Sam S. is 61 years old and lives in Atlanta, Georgia. His main forms of
exercise are running and using exercise machines at the local health club.
In the interview below, he answers questions about how he finds the motivation
to stay active.
First, can you describe your typical
I run 10 miles three times a week. Each of those runs takes about 90 minutes.
On alternating days, I work out at the local health club -- I try to work
every muscle in my body, going from one weight machine to the next. I'm just
trying to stay toned and stretched; I'm not trying to bulk up. After the weight
machines, I spend about 20 minutes on an elliptical machine. The elliptical
gives me a workout like running without the impact of running, which is why
I do it every other day. I stay at the health club for about an hour, sometimes
a little more.
One day a week I rest.
When did you begin to exercise
I was in track during high school. I knew that I felt better when running,
so I started recreational running in 1964 to stay in shape, after I got out
of the Navy. I suppose I have exercised off and on for most of my life.
However, I've been on my current exercise plan for about 6 years. I consider
what I do now "smart running." I used to run 6 - 7 days a week, and that's
not the best way to exercise. Running every day puts too much wear and tear
on your joints, and the older you get, the more important it is that you don't
do that. Furthermore, I learned that you actually train more competitively
if you only run every other day.
Did you have any periods where
you stopped exercising?
There were periods when I didn't run very often because I traveled a lot in
my job. Once I stopped exercising, it was always very hard to get back into
it. You get into doldrums where you just don't feel like getting into exercising
again. That's one of the reasons I don't ever stop now -- I know how hard it
is to get going again. An exercise program is as much mental as it is physical.
Physically, I've never had any trouble getting back into it.
I was always able to start exercising again because of the challenge it presents
-- I always wanted to prove to myself I could do it. I have a strong sense
of competition and I run a lot of local races. In fact, I started running marathons
for that very reason -- to see if I could do it.
If exercise were just physical, I think most people would do it. It's the
mental aspect that is the hard part. You need to find your motivation. Dr Sheehan,
who was big in the running community, said something like, "It's not a miracle
that I finished a marathon, it's a miracle I started it."
Just like me, though, I think anyone can get into exercising if they commit
to it. It's not a matter of wanting to exercise -- it's a matter of doing it.
There's no getting around that.
What motivates you to do it? What
keeps you going?
Exercise makes me feel good. I feel tremendous accomplishment when I prove
to myself I can meet speed or distance goals. If you want to prove you can
succeed at something, which most men and women probably have the urge to do,
then you have to find a challenge. Running is a great way to push yourself
and explore your limits. You realize that the first time you run a race.
Also, I know how hard it is to get going again if I ever stop. Momentum, once
you have it, is fairly easy to maintain. That's good for anyone starting out
to know -- that once you get past the beginning and form exercise as a habit,
it's pretty easy.
What supports you?
When you are running the race, you can usually find someone running a little
faster than you, and it helps pace you and push you. In a way, the others in
the race pull you along -- it is the sheer energy of it. And you get a little
thrill passing someone you've been trying to catch up to.
A running partner helps a lot, and on long runs, it's a necessity. At least
for me. Again, it's the mental part that is hard, because there is no physical
difference between running by yourself and running with someone. Along the
same lines, running is a hobby that you can enjoy with people.
When you just don't feel like exercising,
how do you get past that feeling?
I do all my exercising first thing in the morning, and I never feel like getting
out of bed at 5:30 in the morning. But once my feet are on the floor, I'm good
to go. The reason I can get out of bed is because it's simply a habit now,
as strong as brushing my teeth or anything else. Once it's a habit, that's
when you've got it made. If you lay there too long, you'll just talk yourself
out of it. No matter what your exercise plan is, if you lay around thinking
about it, you'll talk yourself out of it. So I just wake up and do it, and
within a matter of seconds -- once I'm moving -- it's no problem.
How do you fit regular exercise
into your schedule?
By doing it first thing, early in the morning. That's the only way I can fit
it into my own personal schedule. Everyone is different, I'm sure.
If it rains or your schedule is
disrupted, do you have any backup plans?
If it's raining, I go to the health club and run on the treadmill. Of course,
I am human, and sometimes I turn over and go back to sleep, but I try not to
do that often. If I have a race coming up, I guarantee I'll get out of bed
and go do it. Races are good for motivation because they set a definite goal
and a date that goal has to be reached.
I should point out that most people who run races are pretty average people
who do it for the fun and to stay in shape. I don't want to convey that you
have to be really competitive to enjoy races. There are hundreds of small,
local races all over the country all year round. The crowds always cheer everyone
on, even the people at the end. For most people, winning doesn't mean coming
in first, it means getting off the sofa and training for the race in the first
place. The mood created at a race is a spirit of fitness, not coming in first.
Most of the people who go to races are just trying to beat their own personal
How do you reward yourself for
achieving your fitness goals?
After 20 miles, I reward myself by sitting down. No seriously, the reward
is just the physical and mental pleasure I get, the way I feel very peaceful,
calmer, able to face the rigors of the day much, much easier. When I get out
of bed and go straight to work, my day is a lot rougher. I am much happier
when I am exercising and training for races than when I'm not. I feel better
physically. It's a very positive addiction, if you will.
It's also the sense of accomplishment. I certainly don't run 20 miles for
the T-shirt, but those T-shirts are nice to collect and they do symbolize your
dedication to exercise.
You feel really pumped that last half mile when everyone is on the sidelines
cheering. Especially in a marathon, when you are almost done and the crowd
is cheering, no matter who you are or how well you're doing. When you're by
yourself on the road and everyone is encouraging you on -- well, you almost
think you're doing something! It's your 15 minutes of fame. People who go watch
races are always extremely supportive. It's not about winning so much as being
out there doing it.
What tips or advice do you have
Keep pushing yourself to exercise until it becomes as natural as brushing
your teeth. Then it becomes something you simply do every day, not something
you do if you have time. That's why I do it in the morning, because schedule
conflicts are less likely to come up. Wanting to do it is not enough; you have
to make yourself do it.
The best thing you can keep in mind in running is to know when enough is enough,
when to rest, when to stop training. If you have doubts, you have probably
Don't try to do too much as a beginner and hurt yourself or burn out. Finally,
liberal use of stretching after you exercise.
Review Date: 3/12/2007
Reviewed By: Benjamin W. Van Voorhees, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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