Creating the Perfect Workout Playlist

As any sentient being knows, music makes things better. Whether you’re trying to get through that last mile of your race hoping your jam comes on or you’re like my buddy in high school who would always wait for the Rocky theme to come on in the weight room so he could hit his best sets, you know music can help you through.

I’ve talked about music before, including sharing what was on my playlist and the music vs. no music running, but I wanted to go a different route today. Let’s talk about the construction of a good workout playlist.

I’ll break this into three sections so if you want to see construction, just keep reading. If you want to just see the lists I’ve made publicly available, click on ahead.

What constitutes a good workout playlist?

Yoga list

Running lists

What constitutes a good workout playlist?

We have to start at the beginning before we get into the lists themselves (unless you clicked ahead, in which case you aren’t reading this, so it doesn’t really matter, does it?).

What do you want to feel?

That’s what it all boils down to. What do you want to feel? Do you want to feel anger? Looking at you death metal enthusiasts. Do you want to feel like the audience is cheering you on? Looking at you high school buddy listening to Rocky theme. Do you just want to feel the beat in your chest?  Whatever it is, that’s where you start. You find that emotion, and then you track down the songs that grab your heart just that way.

I like making playlists, so workout playlists are just an extension of this habit. I have a wedding first dance playlist. I have angry playlists (the kind designed to be played so loud you can’t hear yourself think). I’ve made writing playlists. I’ve even made a leaving playlist since I’ll be moving in a couple of months.

The key is catching that core emotion you want to feel. We all have different preferences when we work out, so I don’t expect my playlists to necessarily suit other people (when we get to the yoga playlist, you’ll see why).

Probably the best recommendation I can make is to have existing playlists you can steal from. I have a few core Spotify playlists that I cultivate, so they’re my natural starting point whenever I build any playlists, especially a workout list. I can peruse the list and if I’m not sure if a song works, I give it a listen. If it has that hits the right emotion, it makes the list. If it doesn’t feel quite right, it stays off.

Much like going through your closet to throw things out, be merciless. You don’t need to be in the middle of making puddles of sweat and think “I’ll skip this song.” You want to stay in the moment. I actually got derailed yesterday because my internet went out, so my yoga list got interrupted. I pulled it up on my phone, and then Spotify got buggy and started playing songs related to my playlist but not my actual playlist. I quit mid-workout because I was so frustrated.

That’s step one. Step three is to Google playlists that you’re looking for. When I was building that first song playlist, I Googled alternative and indie first dance songs. For workouts, there is not shortage of lists. In fact, you can subscribe to some if you want. I’m not a fan of this because the lists aren’t yours, but if you’re not picky, go for it. I’m just very picky.

On this note, step four is to steal from other people. There are a few people I follow on the social media who have very good music tastes. When they make a recommendation, I listen. About half the time, the song ends up on some sort of playlist. Along these lines, and this is relevant for the yoga playlist, I steal from yoga teachers. Not all of their songs fit the mood I’m looking for, but if I know I can work out to something already, then that’s a start.

And finally, step five, if it pops into your head, add it to your playlist now. Don’t do anything stupid like adding songs while driving (like I have a bad habit of doing), but if you hear it or think of it, add it before you forget. You can always remove it later, but odds are you’ll forget the song if you don’t add it in the next few minutes.

But let me reiterate, it has to hit the right emotion. I’ll go a little deeper into that thought process in the next couple of sections.

Yoga list

I’m starting with yoga because I can’t run right now, so all of my puddles of sweat are being made on a yoga mat.

Despite doing yoga for 8 years now, I didn’t make a yoga playlist until the last couple of weeks. Why? Because I can’t survive full yoga sessions on my own, especially since I started taking classes. I’m lazy.

But then life happened. My yoga teacher is on break for the summer, but I move in the summer, so to get the practice I really want, I have to do it on my own. That’s all fine and good, but I have trouble keeping myself on my mat. I thought music might help.

But where to start?

