Marathon Lists

6 Mental States You Will Encounter While Training

1 : Clarity

Everything is perfect. Your goals are all out on paper. Your training plan leaves you months of lead time. You have you eyes on the prize, as it goes. You are clear and focused. 

counting the klicks in painful footfalls

2 : Loneliness

Then it hits you fifteen kilometers into a training run or a trial race, plodding along on the open asphalt, counting the klicks in painful footfalls as you canter slowly towards your goal: sometimes you are doing this solo. Sometimes you are very alone on that dusty road.

3 : Hopelessness

There is a punch to the brain-pan that comes unexpectedly one morning. You wake up the day following a big run, sore, achy all over, overwhelmed and broken. The thought of taking one more step is depressing, let alone the thousands more you are destined to run that evening and the millions before you reach your finish.

4 : Affirmation

Poof: the little white angel on your other shoulder appears and reminds you of how far you’ve come and the choices you made. You are re-energized, re-invigorated, and you push a little bit harder knowing that it’s those who sacrifice who win.

You are temporarily invincible…

5 : Narcissism

Your pride tips a little too far. You get cocky and sure. You are temporarily invincible and you judge yourself against others, for better or worse and usually for worse. But who cares? You’re fast and lean and…

6 : Triumph

Everything just fits one day. A fast run. A sure distance. A solid pace. A strong set of legs and no pain. It all clicks together, and you are ready to race. 

6 Types of Runners Who Make it to the Marathon Start Line

We’ve all met, known, loved, adored, hated, loathed, envied, or been each and every one of these folks:

1 : For-A-Good-Causers, laughing, loving, optimistic, asking you for twenty bucks for a true-to-their-heart charity drive, raising money, and just running because it’s the good thing…

2 : Last-Ten-Pound-ians, knowing that every kilometer is another few calories, plodding along, weighing in, running to eat, eating to run, and not knowing that they probably look just fine they way they are…

3 : Before-My-Xth-Birthday-ites, feeling old, feeling young, wanting to accomplish something worth accomplishing before the arbitrary day marking another year on their life ticks over…

4 : Testing-Myself-iers, introspective and longing for a story to wrap around their idea of effort, solo, strong, but uncertain of a trial not yet met…

5 : Live-From-Fitness-villes, pushing, gruelling, the hard-core, elite or epic-wannabes, burning calories and ripping the roads to the bare pavement, to know that they are fit and strong and making us all wonder if it’s a little over the top, or what… 

6 : Try-Anything-Once-lers, seeking, aching, digging through the bubbling excitement of life for the next big challenge, doing, feeling, loving, yearning, wanting to just run, for now, but maybe not for long.

6 Reasons Fatherhood Trains You For Marathon Training

1 : Learning the Fundamentals of Consequence

I think we all innately understand consequence: cause and effect. But I think we tend to understand it in degrees or shades that don’t become completely apparent until we shift our perception to the NEXT degree or to the NEXT shade. 

Consequence is an important part of running. Some people think it’s all about lacing up and hitting the trails, but SUCCESSFUL running is a balance of body, mind, and spirit… of weighing the consequence of choosing one thing over something else. Or, conversely — and more salient to this point — about needing to sacrifice one thing to attain or grow something else, say giving up hours of your life just to get stronger or faster. 

squirmy, noisy, jam-and-dirt-covered packages

Kids are bundles of consequence wrapped in squirmy, noisy, jam-and-dirt-covered packages, reflecting every little decision we’ve ever made back at us like an amplifier of guilt, woe, and anxiety. When we were kids ourselves we learned the very basics of consequence. The folks who are out there writing books and preaching on the various positions of punishment and discipline of children are all hooked, in some way, into the concept of consequence. Cause and effect. Sacrifice and gain.

As parents we get stuck learning about consequence, too, either because we decide we need to be better parents… or because our children force us to be better parents. And those ideas, the notions that every thing we say and do, how we spend nearly every moment of our lives in setting an example or forming a character, has consequence on how our children grow and learn to interact with the world, too. 

That same concept holds true for running and training, as well: everything we eat and every way we move, the choices we make every day as we build towards those goals are — like parenting choices — tiny and incremental, but vital for success.

