” or “Beat my last time.” In the first example, you could run five miles tomorrow or ten years from now. Goal met. In the second example, beating your last time may not be realistic or an accurate way to measure your progress. At some point, you will not humanly be able to run faster. A good short term goal is 1) measurable and 2) dated.

Example: Run an 8 minute mile for 3 miles on or before 12/20/16

Goals are only good if you can see them and track them. Write them down and post them in a place you can see (e.g. by your mirror, next to your door, where you work out). Then track your progress.

Helpful Tip: I use the MapMyRun app but there are a lot of other apps that will help you to set goals and track them. I also use Microsoft Excel to see the differences in my treadmill, road and trail miles.

Ultra Beast: The Holy Grail

Limits. Four years ago, I started writing (and racing) because I wanted to know mine. I ran the Spartan Sprint, then the Super, then the Trifecta (Beast, Super and Sprint in one calendar year), then a 1/2 Marathon. Now, I’m still not sure what my limits are but here’s my two cents.

1 Cent.

Limits are not set in stone, nor are they stagnant. They move and shift, contracting like a snake and then stretching again. To everyone who ever said to me, “Ben, I couldn’t do that. I would never survive,” I say, “You don’t know that. It may just be within your grasp.”

2 Cent.

In order to stretch and expand limits (what feels beyond control), you make choices to do just a little bit more (hard choices). Be more disciplined THIS time. Make a choice differently THIS time. Alternatively, be less disciplined THIS time. Make a choice to continue doing something in opposition or unhelpful to your goal and watch your limits shrink.

Ultra Beast Challenge

I started because I wanted to know my limits and the Ultra Beast is the next step. I avoided it this year – afraid of failure – of making some difficult choices. I need to find my limits. So today, I’m working out and face challenges in preparation for the New Jersey Spartan Ultra Beast on April 25, 2017. What challenge will you embrace to stretch your limits?

Run with Your Tribe

imageI have now been running Spartan Races for 3 years and, let me tell you, I have never regretted a moment I spent on that course. As I have been slogging through the mud, hoisting weights and hiking up and down the steep slopes of Blue Mountain Ski Area, I have noticed something: the ones who finish best and with a smile do so with their tribe. Over the last three years, I have had people I ran with and people who ran with me. I am typically running by myself physically but I am never alone on the course. My brother-in-law Jake, is consistently ahead of me. My father-in-law is typically somewhere behind me. Both men spur me forward.

There is nothing as powerful as running in a group. I do most of my training individually, except my weight lifting workout, which I do with my father and brothers-in-law. Being with your group or Tribe, propels each of us to excellence. Last year I made it my goal to run as fast as the fastest runner in our Tribe. I came up way short. The course exposed my weaknesses and I fell about where I belonged in the group. I haven’t given up. Training with members of my Tribe helps me to stay determined.

When you’re alone, you’re never alone. I learned this lesson twice at last year’s NJ Spartan Super. I nailed the spear throw for the first time and confidently stepped out onto my right leg to conquer the mountain a second time. And then I fell and my leg cramped. I sat on the ground while those doing burpees for the Spear Throw passed me. One great Spartan very sternly told me to stretch out and get some water. I did and I was able to go another 3-4 miles. Right before the uneven logs, I had sat down (due to undertraining). Another wise man walking by said, “Don’t sit down. It will be harder if you sit down.” I may have hated him in my mind but I knew he was right. One of the best things that shared suffering does for us is to bring us to a sense of community and camaraderie.

Every Tribe needs a Founder. You do not have to be the most fit or even lead the group. What binds us is not the structure but a shared vision, sweat, blood and grit. Don’t wait. Get out and run with your tribe.

Create Your Space – Home Fitness

If you want to succeed in meeting your fitness goals, you will need space. For some, you will join a gym in order to escape buying the equipment. Let’s face it, equipment is expensive. And the social pressure of showing up for classes or at the gym with a friend can be the boost you need to Spartan up! However, if a gym is not an option, then it’s time for your first test of grit: creativity.