This playlist is actually a bit quirkier than my running playlists. Those are built to play on shuffle and maintain one emotion throughout. The yoga playlist is built to function for a full session of yoga, start to finish. This is not when one emotion will work. Added bonus, it’s built for ashtanga.

If you’ve never done ashtanga, it’s doing the same thing every time. Depending on how hard-core you are, you could be at it for 90 minutes. I’m not hard-core. I’m not even medium-core. I’m lucky, especially with my knee, to get an hour out of my session.

But knowing the list is built for ashtanga, I had to keep the practice in mind. While most of these songs are picked from my existing lists, I also bookended the playlist with songs I first heard in yoga (and they were placed where they are in my list).

The most energetic part of ashtanga is the beginning. You’re doing 10 rounds of sun salutations (5 of A and 5 of B). If I survive this part, I’ve already got a decent workout in, and I’m certainly sweating. As such, the first songs in the playlist have more energy than the rest. Kashi Vishwanath Gange (I have no idea what this song’s about) starts slow, which is good for getting in your right mindset, but then picks up as you actually start to do the salutations. And then it gets into Very Busy People. Timing-wise, I get very close to finishing the salutations at the end of that song because then we’re slowing it down.

The rest of the playlist gradually winds down as you go from the standing sequence to the seated sequence to the finishing sequence. There is a song my yoga teacher has that basically feels like an omnipresent heartbeat. I wish I had that song because it’s a good shavasana song, but Be the Song is a pretty good closer.

Without further ado, this is the full list, but skip to after for the discussion.

If you know these songs, you probably realize that a lot of them aren’t happy. I honestly didn’t even realize how melancholy this playlist could seem until I was in the middle of using it during a session. It was at that moment that I realized I probably am not cut out to be a yoga teacher, especially for those students who are just looking for a good time.

For me, yoga is a time to carve out space on my mat and pretend that no one else is around (at home, this is a lot easier). This is my time for taking care of me, which means fixing things. Fixing myself doesn’t really feel like a happy endeavor. It’s certainly a worthwhile one, but it’s not a happy one. I’m trying to leave all the bullshit that exists off the mat. As such, I need to feel something. I need songs that have substance. These are the songs you play as you jump off the cliff into the lake below. These are the songs that are playing on a cool, dark night with the windows down on a back country road. They won’t make you cry, but they should make you feel centered in your own little universe.

And that’s why they’re not happy.

Running lists

But how can we have a running blog post without the running playlists?

The first playlist is my 5K mofo list.

This is the list I created a few months into my Super Awesome Year of the 5K when I was getting tired of what was just on my phone. As it turns out, I would run my best race of the year the first time I used the list. Did the music help? Maybe, maybe not. But it makes for a better story to tell.

With this list, I was just going for pure uptempo music that I wouldn’t want to skip. This is music as distraction. There’s a lot of good music here, but it’s not the most substantive music to exist on this earth. The point is to distract me from running. That’s it. If I feel the need to skip a song when it comes on this list, it gets removed from the list. I’ve had a couple where that happened.

It’s a mix of pop, rock, and hip hop. And it’s a beautiful thing. It’s shallow. But it’s beautiful. Maybe I should rename it the shallow playlist.

The second list took a bit more form. I was getting tired of always using the 5K Mofo list during races, so I built another 5K list. This one was built to exclusively be rock music. The music has a bit more substance to it, and it’s honestly going after a slightly different emotion.

The goal for this playlist is a little more to pull at angst. If I’m running and I’m angry, this list is more likely to pop up that the original 5K list. I’m purposefully trying to burn off energy with this list. This will be probably be the list that’s playing when I PR and then pass out before getting hauled off in an ambulance for stupidity.

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Q and His Treacherous Knee

Or Q and His Knee Jerk Reaction

Or Q and Why Does My Knee Hurt?

This was my weekend a week ago:

Nothing like unexplained knee pain to liven up the weekend #thuglife #thisis30

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And this was me less than a week ago:

There’s a theme here. I’m a week and half into unexplained knee pain. I know what’s happening (tendonitis), but I don’t know why (unless we accept that my knee is an a-hole argument).