2 : Unlocking the Secrets of Patience

If you’ve never tried parenting, you may not get that at every turn it is little more than an exercise in patience which holds things together. Nothing is scheduled. Everything is slower… except when it’s not, and then it’s too fast and it tries your patience and pushes it to it’s limits.

Kids are learning machines, soakers-in of knowledge and skills: and one of the quickest lessons a new father can absorb is that nearly everything they do in their job as a father actually has very little to do with “supervision” or “play” but rather has everything to do with learning. Kids learn from us the basic skills, from eating their food and zipping their jackets through to brushing their teeth and reading stories at bedtime. But they also need to learn how to interact with friends, how to share, how to have a conversation with a stranger in a store, how to behave in a restaurant, at the zoo, or while sitting still at a wedding. And they learn many these things by the patience of their mothers and fathers, waiting as they slowly work through trial and error, adding multiples of time to just get out the door in the morning, or whittling away the dinner hour picking over a plate of food.

they slowly work through trial and error

Training is a learning process, too. And as adults we may mistakenly start with the impression that we can buckle down for a few weeks and train ourselves into epic and accomplished athletes. But this idea — if it exists at all — would be quickly crushed by a few group runs. It can take months to build even so much as a moderately strong base just to BEGIN thinking about training or something bigger, let alone being ready for more elite practice. It is a slow, patience-testing process. (I’ve been running for over five years and I’m just now starting my marathon work!)

As a dad I am a teacher and a model for a kid. As a runner I am a student. And both of these are acts of patience and practice.

3 : Losing Your Shame

Running is an ugly process. Sure, we wrap it up in neon sneakers, matching headbands, and oh-so-many be-logoed t-shirts that proclaim our sentiments towards wilful perseverance. But when you get right down to it, it’s mostly about sweat and pain and trying to have something resembling little more than a stilted conversation while on the verge of being completely out of breath. We runners overcome our modesty and shame, and just run on.

In fact if I was to have kept track over the years I would wager that one of the primary excuses many non-runners give for avoiding the sport would all distil down to some kind of shame, and in parallel, the aversion to losing it.

I am being acutely de-shamed… day-by-day

As a dad, shame is in short supply. Personally, I live in a house with a wife, a daughter and a female dog. I am acutely outnumbered. I am being acutely de-shamed, day-by-day, simply by living my life.

I used to wonder at the concept of going to the swimming pool and — you know all about this — when in the changing rooms the old guys who all walk around free and open, shameless. I used to think this was a factor of age, of just getting old and not caring, but I more think about it the more I consider that it is probably more that these guys are just old dads — guys with no more need or ability to feel shame — who’ve long since lost their modesty after living through the day-by-day trials of fatherhood for years and years and years. 

Well, maybe…

Look, I’m not saying motherhood is any better. In fact, mothers probably have it worse. But parenting altogether is an act of getting over those stupid hang-ups, the ideas of thinking too much about what other people are thinking about you and just telling it like it is. Or, better, just ignoring it all-round.

Training gets uglier the further and longer you go. I wrote above that running is ugly. But where a five kilometer race is tough and dirty, a half-marathon has the potential to leave a fit and healthy human being as a wreck of flesh and tears. Marathon training? I once heard that you can’t call yourself a TRUE marathoner until you’ve lost control of your bladder or bowels on a race course. Really? Oh… the shame.

4 : Exchanging Your Pride for Being Proud

Pride is just a different face of the personality dice from shame, of course, and many of the points I made in item number three above hold true for pride as well. But then pride is something else altogether, too.

Where with shame it is all about how we hide the extra folds or the funny waddles or the gurgling gasses that escape unhindered from various places no matter how hard we try, pride is an attitude. We think we’re faster than we are, stronger than we could be, that we can or should be able to out-run, out-pace, or show-up a fellow runner. We put too much stock in our role in a group, or we ask “what the hell was THAT guy thinking?” And we’ve all done it. Admit it.

platitudes of the innate parenting ability of the human spirit

As a new parent, pride was force-fed into us by family, friends, and the world as a kind of coping mechanism, I think. On the one hand we got messages of cautious optimism, but there was no balance to that: We were honoured as creators of a new life, showered with gifts and adoration, bolstered with platitudes of the innate parenting ability of the human spirit, and told that we could (really) do no wrong. 

