Thursday, August 20, 2015

6 Ways to Trick your Brain into Running

Photo Cr. Geoffrey Brown

If being “good” for us was the only reason we needed to exercise, we’d all be svelte, sexy, healthy individuals. Only people who were born with arms in place of eyeballs would need health insurance. Grocery stores would only stock free range chickens carrying broccoli in adorable little backpacks. Our excuse for why we were late to work would be, “my shoe got a flat.” Unfortunately it’s not the case.

Our love of food and laziness nukes our brains.

It’s hard to walk past 50 isles of chocolate and bacon blasted treats with names like “Diabetes Explosion Xtreme” on our way to the kale flavored fiber isle. It’s hard to drink stupid boring water when our fridge has enough beer to survive an apocalypse. It’s hard to batter our bodies for hours when the world’s fluffiest couch weeps, “don’t you love me anymore?”

I hate you couch, and yet I love you. In fact, let me introduce you to my close friend, Scotch.

We evolved to eat, and rest, do about 15 minutes of stuff, and then eat and rest some more. No part of our monkey ancestors enjoyed needless pain and suffering, except for perhaps the occasional self-flagellation by banana. So we have to trick our bulbous brains to run.

Here are six ways to keep tricking that hungry lazy brain.

1. Knowing why you run

This may seem obvious, but you have to have a reason to go out in the broiling heat or frozen hellscape (it’s never anywhere in between, is it?) every day. And as I established above, “because it’s good for me” is not enough.

Almost dying is a great one (great describes “one”, not the dying part). Not wanting to almost die again is a surefire way to make yourself keep running. Because if it’s an option between “kinda sore” and “kinda dead”, we’d often pick the former. Often. But not everyone has the “luxury” of a near fatal event to drive them.

The reason for me was stepping on the scale. I know, terrible idea. If you want to sustain your love for pastries, never buy a scale. In fact, go ahead and destroy all your mirrors too. Because accidentally catching a reflection of yourself and seeing that you have more chin than face is a real downer. Even my beard had become insufficient to obfuscate reality.

The scale.... And her judgment

So you should have a very strong reason for why you start running. And then you must remind yourself of it regularly. This isn’t hard for me. My entire life story is on Facebook, just the way the NSA likes it. I inadvertently stumble across old photos of myself, and think, “dear lord, never again! I enjoy my regular gravitational pull.”

For still others, running is a great way to escape or handle personal demons. For example, my friend Geoffrey has much less energy to date just totally insane women now that he runs so much. And I make sure to remind him of previous escapades on a regular basis. I’m kind of a terrible friend. My way of helping friends deal with emotional issues is, “yeah, you’re super f@#ked up. Remember that thing you just did? That was terrible. Anyway you should probably go on a run now before your brain devours you from the inside.” Good times.

So find your reason. Write it down if you’re literate. If you’re not literate, then I won’t bother giving you advice, as you’re obviously just scanning these words pretending to read to trick your coworkers. THEY'RE NOT READING. IT’S A LIE.

2. Routine

Even if you have a great reason to run, you still have to balance it with work, family, and your ten-hours-a-day Netflix addiction. If you only have one free hour after work and before dinner with your eight screaming rugrats, you may be tempted to just relax… or perhaps to cry quietly in the corner. But if you always run after work before dinner, it stops being something you have to think about and choose to do. You automatically set down your suitcase, whip off your tie with a flourish, strip naked in your living room like a maniac, lace up your shoes, and hit the outside air (at some point in there I hope you also put on shorts).

Am I making the claw??

If you have specific days and times when you always run, you’ll be much more likely to stick with it. This is easy for me: My routine is every single day, because I have no life and hate my feet. But if you only have 3 days a week, make sure you run on each of those 3 days, consistently. And then maybe ask yourself if you really need 4 days a week to dust your VHS collection. “This copy of Lion King is going to be worth millions someday!”

Don’t look for excuses here. It’s easy to flake on a run because it’s drizzly and you don’t want to ruin your new perm. Even if it’s the hottest day of the year, and it’s simultaneously somehow snowing (hey, I live in upstate New York; it’s not even that unlikely), you should be outside in shorts and snowshoes. Checking the weather is for what you should wear on the run, not for if you’re going to run. “If” doesn’t exist in your dictionary. Also, get a new dictionary.

3. Make it fun

Sure, running can feel like arbitrarily punishing yourself. I mean maybe you feel bad that you snapped at your buddy for eating all your kale flavored fiber. But most people assuage their guilt with ice cream, not exercise. But there are ways to make running more fun. Not as fun as ice cream, but more fun than…. weeding I guess.

Running in new places is fun. Don’t only run on your street. You will become way too familiar with your neighbors and their man-flesh-hungry dogs. Try a majestic forest, or at least a majestic suburb. Turn left instead of turning right. Get lost a little. Just be careful not to turn a 4 mile run into a 10 mile run. I’ve done that. It’s awesome.