I spent a week on steroids and that seemed to help, but then I tweaked it on day 5 of steroids, and three days later, I’m back in the kind of pain I was in before starting the steroids.

With a couple of other things, I’m now two and half weeks removed from my last run, which was just a light jaunt to shake out the post-10K creaks.

My goal was a 10K every other month, and it’s already in jeopardy, and not the cool Ken Jennings kind.

If I go after the race I’m targeting, I’m looking at basically 5 weeks to go from 0 to 10K.

That’s probably not going to happen.

This is going to be an interesting year.

-Q

#ihaterunning

First 10K of the year is in the books

1:13:30. I lapped everyone on the couch. I also got lapped by the winner of the half-marathon.

Twice.

Other than that, things went pretty well. I knew I wasn’t going to have a blistering time. The plan was to do a 1:1 run/walk ratio on minute intervals.

Pre-Race

I am vengeance. I am the night. I am, well, you get the idea. #ihaterunning #batman

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Prep for this race was actually more obnoxious than usual because of the temperature. It was supposed to be high 30s to start and mid-40s when I would finish.

This is generally jacket weather for me. My lungs don’t appreciate cold air, and it gets worse if my torso is cold. Because it was in the 30s to start, I figured I would get one of my thicker long-sleeve shirts. And then I couldn’t find it.

I have three thicker shirts. The one I wanted wasn’t in the office, so I knew it was at home. And then I couldn’t find it at home. I really have no idea where that thing is. Luckily, I have a thinner cold-weather shirt that’s ok. With the jacket, I would be fine.

The next worry for me was parking. It was downtown in a relatively small town. If the race was packed, parking could become a problem pretty quickly. There ended up being about 400 people across the three distances running today. I had to leave a bit early to park where I wanted.

Of course, I then got to find out people have no sense of politeness when it comes to parallel parking spots. Two big SUVs decided to park as far forward in their spots as they could and for some unholy reason didn’t pull into the spots the farthest forward, so I got to do an awkward backing in to get my spot. It was fine, but it was obnoxious parking. Of course, they were Ole Miss and Bama fans, so I guess I shouldn’t have expected anything better from them.

Now for a pet peeve of mine. Pretty much every race I go to says to bring ID to pick up your packet. I think the only time I’ve actually shown ID to get my packet was Disney (and I’m not even sure if I actually showed ID). They say it and never ask for ID when you actually show up. Luckily, I’ve stopped bringing my ID along to the booths. I figure if it ever gets asked for, I’ll tell them to Google my name. Perks of having a weird name. The only person who shows up in the results is me.

Other than that, not much was atypical about the setup. You have the usual lacking number of port-a-potties. You have loud music. You’ve got people who didn’t know there was a race going on trying to go about their usual Saturday routine as runners are crawling all over the place with nervous energy.

I just basked in the sun waiting for the race to start. And then I got hot. Uh oh.

If I was hot standing in the sun, this wasn’t going to bode well for running. I was honestly afraid I was going to be a little on the cold side to start because I had on the thinner long-sleeve shirt underneath. Now I was about to ditch my jacket and was again having to worry about being cold in just two shirts because 6.2 miles of overheating wasn’t about to happen.

Luckily, my Batman shirt was a tight fit, so it helped trap heat in and acted as an extra buffer for the wind.

Unluckily, I hadn’t brought my arm band, and I didn’t trust myself to hold my phone for 6.2 miles. I was going sans music (well, podcast. I was going to listen to a Nerdist episode during my fat kid shuffle).

The rest of my attire was fine. I wear the same cap in the heat and the cold. Of my two viable pairs of running shoes (I have Adidas that are in good shape, but a foot injury rules them out for now), I only race in my Asics, so there was never a debate there. I also had a new pair of Goodr sunglasses to wear for the race.

I was in the red-framed glasses. It’s hard to tell in the picture, but they are the most obnoxious color scheme: blue lenses, red frames, and yellow ear pieces. I thought I’d never wear them (they came bundled with the other two I got in the Kickstarter). And then I realized the obnoxious color scheme went well with the obnoxiously colored shirts I wear to avoid getting hit by cars. Turns out the pair I looked forward to the least are going to be my priority pair for running.

