Updated: Dec 14, 2022
Are you staring at your computer all day? Perhaps in a customer contact center or in a home or company office? Never ending Zoom meetings? Do you daydream about spending more time working on being healthier and happier? If so, you are not alone.
A 2021 report from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that only 53.3% of adults over the age of 18 meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for aerobic physical activity. Throw in both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity and that number drops to a paltry 23.2%. Being a “desk potato” is bad for your health and work productivity!
According to LIVESTRONG, exercise can improve your alertness by increasing blood flow to your brain. It also triggers the release of a protein called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) which boosts your cognitive abilities. All of this improves your ability to work more productively. So, exercise is an answer to being happier, healthier, and more productive at work.
For many of us exercise is hard, and it takes time we often feel we don’t have. Exercise can be expensive with the cost of a health club membership, equipment, and clothing. If you travel for business, exercise can be difficult to work into your day. Early morning is the optimal time, but you are competing for a limited variety and number of cardio and resistance exercise equipment in a small hotel “fitness center”. Everyone else has the same idea as you and the place is full by 6 AM!
So, what’s a desk potato to do? Start running! That’s right, running. No gym or equipment is required other than the right clothes and shoes, which you can pack in your travel bag and take anywhere.
Not fun you say? Wasn’t running used as punishment for not performing to the level that “Coach” wanted you to? I remember a great saying on a tee shirt worn by my son’s and daughter’s cross-country teams. “Our sport is the other sport’s punishment”. Yet the cross-country and track teams had some of the nicest, most academically accomplished students. Why? Because running is hard! It takes willpower. It takes grit. It teaches you to deal with adversity. It tests what you perceive to be your physical and mental limits, only to discover that there is more to you than you ever realized.
I have been running for 40 years. I have run 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons, 20Ks, marathons, ultra marathons (50K, 50 mile, 100K, 100 mile) road races, trail races, desert races, mountain races and even a 50-mile treadmill ultra marathon in my basement to raise money for Feeding America. When I’m not training or racing, I’m running for the sheer joy of it.
“Our sport is the other sport’s punishment”
I was a desk potato once. Running changed my life. I went from being a desk potato to being healthier, happier, and more productive. Perhaps you’ve heard of the “freshman 15”? Those 15 extra pounds you put on during your first semester in college. Well, I experienced the office 20. Twenty extra pounds I put on after I started my first desk job a millennium ago. Bagels, muffins or donuts most mornings. Fat sandwiches and fries, or all you can eat cheap buffets for lunch. Fast food or grocery store prepared meals for dinner. Exercise? No time for that, except for walking up three flights of stairs to my apartment every day.
Then one day in 1982 I went to a party in Worcester, Massachusetts and met up with a former college dorm floor-mate, Al. In college Al was a chain smoker, very overweight and always stressed out. I almost didn’t recognize him. He was lean, relaxed and had quit smoking. He told me he had started running. Running and quitting smoking had changed everything for Al. He lost weight, was a lot less stressed, more confident and seemed to enjoy life a lot more!
Reconnecting with Al got me thinking. I wasn’t happy about being overweight and out of shape, but running? I had tried this before and quit after only a week. I liked the idea of exercising outdoors, but I hated running! My mind kept going back to Al, so I decided to give it another try. I put on a tee shirt and shorts, laced up the only pair of sneakers I owned (think Converse) and ran out the door.
At that time I lived in Amesbury, Massachusetts in an apartment building located in the hilliest part of town. I ran in the morning before work. Running even a mile was a struggle, but I kept at it for about 6 weeks until one morning I was ready to quit…again. After running not quite 2 miles, I stopped for a rest, leaning against a telephone pole. "No more running", I thought. That was until I looked up and saw a sign posted on the pole. It advertised the Lions Club’s annual 5-mile road race. Race day was about 4 weeks away. I thought it might be fun to run in a race. My goal became to run this race and finish it without walking. To accomplish this goal, I had to double my running distance in 4 weeks!
It is amazing what you can do when you have a goal. Race day came and I finished 5 miles without walking, albeit toward the back of the pack. I wore that race tee shirt proudly for months! I started looking for the next race to run…and the race after that. It was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with running and racing.
"Running is a journey in every sense of the word, physically, emotionally, and spiritually"
My Dad was a long distance runner in the 1970s. He had a dream to run the Boston Marathon, but after a serious motorcycle accident in 1979 he was unable to realize his dream. He continued to run, but not at the same level that he had been. I was inspired by his grit, determination, and love for running. My son is a runner and just completed his second marathon. Three generations of long distance runners!