And then SHE arrived and (actually) nothing we could do was right. Pride was crushed into a crumpled mess of sleep-deprived worry and feelings of parenting-inadequacy that have barely let up even five and a half years later.

Blossoming out of that crushed pile of broken pride, however, was something similar but quite different: being proud of something, of actually having achieved something worthwhile and seeing it there, living, breathing, riding a bike on her own around the park. 

Likewise, the more we run, the more we race, and the more we simply put feets to pavement our attitude of unearned pride is whittled away and replaced by just being proud of having accomplished something with ourselves. 

5 : Understanding the Real Value of Fitness

I’ve often told people that the reason I started running was because I became a dad. It’s a good story, and not untrue, but I’d been running before I was a dad… so there is a bit a of a gaping hole in that story. Truth be told, I got BACK into running because I became a dad and some part of me realized darn quick that fatherhood was going to take a lot of endurance.

I was right.

Training can have two faces. We can train to maintain our fitness, or we can train to improve it. There are many, many days… months… seasons when I’ve trained simply to maintain. Not getting much better, but not getting worse. (At least not usually.) But within twenty-four hours of writing this post (and within hours of it getting published) I’ll be switching modes: I’ll be moving from maintaining a half-marathon level of fitness to boosting up to a full-marathon level of fitness.

at levels of my being I probably don’t yet know exist

It’s going to hurt. It’s going to take so much out of me that I dare not even speculate on the depth of change that is likely to come in the next few months: Deep down I will feel it physically, mentally, emotionally, and at levels of my being I probably don’t yet know exist.

A few days ago we upgraded our daughter’s bicycle. Last summer she outgrew her toddler-sized two-wheeler, the one that came pre-built with training wheels, and her knees started knocking the handlebars. She got herself a purple Norco Daisy, with big-kid wheels and a little bell with a floral pattern on top. It moves like the wind.

After pacing her (me on foot, her on bike) half-way around the park at a full on sprint — partially to take some video but the protective-dad in me also trailing in case a sweep-up was required — I slowed to a jog and the thought occurred to me then and there: so, I guess all this running actually just paid off.

6 : Finding Beauty in the Everyday

I’ll conclude with a final point that is possibly more philosophical than you would expect. Why? Because it was unexpected for me, too.

Many people preach on the idea that running — or any exercise for that matter — is good for your mental well being. I’ve seldom found cause to argue with that logic, and I’m sure if one looked there would be actual, peer-reviewed research to support the claim. But anecdotally there is something more to it as well.

both fatherhood and running have been journeys

Training to run, like fatherhood, is a long game: it’s EASY to put your head down, focus on your feet, and just keep trudging one step at a time, but it’s IMPORTANT to look up and check out where you are and where you’ve been and where you are going, too.

Some people ask me why I blog. Some people ponder why I take photos. I get playful jabs about my interest in videography. And I’ve been told I can get a little bit introspective at times when it comes to my writing or topics of conversation. The thing is that while I may have some innate inclination to be this way, both fatherhood and running have been journeys that have forced me to stop and look up more.

Being a dad is just like this. And running through a fog-sunken river valley on a crisp autumn morning, the still of the air wrapping around you as you are out there and vulnerable and in so many ways completely alone… there is a metaphor there: from fatherhood and back, full circle.

6 Reactions You’ll Get When Announcing Your Marathon Goal

1 : Bewilderment, with a side of cocked eyebrow

You can picture it, right? 

The words spill out of your mouth: “I’ve signed up to run a marathon” you say. And the person you just told stands there, head held slightly askew and mutters a cautious “really?” But you can tell. 

You can see it in their eyes and they way their eyebrow did that nervous little twitch a half-centimeter closer to their hairline. 