I was dressed for success and ready to gol

The halfers took off, and then the 10K and 5K runners lined up together.

Now all I had to do was run. And then walk. And then run. And then walk. Etc.

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Actual Race

As usual, some walkers made their way to the front. I’m starting to think they can’t help themselves. If this was a track meet, someone would spike them in the back of their legs.

I hung out in back because I knew I wasn’t going to finish in front of many people. I had to let myself run longer in the beginning than I intended just because of the mess of walkers around. I don’t dislike walkers, but when they start in the middle and front, they’re an obstruction. Think of the person hanging out in the left lane in traffic who isn’t passing the car on the right. That’s what they’re doing.

The weather was beautiful, though I wasn’t quite dressed correctly. I really did need a little bit thicker shirt. I was ok, but not 100% comfortable to start. Luckily, the day came to me. Unfortunately, my hands weren’t in great shape. I don’t wear gloves when I run, and my hands stay cold naturally, so they got stiff pretty fast. It’s not like I needed to compose a letter, but it’s never fun to basically have your hands become useless for the better part of an hour.

I don’t have any über-weird stories to tell about the other runners. I had my typical crowd that I would yo-yo with. At least they were also alternating between running and walking. The only mildly interesting stories come past the halfway point. One runner turned to ask if I was dying too. I think they were feeling social. Or maybe they’d never seen the dark knight in person before. Who knows.

The other interesting thing was someone who kept yelling in frustration. I’ve done a fair amount of races now (21 is my best guess), and this is the first time I’ve had that happen. I think they were in that “I’m exhausted and going on fumes” mode. The last time I remember hearing people do that was during football workouts. Usually these were the people who didn’t really want to play football and were there because someone made them be there. I hope that wasn’t the case. It sounded like someone was running with them and encouraging them, but this is kind of a dangerous game to play. I’m not fond of running, but I don’t feel the need to yell. If they do, maybe they’d be better off with a different hobby. Again, I don’t know what was going on. I just know it was weird.

The running and walking went fairly well. I knew I couldn’t put together a blistering pace. I was vaguely optimistic that I’d be feeling good at the end and could extend my running segments.

That did not happen.

It wasn’t a brutal course by any means, but there were a good amount of climbs to make. These were mostly halfway and later, so they gassed me pretty good. But I did survive. My lungs went first because that’s what they do, but my legs were dead by the end too.

And to pour salt on the wounds, there was a steady climb to finish the race. You never notice the grade of a road until you’re actually running it. I always thought of it as a fairly level stretch until today. This is also when the half winner flew past me for the second time.

But I finished and I high-fived a couple of cows. All in all, it could have gone worse.

Post-Race

There’s not much to say post-race. For once I finished in a weird spot where there wasn’t a mess of people at the end. Only one half-marathoner had finished. All of the 5K runners were done. And I was far enough back in the 10K that there weren’t many of them left either.

I snagged a couple of slices of pizza before walking around as my inadequate cool-down. I then went to my car to switch to a dry shirt and get my watered-down bottle of Gatorade. Of course, I had to get two more slices of pizza before I left, so I went back to the finish line for that. A few coworkers were running other races and I vaguely thought of sticking around, but then I realized I wanted to continue making bad decisions more than I wanted to hang out in the wind with sweat salt caking my face.

The bingeing continued with a some Sonic: 5-piece chicken strip meal, with tater tots, toast, an onion ring, and Coke. I left two pieces of chicken behind for later and ate the rest. After all this mess, I had gained 2 pounds compared to my pre-10K weight.

I really am good at turning good decisions into terrible mistakes.

At least I had enough sense to foam roll after I ate. I’m also icing my knee as I type to prevent further problems.

The aftermath. #ihaterunning

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But that’s all I have for you, party people. I’ve got 5 more of these to go for the year, and I have no idea when any of them will be yet. I’m hoping for every other month, but I haven’t locked into a March race yet.