Running changed my life in so many ways and at so many levels. It unchained me. It helped me to see the possibilities that a life well lived has to offer. Running is a journey in every sense of the word, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Some say that I’m addicted to running and to getting that mysterious “runner’s high”. Not so much. Running is my passion and my companion that has been with me through the happiest and most challenging times of my life. A reliable friend, always there for me to lean on and to celebrate with.
So, how do you become a runner in 4 simple steps? Think of it as a pyramid comprised of:
Before you start a running program, you should first consult with your doctor.
This is the first and most important step in starting a running program. Consistency establishes a routine. It instills discipline. It starts a mindset that running is now a regular part of the week. It doesn’t matter how far you run or how fast (although I recommend shorter and slower). The only thing that matters is that you do it. Pick 3 days each week that you are going to run. Try to run at the same time if your schedule allows. This is your time to do something for yourself that will make you healthier, happier, and more productive. Over time running will become a regular part of your week, something you look forward to, and something your body will get used to doing. Yes, it will hurt at first and likely for a while. This is the start of building fitness. Keep a running log and make entries about the specifics of each run. Entries should include date, time running, run distance, pace, course details, temperature, and weather conditions. Do not progress to step 2, "mileage", until you have a steady running routine established.
The second step is to set weekly mileage goals. By now you should be running at least 3 days per week. Don’t be aggressive during this step! Too many miles to start off with could lead to injuries. If you are running 10 miles per week on average, then set that as your mileage base to track and increase from when you are ready. You can increase your weekly mileage by adding running days to your week or by increasing the mileage of your daily run. The maximum weekly mileage increase should be no more than 10% of the miles you are currently running each week. By sticking to your weekly mileage commitments you will be building your running base. Adhering to the 10% rule you will be amazed how much further and longer you are running over a period of weeks and months!
The third step is to build strength. The best way to do this is to run hills. Lots of hills. This is where I might lose some potential running converts! Running is hard enough you’re thinking, never mind running up hills. Running hills will make you a more powerful runner and mentally tougher. Running hills makes your muscles stronger and improves your VO2max. VO2max is your oxygen uptake or how much oxygen your body absorbs and uses while working out. V is for volume, O2 is for oxygen and max is for maximum. It will also increase your confidence when you are running a race. What’s not to like? There is nothing more satisfying than passing runners going up a hill in a race! You have a physical and a mental edge over your competitors. Let’s face it, not all of us live in flat areas, so hills are a regular part of the running experience for many. Learn to enjoy and benefit from them!
The last step of the pyramid is speed. This step has only one practical application, racing. If your goal is to get fit by running and nothing more, great! However, if one of your goals is to run races with the idea of improving your performance time and being competitive, then speed work is for you!
Increasing your VO2max and lactate threshold (the rate at which your muscles can sustain aerobic energy production) is vital to increasing your speed. The average runner’s lactate threshold happens at about 75 to 80 percent of their VO2max. When you move, your body creates and consumes lactate, which builds up in your blood and your muscles. If your body creates more lactate than it can consume, the ability of your muscles to contract is reduced. When this happens, you can’t produce energy as quickly and you slow down. Speed work (tempo runs, fartleks and intervals) is a great way to improve your VO2max and lactate threshold and by default run faster. Speed work is also painful! Any time you are pushing up against your VO2max and lactate threshold, pain is to be expected. How you process this pain is crucial to how well you perform on race day.
I’m sure you’ve heard all the pithy sayings, “no pain, no gain”, “pain is weakness leaving the body”, and my favorite, “feeling no pain”. If you are “feeling no pain”, you’re not trying hard enough! Putting your body through dress rehearsals of the type of pain you will feel during a race not only increases your fitness and speed, but your mind also becomes familiar with the pain and is able to cope with it better.
Running is just one exercise path to achieving a happier, healthier, and more productive life. The important thing is to pick an exercise regimen that you will enjoy and start doing it. You don’t have to be a desk potato!
“Running is kind of like a coffee. The first time you drink it you might not like it. It’s bitter and leaves a bad taste in your mouth, but you kind of like the way it makes you feel. However, after a few times, it starts to taste better and then all of a sudden you’re hooked and it’s the new best part of waking up.”
- Amy Hastings Cragg
Team USA Marathon Team in the 2016 Olympics
To learn more about how to deliver exceptional customer service experiences that drive customer satisfaction, loyalty, revenue and profit, please visit Bass Harbor Group’s website at www.bassharborgroup.com.
Patrick Sandefur is the Founder and Managing Director of Bass Harbor Group / Customer Experience Solutions. His 30+ year career in Customer Service, Sales, Marketing, Product Management and Business Development has given him a unique perspective of what customers want and expect when interacting with a brand.
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