“Really? Oh… yeah? Really? I… didn’t know you ran. Are you… uh…”

2 : Doubt, with a helping of injury stats

Of course there are those who’ve heard THAT story before and claim to know the numbers: you know those numbers, too. Not everyone who sets out on this training journey is going to be standing at the start line. 

It’s not something we plan for, but it’s something we hold in our minds as a possiblity, but you say: “I’ve signed up to run a marathon” and a minute later the response is a knowing “well… be careful. People get injured real easy when they run. You could get shin splints and wind up on crutches.” 

Uh… thanks?

3 : Nervous Chuckling, shared like tapas

Myself, I’ve never been good at interpretting people’s variety of laughs. I mean, there are happy laughs, and laughs at well-told jokes, there are laughs that bubble out of people when they are excited and others that tumble out when they are feeling a little awkward. 

“I’ve signed up to run a marathon” you say. And a second later you’re greeted with a grin and a chuckle. 

A nervous chuckle. And it spreads around to anyone else who might be in earshot… as if someone just told a dirty joke and it’s about you… maybe?

4 : Envy, topped with bitter sprinkles

The idea of running a marathon also has a certain air about it that tends to evoke a little of the green monster. 

It’s not a reason to run, to show others up. 

It is just like any other bucket-list accomplishment: it’s a tough goal to reach and those who eventually do should get to brag about it. But utter those words “I’ve signed up to run a marathon” to the wrong person and eyes start to roll, huffs puff, and you either get the silent treatment or the “oh.. aren’t you special” comeback special. 

5 : Admiration, buffet-style until you burst

The flip side of envy is, obviously, the admiration. 

“I’ve signed up to run a marathon” fumbles from your mouth and then you see a shimmer of light glowing on a dark horizon: eyes get wide, grins turn into broad smiles, hands are shaken, backs are patted, and the next thing you know you’re getting kudos for something you haven’t even done yet. 

Your protests of “hey, but I’ve only just signed up” are batted down with platitudes of “the first step is the hardest” or “it’s more than I’ve ever done.” 

6 : Coach-isms, even if you’re stuffed

And you can’t help but love those who take the admiration one step further. 

No, really. 

It’s great and everyone wants to be helpful, of course. “I’ve signed up to run a marathon” you proudly announce to someone… anyone… a fellow runner or even an armchair athlete, and: “hey, I heard about this awesome training program that you should sign up for.” 

It’s appreciated, of course, knowing that others are invested in your success, but I’ll give you the name of “friend of mine who runs, too” may not necessarily fit into your training plans.

Whatever YOUR reaction… we love you all. Thanks for your support.

4 Tricky Things About Running in a Costume

October 26, 2014

This is a post from the seventh edition of my (mostly irregular) Week of Lists where I bring you seven list-type posts, one per day starting on Saturday, October 25th and ending on Halloween, leaping from the darkest corners of your internetz and scaring you into mild confusion. Stay tuned!

There is a (perhaps not so) new trend in modern running: theme runs. Run an obstacle course. Run an adventure course. Run in a funny costume. Run as a character… like Elvis. Run through a theme park. Run in the dark and let people throw glow in the dark paint all over you.

I think it’s great. Anything that encourages more people to get out and get active is awesome. But having all these “spirit runs” means that contrary to good running advice, many people show up in costumes that may or may not be ideal for running.

Being that it is approaching Halloween –and also seeing as I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’m going to wear in the Disneyland Star Wars Half Marathon in January– here are a few pitfalls I’ve noticed that tie into a running costume design…

1. Overheating…

I distinctly remember running down the Las Vegas Strip in November of 2012 and passing by a rather slow moving ostrich. So, no, it wasn’t a real ostrich, of course. But someone had braved the moderate Vegas autumn wearing …how to describe it? …well, an inflatable six-foot plastic suit in the shape of an ostrich. It covered about 60% of his body, and given how much sweat he was producing when I passed him at about 10 klicks into the half marathon, it 100% did not breathe. I assume he survived, if only because I didn’t hear of any darwin-award-type deaths occurring in the race that year, but I can’t imagine he has the same positive memories of that night on the strip that I do.