-Q

#ihaterunning

Final Prep for 1st 10K of the Year

I ran 5 miles today. Ok, I ran the majority of 5 miles and walked a good amount of it. I was on a pretty even run/walk cycle, which means I probably ran about 3 miles and walked 2.

But I covered 5 miles. Last time I covered at least 5 miles? The 10K I did in May. The time before that? The week before said 10K. And the time before that? Never.

This will not end well.

Oh, sure. In high school, I would almost certainly have covered that distance in a track workout, but there’s a big difference between being 145-pound hurdler doing intermittent springs and being a 180-pound academic trying to delay diabetes and other weight-related woes.

Side note, looking back at the run-up to the last 10K, I’m making the exact same points. I almost made the same stupid joke for the title. The more things change…

Much like last time, I hit 4 miles two weeks before the 10K and 5 miles the week before. So let’s compare.

First a caveat. Last year, I was in better shape. Even with an injury causing some issues, I had better mileage leading up to the 10K in part because I was coming off the Super Awesome Year of the 5K. I also had a 5K at Disney to act as my warm-up a few weeks out. I had the mythical base they always talk about. Even if 6.2 miles really was too much to go after, I could at least cover 3.1 without problems. I can’t say that right now.

Let’s look at the 4-miler two weeks out. In 2016, I covered 4.02 in 47:12 (11:45 pace). Heart rate was 150 average, with 172 max. Last week, I covered 4.00 in 57:42 (14:25 pace). Heart rate was 135 average, with 168 max.

For the 5-miler one week out, 2016 was 5.04 in 1:05:12 (12:56 pace). Heart rate was 151 average, with 177 max. Also, 666 calories burned. Not ominous at all. Today, I covered 5.00 in 1:07:40 (13:32 pace). Heart rate was 144 average, with 176 max.

This is an odd thing to look at. The 4-mile run was much worse this round. The 5-mile run, despite having shorter run intervals, was pretty close on pace. This means I was probably running too fast today, but evidently I have a need for speed.

So what can we expect for the 10K?

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Really, I have no idea what’s going to happen. I’m just going to go out there and do my best. And then I’m going to pretend I’m not in pain as I limp to my car.

The remainder of my week will be spent trying not to do something stupid, but considering I bit my tongue in my sleep yesterday, I’m not terribly optimistic.

See you on the other side.

-Q

#ihaterunning

Let’s Talk About Self-Care

It takes a lot of work to keep me functioning. I don’t mean it takes me a lot of work like it takes a lot of work to maintain a pristine physique (it does require a lot of work, I’m told, but I wouldn’t have any clue about that. Fatty likes his food.). No, I’m talking about the work it takes to maintain basic functionality.

There are a few factors at play that caused this:

  • One, I have back issues. If you’ve never had back issues, I can’t full explain it, but this is what I can tell you: I can’t remember the last time I went 24 hours without any type of pain. I went 8 hours pain-free in August, and it felt like I was on drugs. I was giddy. There are days where I just want to lie down on the floor. They’re rare, but they exist.
  • Two, I’m just injury-prone in general. This is a product of lifestyle, which is brings us to
  • Three, I work a desk job. Desk job’s are great in a lot of ways, but they are also a significant contributor to the decline of physical health of Americans.
  • Four, I have a stressful job. There are more stressful jobs in the world, but I have a “make your own stress” job, which is great because
  • Five, I like to make my own stress. I think A LOT. Most of my hobbies are about getting my brain to shut down or to keep it so focused it’s not running off on its own. Think of my brain like a border collie. Great when it’s focused and the possibility of being a real jerk if it has nothing better to do.

All of this results in me doing a few things just to keep my mind and body in check. Basically, I’m going to run through all of the big and little things I do to stay in one piece. If you find something you’ve never tried, give it a go. Every person has their own needs. These are just the things that help me. You’ll notice a good chunk of them were featured in the Super Awesome Year of Me.

Running

Hey, that’s why we’re here. I run even though I complain about it because it’s necessary. I don’t have a better way to get cardio work in quickly, and cardio’s necessary, especially if I drop from a heart attack and would like to recover.

