I sit here to write this article as someone who’s always looked for ways to live a healthier and cheaper life and has turned to running and cycling as two tactics to try and put these strategies into action. I’m not someone who’s always been incredibly athletic, or always keen to get up at 6am to
go for a run in the rain, or someone who’s resolutely avoided cars or public transport in favor of cycling at every possible occasion to save money at the gas pump. So in many senses, I’m not at all well positioned to be telling others how to do more running and cycling – or, more generally, and more importantly, how to live a healthier, greener, and cheaper life altogether.
But I feel my experiences of running and cycling over the past five or so years of my life are typical of many people in that I’ve found it hard to keep up the good habits for any prolonged period of time, even if part of me wanted to. And for that reason – given that, now, after a long period of trying and giving up I do finally feel that cycling and running are much more embedded into the day-to-day routines of my life – I feel I am in a position to share some of my experiences and offer some advice with the hope of at least letting others know they’re not alone.
Setbacks, Comebacks, and Motivation
About five years ago I bought my first pair of proper running shoes with the intention of making it a new hobby of mine. But I always found it hard to find that ‘get up and go’ feeling for more than a few weeks at a time and, ultimately, that was why I would always give up and stop going for runs
after a few weeks of kick starting a new routine. So what was stopping me? Primarily I found I never really enjoyed running. I would find it boring; I found the process of going out, coming back and getting a shower and settling back down into whatever task I was doing was just too much fuss
and bother. So time and time again I would have a burst of enthusiasm that was then followed by a crushing sense of apathy about the whole process of ‘getting fit’. Also, I found the routine-element hard. Sometimes I would just forget to go for a week or two and that alone would be enough for me to stop and break the routine rather than kick start it again.
A year ago, however, I decided to take a different approach. I was fed up with all the stop/starting so decided to find a different way to get into an at least fairly consistent exercise routine. Firstly I focussed on making the whole process more enjoyable: I find running for anything more than about 50 minutes mind-numbingly boring, so now I only go on sub-40 minute runs. I also always take my iPod with me which was something – for some reason – I didn’t do before hand, and I now also keep track of my times. Not only does keeping a log of my times (I generally run the same or similar routes each time) provide a measurable way of increasing the intensity of the exercise over time without increasing the amount of time it takes me, it also adds some fun as it means I am able to see how I am getting on. Another big problem I had was getting into a consistent routine of going running and sticking to it. So I have addressed this by saying I will go for three runs a week. I know other people do a lot more, and I’m sure people would say I could do more. But the point of setting it at three is that I know it’s a realistic target, which means I actually feel guilty when I don’t achieve it. And that sense of guilt means I am eager to redeem myself and meet the target the following week.
As far as cycling goes, I’ve always owned a bicycle during the different stages of my life, but after passing my driving test and buying a car all the short journeys that I use to cycle were replaced with a car journey. I’ve never really used bicycling as a form of exercise either, and I still don’t now really, simply because for the time being at least I find running to be a quicker and easier form of exercise for me to fit around my life. However, since selling my car to get rid of the costs of having it whilst I was at college, I found I got by just fine without a car. For longer journeys, I’ll get a lift or use public transport, but having no car again has made me realise two things. Firstly, that cycling short journeys (say less than 5 miles) isn’t significantly quicker in a car, and can even take the same amount of time or even longer if you’re driving in a lot of congestion. And secondly, that cycling somewhere is much more satisfying than driving it. Yes, I know that’s an easy thing to say, and I won’t bang on about the
money-saving and environment-saving benefits of cycling, but returning home from work knowing you’ve cycled it makes the feeling of returning home from work that little bit more rewarding, for example, and cycling is also a great way to kill two birds with one stone if you are finding it hard to fit exercise into your life.
The overarching lesson and advice from my personal anecdotes is, therefore, not to force cycling, running or any other form of exercise into your life, but rather to find a way to fit it into your life. Because if you’re like most of us who don’t have a huge urge to replace every car journey with the
bicycle, or don’t have the time or the energy to go for a run at 6am every morning, then a sudden and intense change of exercise routine will soon become anything but a routine. In other words, you’ll become demoralised, apathetic, and give up very quickly. Sure, by adapting things to your
lifestyle in a moderate and sensible way you might not be pushing your body to the limit, and you might not be saving every last penny you can on gas, but you’ll achieve a compromise that you can stick with, and that’s surely better than nothing.
Readers: do you get around mostly by cycling? Do you treat it as exercise when you keep track or do you just treat it as a normal, everyday activity?