Your body is a machine and when you run the various bits of you that sweat do so to dissipate excess heat. Wrapping those bits –or worse, wrapping ALL of those bits– in the kind of cheap fabrics that make up most off-the-shelf costumes is asking for trouble.

2. Under-dressing…

The other side of the too hot coin is obviously falling into the too cold trap. But there are bigger issues –I think– with wearing a skimpy costume.

See, some of that fancy running gear has other roles to play in your mad dash to the finish line. If your poor little running body is used to a certain set of gear, say, you need to follow one of those key rules I always tell, tell, and tell again to my clinic students: don’t switch things up on race day. Never switch things up on race day. WEAR something FAMILIAR on race day.

Do you know why that is?

Things chafe. Things ride. Things cause blisters. And that sucks.

So, yeah, you’re in a costume race and you’re not going for a PR…. but that’s no reason to finish with five blisters, bleeding nipples, a set of road-rashed inner thighs, and a sunburn in places where your tender skin has naught before been exposed to the powerful UV of the mighty sun. Is it?

3. Impaired visibility…

Big heavy costumes aren’t always a bad thing. A few years ago a bunch of us ran the local Halloween race, so… y’know… costumes were involved. It turned out to be a really cold run. The snow had chosen race day (a few days prior to Halloween day) to make it’s first appearance of the season. We are seasoned winter runners in this part of the world, making a good third of our year’s training out in the ankle deep chill of snow and ice-layered paths. But there is something about that first run in the snow, no matter how cold the rest of them get, that is tricky.

Race day? Magnify that chill. Race day in a costume? Fold over that impact once more into an even thicker pain in the butt. 

I was following a guy in a big, bulky costume down a trail with a fresh layer of new snow, so new that we were among the first footprints in the white path. His costume had a little too much up top… in that I’d bet he had warm cheeks, but not great views of the winter wonderland scenery through which we were running. And actually, that showed through when he face-planted after tripping on a curb. No harm, no foul, and he got up and kept going… but if you’re going to wear a costume in a race, making sure you can see seems like a priority.

4. Unforeseen Obstacles…

In mid-September, just a few weeks ago actually, a small group of us opted to participate in one of those throw-paint-at-you runs. I’d heard good things about the concept, but this particular installment was a new twist on an idea now a few years old: the neon run.

Readers of this blog may remember that our experience was less than awesome. In fact, it was terrible. The race had stumbled severely in it’s preparations, getting the permit boot just a day or so prior to go-time, and needed to re-route to a last-minute change of course. That wouldn’t have been such a huge deal for a local organizer, but the race crew were from out of town and fell back to the otherwise awesome Google maps for their last-minute course change. Long story short, what the map said was a path, well.. it was, but not a path appropriate for a couple thousand runners in the dark.

And you guessed it. A lot of us were in costume… because, hey, it was a fun race. The sight of a thousand glow-in-the-dark, glowstick-adorned, tutu-wearing runners climbing zombie-apoacalypse-style up the side of a grassy riverbank is a memory I will cherish forever. The takeaway lesson there was simple: if you’re gonna wear a costume to a race, keep in mind that crazy can sometimes happen and you may find yourself in position where the last thing you want is to be wearing a costume. So, have an escape plan. 

So… wear a costume. Just pick one that’s gonna give you a good run, too.

5 Things That Worry Me About Running After 40ish

September 2, 2016

It’s been two years since I wrote a week of lists, but I thought I would start this last four months of 2016 with revisit to that old meme. So, starting on the first, the eighth edition of the Week of Lists begins, called the “Turning 40ish Edition” with deep and engaging topics such as this one…

I started running (seriously) when I was just around 30ish. In that vein, my thirties have been defined by this sport in which I’ve chosen to participate. Through it I’ve changed my whole life: I’m healthier than I was in my twenties, I have a wider circle of friends, I meet people because of running and I make professional contacts because I run and know other random corporate folks who run. It’s been a wild trek through the fast footfalls of this random sport and the wonderful culture that swirls quietly around it.