But in all seriousness, running allows me to burn off the wrong kind of energy, that nervous energy that has zero chance of being productive. Plus, I get a lot of t-shirts.

Reading

This is a default for me when I’m overwhelmed. I like to dive into a good book and hide there. Not always the healthiest coping mechanism, but it helps. And if you’re going to engage in an activity for the wrong reason, at least engage in one that’s good for you. And because writers are the biggest bunch of dorks who include the most random bits of information, you also get to learn the most random bits of information. You’re gonna kill it at trivia night.

Writing

This is the other reason we’re here. I enjoy writing. I write for a living, but I don’t write fun stuff for a living. I write research papers. Not fun. Interesting but not fun.

This is about fun. This is about taking the time to put thoughts on a screen illuminated by the magic of technology. I can put jokes in here. I can put my thoughts here. And I can (hopefully) stretch my ability as a writer. This blog (and my other blog) are about allowing me to write under the guise of providing useful information for other people.

As a teenager, I wrote a lot. I don’t know what good it did or what good I thought it would do, but I enjoyed writing. Slowly, I got older and wrote less. This was my chance to take some of that back. I’m probably not going to write the next great American novel, but I can still write.

Yoga

This was the first piece of deliberate self-care I ever engaged in. I was doing most of the others, but I did them for fun. They just happened to be beneficial. I started doing yoga for my back. And it worked. I didn’t know why it worked; it just did.

Later, I would figure out it wasn’t just the stretching and that the core work was a contributor, but it didn’t matter. I found something that worked.

I don’t practice as often as I should, but I’m a yoga convert of 8 years. I don’t believe I’m flushing out toxins or finding (much) inner peace, but my body’s happier when I do yoga, so my brain’s happier too. And when I’m running, yoga’s the only thing that allows me to keep living a normal life.

Stretching

Not the same as yoga. For those of you keeping score, yoga includes stretching. It is not about stretching. And frankly, sometimes yoga isn’t all that great for stretching. Yoga classes and routines aren’t prescriptions. They don’t help my specific issues. I steal what I learn from yoga for my own use, but I have to do pretty deliberate stretching. At this point, it’s a full-body stretch routine, but I’ve had PTs who gave me specific stretches for back pain and costochondritis. Basically, I do stretches to help me with back pain.

Drawing

I should have put this caveat in earlier, but just because I enjoy doing something, that doesn’t mean I actually am any good at it. I’ve always enjoyed drawing. If you leave me alone, I’m doodling or making elaborate patterns.

While I always liked it, I didn’t realize what it was doing to my brain. When I did the Super Awesome Month of Drawing, I was a lot more calm after each picture was done. The concentration of drawing was downright meditative.

Music

This one goes two ways. The easiest to see is that I almost constantly have music going. I wake up and turn on Spotify. I have music going all day while I work. My commute has satellite radio. My walk to the office features me wearing earbuds. And of course, I run to a soundtrack now. Music is life.

Really, though, it’s the second aspect that’s most important. I play guitar. I’m not as good about playing every day as I’d like to be, but I play more days than not. Everyone should make music and preferably learn an instrument. It’s something to concentrate on, and if you’re brave, you can even write your own stuff. And that’s pretty damn cool.

Massage

And this is the one that has me outside of my comfort zone. I’m not a fan of strangers touching me, especially when I’m wearing almost no clothing. Let’s just not, thanks.

But I had back pain flare up that was lasting more than a week. When I asked the physical therapist what I could do, massage was their best recommendation. So I gave it a try. I went to a n0-frills sports massage place and proceeded to have a stranger make a valiant attempt at making me cry. And it was fantastic.

I was able to go back there one more time before I moved, and then I began my odyssey in Mississippi of finding a good massage. I had to make it to my 3rd location and even then it was my second MT before I found someone I was happy with. Now, every month or two, someone half my size digs their elbows into my back to buy me a few hours of relief.

And the thing I wish I did more of? Meditating.

