Runner’s High: For a new year of sprints, it’s back to basics

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Our good springy boy. // Courtesy Elliott Lee Scott

Ah, the season of unrealistic goals and performative self-loathing. As I skim through my social media feed, where seemingly everyone already has a beach body, it’s easy to succumb to daydreams of six-pack abs and other aesthetic aspirations.

Luckily for me, I’ve crashed and burned through enough New Year’s resolutions for that siren’s song to sound slightly less alluring.

Over the past decade, after an embarrassing amount of failed juice cleanses, my perspective on wellness shifted substantially. Gone are the days of insane calorie deficits, brutal workouts, and supplements filled with obscure, useless botanicals. Instead, I spend January resetting and reflecting, taking the time to rebuild basic and essential habits.

Those have included things like foam rolling, drinking more water, sleeping at least eight hours, and meditating a few minutes before bed. Some routines have become permanent, while others are temporary and specific to my training cycle.

This year my focus is dietary, but in a way that allows me to ease into healthier eating practices. Each week of this month I’ll focus on a new habit, building on the previous ones until I’ve acclimated to all four.

For 2022, I began with booze. As much as I love a glass (or two) of red wine for a relaxing evening, there’s no denying alcohol’s effect on my motivation and productivity. With a February ultramarathon uncomfortably close, I need every scrap of willpower to brave the bitter cold of a Kansas City winter. Although this isn’t a permanent change, it’s amazing to see the small differences sobriety brings, including much better sleep.

The second week of January I eliminated sweets and dessert, a much more difficult adjustment than abstaining from alcohol if I’m being perfectly honest.

Next, the emphasis will be on replacing junk food with whole vegetables and lean protein. Finally, the last week will be dedicated to limiting portion size in line with a macro diet.

Before making any lifestyle change, it’s important to identify what’s motivating the shift in behavior. While all my habits are centered around nutrition, they are not—and I cannot emphasize this enough—about losing weight. The pounds gained over the past couple of months aren’t the enemy. Rather, these new routines are intended to help me feel empowered and prepared to tackle my training. 

Wellness is often conflated with physical attractiveness and size, a trend exacerbated by social media influencers. To be clear, I’ve felt depressed at my lightest and content at my heaviest. But overall, I’m happiest when eating nutritious foods and regularly exercising. And sleeping! (Seriously, I don’t know how people go without sleep.)

Whatever your health and wellness goals are for the coming year, start small. Be kind to yourself and forgive mistakes, because improvement is not all or nothing.

By building a foundation of easy, beneficial routines you’re enriching your daily life. If taking on any additional challenges sounds like too much, that’s alright. Perhaps the most valuable lesson I’ve learned from marathons is this: We’re all running different, unique races, so ignore the “noise” and show yourself some love.

Categories: Sports