A few weeks ago, I posted a blog entry on Motivation. I wrote it following a lecture I gave on the same topic to Exercise and Health undergraduates at Aberdeen Uni. The lecture was on the Monday of that week (19 March 2018) and was theory-based. Giving the lecture had made me think about my own experience of exercise as I talked about running examples to illustrate concepts and I’d subsequently tried to reflect on what motivates me and how theory might explain my relationship with exercise and specifically running.
I was a kid who hated PE at school. I was terrible. I was healthy (eating and weight), but unfit and disinterested. There wasn’t a sport I liked or was good at, save for the brief and unlikely time during which I played volleyball for the school in 1998. I seemed to be good at that and the teacher had suggested I join the team. Conversely, another teacher used to clap while running behind me to make me move during cross country classes, which did little to motivate. I rejoiced the day I didn’t have to do PE anymore in 1999.
As a young adult at University, I went to the gym twice. In 2002. Because my friends were going. Once for a taster thing and another time for a spinning class (following which I couldn’t sit or stand comfortably for at least a week). I can’t recall whether they continued, but I didn’t think about exercise again until I broke my ankle in 2011.
Relearning to walk, I set myself a goal of being able to run and to like it. It was both a physical and psychological challenge among a catalogue of challenges I set myself over the weeks I spent in bed recovering from a total metal rebuild. That was in 2011 and run I did. Initially in the wrong footwear (boxing boots with no arch support or cushioning), which resulted in further physio, but I was undeterred and tried again.
I built up my running and ran a lot for pleasure as well as fitness (and weight loss) well into 2013. I transformed my experience by switching from ‘proper’ running trainers to ‘barefoot’ minimalist skins. I didn’t track at first, but, as technologies became available, I adopted them early. Data helped me to set new time and distance targets and this contributed to my motivation. At some point, I became obsessed and was running five 10ks a week and was grumpy if I had to miss one through travel or being invited to socials that I had to attend.
But it was unsustainable and I crashed. I don’t remember exactly when or precisely why, but a combination of personal life circumstances and probably workaholism meant that I just stopped running. Over time, I stopped seeing myself as a runner and gave away my kit. All of it. I put on weight and didn’t talk about running any more, on or offline. Adherence, the topic of my second lecture on the Thursday of that week, was a problem.
I counted steps, of course, as I’ve been tracking pretty much continuously now for a few years (except during periods of enforced withdrawal), but I didn’t really think about increasing my daily counts through running. It didn’t cross my mind – I didn’t have that identity anymore. One day, though, I decided to run again. I don’t know why, or can’t remember. But it cost me at least £100 of Nike stuff – I’d had to replace my kit. Oh, I do remember – I was using a Microsoft Band and had begun sharing activity data with a colleague. I wanted to up my steps and exercise to beat him each day. That was late 2015/early 2016 and I established a regular running pattern again.
I found quickly that my fitness had not disappeared or diminished that much and I was soon able to reach times and distances of a couple of years prior. I was hooked and running five 10ks a week, grumpy if not. But yet again, at some point, I stopped. That was late 2016. It wasn’t that it was winter – I like running in winter more than summer – but I just didn’t make the effort. I didn’t get rid of my stuff this time, though. I don’t know why, but maybe somewhere deep inside I knew I’d return to running at some point…
… and I did – one run when I had a stinking cold in Autumn 2017 and I thought it might help. I managed a 10k out of nowhere. I didn’t ache, but it didn’t last. I didn’t run again until 20 March 2018. This was prompted by the Motivation lecture, but had also been influenced by my supervision of a BSc Sports and Exercise Science final year student project on running and wearables. This was driven by the student’s areas of interest, but maps very well to my own re digital health and, intermittently, running. Although Jennifer‘s project started in December 2017 and I was really excited about and into it, inspired by her enthusiasm for running, I still took my time… but a return to running was on my mind.
I’ve been running again for a few weeks now, 4-5 times a week. I’ve done 5ks, one 8k and a 10k. 16 runs in total (plus one to come later today). Of course, I’m loving it as usual, and tracking everything I can (this time with my Apple Watch S3). I’m also tweeting my data. I’ve already reached previous form and it’s improving with each run. This is all sustainable at the moment, but how can I ensure that my initial motivation is matched with adherence? Third time lucky?
- keep tracking (previously not always enough);
- keep using social media to reinforce running identity (potentially annoy followers);
- keep my hair short and uncoloured (this corresponds with previous phases of running)…
Two out of three might not be bad, but I’m going back to the books to try to apply the theories of adherence I lecture on to my own case… The main issues seem to be that I’m not a member of a club or team, do not have an instructor and run alone. hmm…