Deciding on Your Next Challenge

Your successful completion of the SportMed RunWalk program brings a lot of good news. The cardiovascular (heart and lung) fitness you have worked so patiently to develop over the past 13 weeks is relatively easy to maintain. All you have to do is carry on doing what you have been doing – exercising aerobically three times a week for 30 to 40 minutes. You do not have to perpetually push yourself further. If, however, you want to continue to improve your fitness level, you’re going to have to continue challenging your body.

Regardless of whether you want to maintain your current fitness level, diversify your exercise program or improve your 10K time, the important point to remember is that you are already a fitness success. By now, you understand that setting a goal and having a clear plan of how to get there are the keys to success.

Many of you may already have your next fitness goal in mind, but for those of you who don’t, here are a few suggestions:

Cross Training

Cross training means participating in a variety of training activities. Almost any activity that gets you huffing and puffing qualifies: skiing (both cross-country and downhill), cycling, swimming, in-line skating, ice skating, hiking, climbing, circuit training and aerobic exercise to music are all excellent choices. By taking part in one of these activities in addition to running or walking, you can increase your overall fitness and build strength in general instead of in areas specific only to walking or running. The benefits include resting certain muscle groups while using different ones. Cross training also helps athletes avoid boredom, reduce the risk of injury and the variety can be a psychological boost.

Your body, from your heart to your Achilles tendons, has greatly benefited from following the 13-week walk/run program. But, running can be hard on your body, especially if you were born with some biomechanical imbalances (high arches, for instance, or a misaligned kneecap), or if you have ever been injured.

Participating in other aerobic activities serves many of the same goals as running – producing good cardiovascular fitness in addition to increased strength, endurance and weight control – but shifts the stress around, so that it isn’t all borne by the same parts of the body. With some sports – notably cycling, swimming, in-line skating and cross-country skiing – the musculoskeletal stress is quite low. Thus by cross training, you’ll get stronger, you’ll be fitter and you’ll also give your ankles, knees and hips a break from the pounding action of walking/running.

Run or Walk with others

A great way to maintain your enthusiasm for walking or running, if you haven’t done so already, is to run with a partner or a group. Running or walking with other people not only gives you a social occasion to look forward to but makes you accountable: you are expected to appear. Joining a running group can pay off in many ways. People who join running groups are often as disparate as the creatures gathering around a jungle watering hole, but when it comes to running they are equals sharing a passion for a similar activity.

Walking/running is a great social equalizer: when you’re moving down the road together, nobody cares if you’re a brain surgeon or a janitor, a lawyer or a coffee shop barista. You are a brother or sister in the cause, and just as the people you run or walk with are the impetus for you overcoming your inertia, you help them get going. Sometimes there are other payoffs as well, including social activities apart from walking/running, such as brunches or dinner outings. You never know, you might even meet someone special. (Running groups are not a pick-up scene for singles, but it’s not as though love has never blossomed somewhere between miles 6 and 7). Most community and fitness clubs as well as running stores offer a variety of walking/running groups. 

Make running a time for you

Group walking/running isn’t for everyone. Some people find that being alone is what makes it worth all the effort. People who feel crowded between their work and home lives often resort to running because it’s the only time they have to be alone with themselves. Sport psychologist David Cox believes that exercising after you leave work and before you arrive home at the end of the day could be one of the best things you can do for your sanity.

“The literature suggests that most people who burn out need some kind of decompression between work and home, and exercise can operate as a great buffer between the two. Sometimes a walk or run after work (before you start to interact with your family), can have a positive impact on your home life. It allows you to decompress in a safe way and is a lot healthier than going to a bar or going home and mixing a drink.”

If you want to continue running or walking and also want to continue to improve, try repeating the InTraining program. It is cyclical, and by repeating your current program, or by progressing to the next level, a natural training effect will take place and you will become fitter and feel even better.

Walk10K graduates

If you’d like to stick to walking, you can either repeat the Walk10K program as suggested, or take a break from the change-of-pace intervals and follow this basic maintenance program:

Week 1: Day 1:   30 min. walk      Day 2:   60 min. walk       Day 3:  80 min. walk

Week 2:  Day 1:   20 min. walk      Day 2:   40 min. walk       Day 3:  60 min. walk

If you’d like to LearnToRun, you’re now ready to try the LearnToRun10K program.

LearnToRun10K graduates

You’re ready for the RunFaster10K program, even if you have no inclination to run faster at all! Simply follow the workouts and keep the pace comfortable. The rest will take care of itself.

If you’d rather not do the change-of-pace intervals in the RunFaster Program, follow the basic steady maintenance program outlined below, and jog as you feel. If, at times, you feel like walking, then please do so.

Week 1:  Day 1: 20 min.   Day 2:  40 min.   Day 3:   60 min.

Week 2:  Day 1:  20 min.   Day 2:  30 min.   Day 3:   40 min.

You can choose to do the 13-week Walk/Run Maintenance Program in Appendix D of your “Beginning Runners’ Handbook.”  The program doesn’t start at square one, but it will keep you active, and prepare you once again with a progression to cover 10K. Also, it should solidify all the confidence you gained from your InTraining the first time around.

RunFaster10K graduates

You can repeat this program over and over again, putting as much into it as you like. You will improve by either becoming faster or more efficient and comfortable.

If you have begun to wonder what it might be like to prepare for running longer distances, such as a half- or full-marathon, a 26-week half – or full-marathon training program is available in “Marathon and Half-Marathon – The Beginning Runner’s Handbook,” and is a complete introduction to marathons for beginners.  Copies are available at local running and bookstores.

If you want to take a break from the change-of-pace intervals, you could simply try repeating the following basic maintenance program:

Week 1:   Day 1:  30-40 min.    Day 2:   40-50 min.    Day 3:    60-70 min.

Week 2:   Day 1:  20-30 min.    Day 2:   30-40 min.    Day 3:    40-50 min.    

Note: This article includes excerpts from the revised edition of The Beginning Runner’s Handbook, which is available at your local bookstore. Greystone Publishing, Vancouver BC, 2005.

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