I do things that hit some of the same points of meditating, but like running being the best cardio I can access, meditating is the best I can do to hit the brain.

5-10 minutes is all I need, and I can’t make myself do it. It’s hard. Trying to focus on your breathing and letting stray thoughts drift on by without dwelling on them is an enormous task as far as I’m concerned. But man, I feel fantastic after a good session. Unfortunately, I can’t stick with it long enough to see if there are long-term benefits. Maybe one day.

Running Past Your Comfort Zone

Something I keep coming back to in life is finding joy in being uncomfortable.

When I was a kid, my dad had this pillow that was only nominally such. It was hard as a rock (I still don’t know what the filling was), and no one else in the family would voluntarily use it except me. Any time I needed to travel with a pillow, that was my pick. There was also this scratchy yellow blanket of his that I used to use. There was a blue one that looked identical but wasn’t scratchy. I wanted the yellow blanket. At some point, I decided that not having creature comforts was what being a man was about.

This notion stuck around. I slept for weeks on a box-spring (I have no idea why I didn’t have a mattress that long) that had a piece of metal sticking out that I had to avoid rolling into. In high school and college, I wouldn’t wear a jacket if I didn’t have to (I went a full year without wearing a jacket to school. Granted, I lived on the Texas/Mexico border). I went without AC in my truck for the better part of a year (possibly, this was just me being cheap).

I could make do.

And more than that, I relished being uncomfortable. I still do. Last night I was sleeping on a 5-year-old Walmart futon with a throw instead of a real blanket or quilt, despite having plenty. And I was happy reflecting on it.

This shows up when I’m working out, too. I’ve said it before, but there’s a masochistic part of me that likes running when conditions are less than ideal. Whether it’s rain, heat, or cold, I like being out there when other people aren’t. I hate spring and fall when the sidewalks and paths are crowded with (what I believe are) weak-willed runners who find their treadmills, TVs, and air conditioning when they retreat indoors.

In the book A Good Year, which became a movie that was only marginally like the book, the opening chapter includes the main character running when no one but the most hardcore runners would because it was too rainy. This was an idea I could appreciate and gave entirely too much emphasis too within the grand scheme of what the book was about.

And so it goes. When I’m in miserable conditions and suffering, I’m kind of happy. I believe this is when I’m growing the most. And it’s always been this way. Every great workout I’ve had was miserable, but when I got to the end, I was glad to have survived. I looked forward to the binge. I looked forward to cutting in line in the cafeteria for pizza and tater tots after miserable football workouts in high school. I earned that pizza.

When I’m running, I go until something gives, usually my lungs. And if I’m hitting the end of a workout and I’m feeling good, I run faster until I’m not. I love striding to end runs (this week included striding past all the cars stuck in 5 o’clock traffic just to mock them and their internal combustion engines).

And yoga is basically one gigantic session of being uncomfortable (the good kind, not the bad kind; If you’re not sure, the good kind is like a deep tissue massage that hurts but feels good, and the bad kind is like banging your knee into the desk drawer when you turn in your chair, just hurts). You’re constantly trying to put yourself to the edge of your comfort zone. This is how you get better.

Even playing guitar is an exercise is discomfort. I like playing until my fingertips hurt from the strings. And then next time I can play a little longer or harder before they hurt.

I want to earn my sleep. Working until exhaustion has been the easiest way to do this. It’s not the healthiest behavior, but at least I know when I’m thrown into a less-than-ideal situation I can survive (see races with ice warning, snow on the ground, on muddy course and the only hills in Florida, with rain, and every Star Wars fan in Central Florida).

And this is when I grow.

-Q

Kicking Off a New Year

I was listening to this episode of the Runner’s World podcast, and it got me thinking about the whole “new year, new me” nonsense that goes around.

Yep, I’m going straight to calling it nonsense.

It’s not that I’m some paragon of good life decisions. Yesterday, my grocery shopping brought me home with some fruits and vegetables, but I also bought a pizza and a couple of little bags of hot fries.

So tasty.