But almost ten years in… well, I see 40ish approaching on the horizon and while logically I know it’s just a number, an age, a minor intersection on the single-track trails of life, there is this acknowledgement, in my runner’s mind, that sometimes an uncharted trail changes, gets steeper, curves in a way that you weren’t quite expecting… at least not expecting if you don’t take a minute to plan and ponder where those curves might appear.

Such as that…

5. I Can Suddenly Feel Every Joint Every Morning

You’re not getting any younger. None of us are. I go to sleep each night trying to find a position that isn’t going to leave me waking up in the morning with a crick or a cramp in a strange muscle that I didn’t remember existed until I slept on it wrong. I don’t remember doing this ten years ago. I don’t remember waking up just achy from sleeping. I mean, it’s not a chronic ailment… well, unless you classify aging as a chronic ailment that is. I don’t want to alarm you and make you think I need to see a doctor or whatever. I’m just in a 40 year old body that takes a licking through a desk-sit job all day and a stupidly optimistic marathon training program at night. I need to cross-train more, but I wake up at five thirty to do that and it still takes me thirty minutes just to feel normal. *grumble, grumble, old man comments* People keep telling me that you know you’re 40(ish) because your hearing, eyesight, taste, and all those fun thing start to decay, suddenly and aggressively. I don’t know if that’s true, I guess I’ll find out… but if my creaky morning joints are any indication it doesn’t bode well from here on in. 

4. I Take Longer to Mend

I was sick this past winter. I had this deep cough that hung into my lungs for a solid two months. Maybe it lingered so long because I tried to run through it… not push through it like a wall, but just keep up the base fitness level in between fits of coughing and terrible sleepless nights. Two months. Two. Frigging. Months. Sick, it seems, used to mean a bad weekend or a half a box of decongestant before you rejoined the land of the living. Yet as 40ish approaches my body seems to have taken a more casual approach to immunity: I not only went through more than one box of decongestant, I actually became a decongestant connoisseur, a virtual expert on the various brands and blends, and their effects on my mind and body. And then, of course, climbing back out of that training deficit was a pain in the ass.

3. Missing Work Costs Just More When You’re Older

And I’m not even just talking about money here. My jobs have always tended to be a me-and-the-trees kinda situation, but when I was younger my work was usually a little more patient. With age comes responsibility… maybe. Or maybe you’re someone plugging away at a small business. No one steps up and steps into backfill the kind of job many professional 40ish-ers have. No one steps in to do your work when you take a week off, either to go to Disneyland or ice your Achilles tendon because you can’t put any weight on it since running stairs the other morning, no matter how much fun that was. Realistically there are simply just fewer people who can (or will) do you job when you are sidelined. So… to points 4 and 5 above, it’s no longer just a week of binge watching on Netflix: it’s the associated worry that comes with a work vacancy due to a hobby. Explain that to the project manager who wants to know where their status update stands.

2. The Field Gets Increasingly Serious

One of the neatest guys I run with is this older dude who shows up on Sunday mornings and then shows us up on Sunday mornings. He’s told us his age a few times and I should know, but let’s say, easily, conservatively, 70-something. He jokes that when he races he always places in his age category: usually first… and simultaneously last. Only. I asked him how he ran in his prime. In his 40s he was running 2:30ish marathons. Which is hard core, if you don’t know marathons: not Olympic speeds, but enough to place in something like the Edmonton Marathon today. I run with a lot of people in their 30s and 40s. A bunch of people in that 50ish range. A couple people who are 60ish who can clean the floor with me. One guy who is 70ish who runs circles around us. The field gets narrower and stronger. And not that I’m looking to place, but unless I’m some magical outlier to this trend, I either need to get faster… or age is going to kick me to the curb sooner than I realize.

1. Life Seems Busier

Ultimately I know it all comes down to priorities. Setting them. Keeping them. Putting time into yourself and being a little selfish about a handful of hobbies that keep you from becoming a burned out wreck of a human being who is unbearable to be around. But 40ish hits in stride and (it being September this is acutely obvious) life gets jam packed with a rigid schedule of kid, work, activities, family obligations, and commitments. We need to shop for renovation stuff at the moment. Next week I need to spend a couple hours getting a the annual maintenance done on the truck. The lawn needs mowed. The garden needs tending. I have evening events planned on Saturday, Sunday, and Thursday. Kid needs to be here. Wife needs to be there. So-and-so wants to do dinner. This weekend is packed and the next three have tentative plans that involve travel and eating and sitting around not actually training for that race I’m supposed to run. Deep breath. So, yeah… priorities. Planning. And being a little selfish seem like the words of the next decade.