The #1 workout secret is that you can work out anywhere! In your living room? Yep. In your yard? Done it. In your creepy basement? Yes…but please sweep up the dead cockroaches first. It’s hard enough to find motivation without subjecting yourself to dead insects near your face while doing burpees.

1) Clean up your space and dedicate it for the task. I use my basement and a section of my yard for all my warmups, training and cool downs. I had to intentionally clear it out and clean it up. That means you’re also responsible to clean it. Disinfect after you use equipment and give the old place a re-organizing so all your stuff is in arm’s reach.

2) Craigslist…like crazy! Do you know where every failed attempt at a New Year’s resolution ends up? Craigslist. And most people are happy to just get rid of the stuff cluttering up their basement/garage/living room. Do your research! Don’t blow a lot of money on expensive equipment. You will be surprised at what you can do with some free weights, a bench and an Olympic weight set (some of which you can still do without).

3 (perhaps also known as 1b) Clarify your goals. Do you want overall fitness? Build muscle? Lose fat? How you answer that question will determine how you stock your fitness room. I have a bike, treadmill, small weights, and reasonably light kettle bells. I also have a jumprope and a clothes line pole I use for pull-ups. My goal is to be lean and focus on overall fitness. Your goal may be different.

4) Step up. There is no resource or atmosphere that will gift you with the grit to start and continue on your journey. None of our muscles get bigger by simply setting the atmosphere. Friends may join you but if you don’t hold tenaciously to your goals and your strategy, you’ll quit before you cross the finish line. So start your goal small with 2-3 times per week working towards your goals. Forego the after 8 PM snack. Create small victories and the larger ones will become easier.

Need ideas? I am collecting resources for different goals. Leave me a comment and I’ll try to highlight some resources specific to your goals.

The Long Run

As my initial hopes of completing my Trifecta this year have been replaced with family weddings and the birth of my second son, I have been attempting to turn my mind and attention to building up endurance and strength for the NJ Super, which continues as part of my plan for the year. The strength part comes easily for me but distance is much more difficult. I strained my iliotibial band during the fall attempting 7 miles, which left me with a sharp, nagging pain in my right leg for the better part of a month.

So I have been building up my mileage using a 12k training from Jeff Galloway. Yesterday, I reached 6.5 miles for the first time since late last year.

The key to the long run is to take your time. I managed only a 10 minute mile pace but, depending on your fitness level, take the time you need to. A long run is based either on distance or time. Determine your criteria before you get on the course so you won’t experience the inevitable mental bargaining that can cripple you.

Develop a mantra as you run to help yourself keep going. It may sound cheesy but yesterday, I had to slow my pace several times and speed up several times. My mantra was, “Race to finish, not for time.” A Long Run should test the upper limits of your capabilities and this will be best done at a slower pace.

Race with a friend – it’s always better. There is no better motivator that having a person to run with. The several times I’ve managed to work my schedule out with a friend were some of the best runs I’ve had. You also are forced to either compete (don’t do that on a long run!) or engage in conversation (which keeps your pace slow enough to breath and talk).

Lastly, follow a plan for increasing your mileage. Don’t make a long run your first run. There should be several runs per week prior and post in order to keep your leg muscles repairing and growing.

Train up. Show up. Never give up!


Register for the Super!

spartan-race-texas-super-spartan-glen-rose-texas-64So, I am 2/3 through registering for my Trifecta in 2014. I am officially registered for the NJ Super on Saturday, September 6th. This marks a huge boost to my motivation. There is something about making a decision and paying for an entry that locks you in, like a train on the rails. I will run this race and it’s going to be awesome.

I have started to attract strange looks from others when I tell them about my goals. Admittedly, completing even the Spartan Super would be a significant accomplishment. At 8-9 miles, this is not a race you walk onto without serious preparation, both mental and physical. However, I believe I undersold my readiness this last year. Until I made the commitment to run the Super, the odds of attaining that level of skill and endurance was slim. This seems to be how I grow – I must realize the necessity before I rise to the occasion. What goal are you committing yourself to and how will you rise to meet it?

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