And I say don’t set resolutions, but I always set goals. In other words, the pot is calling the kettle black, but would you really want life advice from someone who hasn’t lived it? (Related advice, don’t trust someone who’s never failed. Eventually the sky will fall, and they’ll have no clue what to do).

New Year’s resolutions suck. They do. Most people fail. If you want to have fun, go to the exercise-related subreddits and see how they discuss the new year’s influx in the gyms. They know most won’t stick it out. And here’s the thing, those subreddits are some of the nicest people you can meet on the internet; they just don’t tolerate flakes very well.

I don’t want you to be a flake. I want you to succeed. Change is hard.

So how do we avoid the resolutions trap?

First, don’t set resolutions in the first place. Set measurable goals.

The Super Awesome Year of the 5K wasn’t a resolution. I wasn’t resolving to be a good runner. I was setting a goal that kept me active and over a long enough time period to help force a lifestyle change. I’ve fallen off the wagon here and there, but I’ve largely maintained running as a part of my life. I’m doing the Super Awesome Year of the 10K for the same reason. Setting a single goal last year was a trap that ended up hurting me in the second half of the year after I’d already completed my goal.

Second, don’t set goals that are inherently temporary. Aim for lifestyle changes.

I hate diets. I hate them with the fire of a thousand suns. There’s plenty of evidence to indicate they don’t work long-term (including some evidence that there’s a rebound that puts in you in a worse place than before). Your body’s not built for quick turnaround. If you lose weight quickly, you body basically says “what the hell was that?” and then adjusts your metabolism so you quit losing weight. Best part? Your metabolism won’t fully return to what it was even when you gain the weight back.

I accidentally put myself on diets a couple of times this past year with my daily goals, and I regret it immensely. I was doing things that weren’t sustainable at the time. Maybe at some point in the future I’ll be able to have better eating habits, but I was doing too much based on where I was at then. I think the best example I can give for food is my switch to brown rice. When I got a rice cooker a few years ago, I went through a bag of rice stupid fast, so I knew I needed to switch to brown rice. I hadn’t gained weight. I was just thinking about my long-term health. Now I only use white rice for sushi, otherwise I’m using brown rice (Uncle Ben’s whole grain is the best I’ve found) and more recently quinoa. I didn’t make the switch to get ready for taking my shirt off at the beach. I did it to avoid diabetes.

Third, find a new support system. Friends and family can get bitter when you make positive life changes.

This one kind of sucks, but it’s true. When you stop going out to restaurants, drinking, etc.., you’re affecting your social life. In some cases, you’re just operating in different environments. In others, the people in your life can start to feel like they’re being left behind and can be actively resentful. I’m not saying you should actively avoid those family and friends, but I am saying having negative people around isn’t going to help you. Obesity is, for all intents and purposes, a communicable disease. Person A being fat, means their friend Person B is more likely to be fat, and even Person B’s friend Person C is more likely to be fat. We’re all connected in our lifestyle choices.

If you’re looking for a support system, there are running groups and fitness cults you can find in your town in all likelihood. I like to poke fun at crossfit a little.

But crossfit is good about building a support system. Find a yoga class. Find a running group. Join an old-lady walking group. Just make sure you’ve got people who are on the same path you are so that when you slip, you’ve got someone who’s going to help you up, not just people who are going to lie down with you and hand you pizza.

Fourth, expect setbacks and failure. You need to know that something’s going to derail you plans at some point.

Starting a running plan? Shin splints are common injury. Yoga class? Your schedule could get to hectic and make you miss class. Trying to lose weight? CiCi’s pizza has a great buffet when you’re having a bad day.

Just know something’s going to happen eventually. I can’t find the source, but there’s something to the effect out there that says if you start to fall down the stairs, you wouldn’t just let yourself keep falling down the stairs, so why give up on a goal just because you slipped up? It’s a trap we all fall in eventually, but when you miss a workout or fall short of a goal, keep pushing. You don’t have to quit.

That’s all I have to say about that. If you take nothing away from this, just know I hate diets. I’m going to eat some hot fries now and chase them with carnitas tacos.