*sigh* 

40… we’ll work it out, I know. 

6 Ways to Gamify Your Marathon Training

1 : Have a Winnable End-Game

Again, this is a modified version of the list linked above. But I think the points were valid for my purposes in this post, too. The first rule seems smart: make sure the game is winnable. No one likes to play a game they cannot win. Progress in gamification (at least in my experience) comes from the idea that (a) you are working towards a goal and that (b) the goal is completely reachable if you take your turns and follow the rules.

As it works out, I gamified my half-marathon training last summer and am intending on doing the same this summer with my marathon goals. My game (called “Hackable Me“) was scoped from the notion that I was going to cross that start line — that I COULD cross that start line — if I followed the rules and beat the game.

2 : Limit the Abstract, Ground Motivation in Reality

You’re probably sitting there thinking that all this seems a little abstract, eh? Turn my running into a game. Or you’re rolling your eyes at the idea of keeping score with points, maybe? And hey, I heard about some app that does that and gives you fake little trophies on Facebook if you… blah, blah, blah.

The abstract components of work = reward probably cannot be completely divorced from the idea of gamification. But it can be grounded in reality. Again, when I did my Hackable Me game, points were earned or lost on real things. Real effort or failure. A point was a kilometer of running. But a point was also a measurable quantity of food. And the reality was that there was a connection between throwing points away on snacks or junk food and the kilometers I knew I’d need to run to earn those points back.

3 : Make it Emotional Too, Not Just Rational

It’s funny to think about but gaming really is a kind of bridging of a rational act with an emotional action. Gaming is fun that requires focused effort. Gaming is play with thought stirred into the mix.

Gamifying a training effort is sort of the same way and needs to keep rooted in both a philosophy of fun and rationality — but the fun part is actually more difficult to achieve. You’ll see some of the apps out there that do this kind of tracking for you attempt this with cartoon-ified profiles or Facebook-like social engagement between players. And like I wrote above: it’s not easy to do… or do right, at least.

4 : Create Payoff that Gets Bigger with Real Progress

This, of course, comes down to your scoring and your results. Grounding the game in reality (as in point #2) is important as you’re playing, but it’s also important as far as payoff goes, as well. 

You game needs to be winnable, yeah, but what do you WIN? Honour and glory? Bragging rights? Or are you getting a little treat at the end? Does a great week and a set number of points win you an ice cream on Saturday afternoon? Or is it that you can cash in your points on a little splurging and spending towards a new pair of headphones in the summer?

5 : Build it Fun & Keep it Light

But at the end of it all, it needs to be light and easy and fun. If you are doing complex maths or logging heaps of finicky data just to play your game I can almost assure you that you’ll turn the game into as much of a chore as the fitness.

Games should be light. It’s not science. It’s not mission critical data-logging, here. It’s just a kind of play and motivation mixed together. Forget tracking every single calorie you consume and just be honest and give yourself a daily score, instead. Don’t log every calorie you burn doing exercise, but rather track your big efforts, estimating distances or achievements, and log that as a simple number. Complexity will kill your motivation faster than a snowstorm in June.

6 : Use Existing Tools

As much as I’ve ranted on and on above about devising scoring systems and building payoffs, et cetera, or even about my little Hackable Me project (which worked for my purposes by the way, but I don’t give any guarantees) given the opportunity for a do-over, I’d find an existing tool to replace every one of those efforts every time.

Here in 2013 there are stacks of great existing websites and phone apps that will do this gamification stuff for you (I’m on Fitocracy, myself, right now.) Rolling your own application or scoring system or even just trying to construct a website or spreadsheet to track all this is probably not worth the time: you could be training instead. Probably… of course, you might do that eventually… but definitely don’t START that way.

It’s just a game, after all.

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