Run with a friend! You will be amazed at how quickly the time goes by. I run with Geoffrey pretty often. And even though we usually talk about running while running, it’s still more entertaining than talking to yourself (and really, you’re not that fascinating, amIright?). Just take care if they run 12 minute miles and you’re an 8 minute miler. Unless you either need a rest day or want to explode their chest.

Get toys. We all love to frivolously spend money. And running gives you one more reason to buy all sorts of gadgets and running kilts (mine’s on its way!). New shoes, new socks, a new watch, even a water bottle that’s ultramarine instead of your disgustingly boring blue one will all make running more fun.

Pictured: Toy

Music works too. I generally don’t run with headphones, for reasons I’ll get into in a future post. But sometimes if I’m really not looking forward to a run (for example because it’s a 100 degrees and also somehow snowing), I’ll listen to music to make it suck less. It’s like a little reward to myself. A peaceful time: Just me and my death metal.

4. Make goals

Create goals for yourself. Don’t just run and run and run forever with no purpose. That’s like trying to get to the end of the rainbow. It’s forever away. And there’s not even any gold. Just water vapor that will clog up your lungs (we runners are a persnickety bunch).

The simplest goal is a race. Whether it’s a 5K, a half marathon, a full marathon, or an ultra (because you want to go from just having no life to becoming some sort of Bigfoot… a mysterious figure that’s out there, somewhere, but nobody ever sees it). Or if you want to cheat, there’s also triathlons and tough mudders and plenty of other ways to try to kill yourself. In any event, having a race that you’ve signed up for will keep you running. Just make sure to sign up for another race right afterwards!

And if that race is too far away, you can set goals in the short term to reach. This can be a PR (personal record), or even just doing better than your last run (a little faster, a little farther, a little less drunk). And if you followed my suggestion above about blowing all your discretionary cash on gizmos, your running watch will do a great job of tracking your accomplishments and challenging you to beat them! For example, the maximum heart rate I’ve ever hit is 187. Next time I’ll hit 188! By the way, this is a terrible goal.

Goal: Reach the end of the street without freezing to death.

Having a target, a record to conquer, will make you downright excited to run! I know, that sounds totally ridiculous. But yes, it’s absolutely possible to actually want to run. In fact, you get downright addicted to it! Insane I know. But I’ve seen folks with addictions to little plastic trolls, so nothing is impossible.

5. Support system

Friends, family, loved ones, and even that cantankerous neighbor who yells at you for stealing her newspaper every morning (hey, my internet at home is terrible) can all motivate and inspire you to keep running. Granted, if your significant other believes that putting jam in a doughnut makes it healthy, it may be tough to resist that logic, especially if your mind says, "that makes way more sense to me than running."

But the more people in your life push you, the easier it gets to keep doing it. Making friends with other runners especially helps. Suddenly you're not the craziest person in your life. I recently joined a group online called L.U.N.A.R. (Lace Up Now And Run!). When I read the posts of other runners, I almost feel normal. And the founder, Shawn Mastrantonio, posts inspiring messages every day that kick me right in my lazy ass.

Of course, it's not only other runners who can inspire you. My girlfriend Pixie is the most hard-working and self-motivated individual I've ever met. She wanted a house so she built her own house. No seriously, I get to live in it. It's a piece of magic. Except for the spotty internet. But also chickens! And a really obnoxious rooster.

Obnoxious rooster... or cantankerous neighbor. You decide.

Running is a very solitary act. When you're actually in your shoes and on the road, it's just you and your ludicrous thoughts. But don't let the rest of your life be solitary. Fill it with people who not only accept you're crazy, but in fact inspire it! The good kind of crazy that is. Maybe don't accept Jim's offer to sneak flasks into a family restaurant.

6. Reward system

This is the ultimate way to "trick" your brain. Give yourself rewards for running. Your brain may actually not rebel. It will say, "running? Ugh, that's a terrible... Wait, we get to eat how much sugar afterwards? Well then hurry up you bastard! I want that in me!"

Food and booze is the easy one. I count calories and the double benefit is that every time I run, I add extra calories into my budget. Calories I fill gluttonously with a colossal amount of solid and liquid carbs. I would feel bad if I didn't feel so freakin' amazing.

Just line them up. They're all going in my face.
Even if your level of self-hate is marginally lower than mine and you don't count calories, you can still reward yourself with your favorite treat: Pizza, cheesecake, ice cream with bacon and french fries in it, anything! Just make sure you don't normally eat that stuff. Otherwise your brain will say, "wait, you let me eat that for free yesterday. Now I have to work for it? What the heck you duplicitous scoundrel."

Other rewards work too. Maybe you've been eying that iPhone 17 (or whatever it's up to now). Don't let yourself get it until you've run 100 miles! Adjust as necessary. 100 miles may be a whole summer for you. For me it's less than 2 weeks, so that's pretty much like saying, "I'll get it with my next paycheck." Just kidding. All my paychecks go into beer and shoes.

With the 6 top notch "tricks" above, you should be well on your way to getting your brain to surrender. After a while it'll just sit quietly in a corner of your skull with a pipe and a newspaper saying, "whatever, go. Just don't stay out too late."

This post is dedicated to L.U.N.A.R. and the organization it promotes:

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