Happy New Year 2021, everyone.
I’ve spent the last month mostly thinking about what I want to focus on consistently doing in 2021. Unlike most, I didn’t run myself into the ground with excessive workouts in 2020, instead taking the time to reflect on where I was at and where I need to be going in 2021.
Living with my family is the first time I’ve been able to clearly evaluate where I’m at and where I need to work toward, while not simultaneously scrambling to maintain my existence while living on my own. Coronavirus aside, it ended up being a good decision to move back from Chicago in 2019. I was treading water financially and that situation probably was not going to get better had I stayed, let alone after Chicago’s mostly draconian approach to lockdowns let alone all the violence that erupted during last summer.
In 2020, I took a lot of extended time off from working out. I did train during extensive periods in 2020, but with no goal races to eventually run, I had the freedom to just break it off once I needed a break. Unless I decided to never run races again (hint: highly unlikely), I probably will never again get a period in life like this, with the total freedom to not worry so much about maintaining peak conditioning. Being over forty, I’m not in a condition to train that hard all the time and not see ill effects.
Over the last month, I’ve thought about how I want to handle training in 2021. I don’t expect races to fully return before late 2021, and realize this situation could continue into that winter and push everything back into spring 2022. I don’t plan to run Vancouver before 2022 (and thankfully they’re allowing 2020-deferrances to register at a steep discount for any marathon through 2023).
I was considering another marathon in May, but now it looks like most if not all big races in early 2021 will be wiped out. I’m willing to risk being wrong about that while training on my own terms.
If 2020 was about recovery from the continuous stress and demands of the previous several years, then 2021 for me will be about building the person that can excel at the ambitions I will have for 2022 and beyond.
The following are not necessarily New Year’s Resolutions, as I’ve already been working on them to some extent in late 2020, and I’m mostly just initiating them now because after the recent conclusion of my last work project (plus most of the rest of the world being idle at this time) I’ve got suitable free time for now to be a good time to start. I could have started this in March or June.
At least 20 minutes of exercise every day
While the days off helped my body decompress from years of hard training, from the stressors of life, and gave me the space to help get out-of-order priorities back in order, I now need to restore the beneficial portion of that peak performance training. I want to make sure I get more exercise every day than just a walk.
Whatever training or exercise I do every day need not be demanding or serious training. it just needs to be more substantial than just walking or fooling around at the gym. It can be swolework, it can be a run, if I find myself with a cross training apparatus of any kind it can be that. It can even be sports like basketball or anything similar (though it’s got to be more like a drill or set of drills than just randomly shooting hoops).
This goes back to what Mark Sisson preaches in Primal Endurance, and while I’m not in a position to totally buy in on the Primal lifestyle (sorry Mark, it’s just way too complicated personally for me to give up rice right now), many of Sisson’s principles are worth practicing (e.g. eating lots of whole food protein and fresh vegetables; that’s certainly not complicated!), such as finding those opportunities in everyday life to get outside, get some exercise and be active.
Regardless of how sore or tired I am, there is always something I can bring myself to do for 20 or more minutes. For example, even right now as I type, I am sore in my hip flexor complex and my hamstrings from a home bodyweight and dumbbell workout I performed yesterday (and more on how I’m making this work shortly). A run might be too much to ask, and if so, much of my upper body isn’t sore. So I could probably do a full upper body workout at some point today, while giving my lower body some extra recovery time (and maybe a walk for circulation) before tomorrow.
Speaking of walks…
One Mile Minimum, every day, some way, some how
If I can go for a run, then hitting this benchmark is really easy. A 20 minute run is going to cover far more than a mile.
For the days where I don’t run, I just need to get outside and walk, preferably in some sunlight for Vitamin D exposure (and for safety: my neighborhood isn’t exactly the South Bronx or anything but I’d rather not go walking idly at night). A 20 minute walk will cover about a mile, and my neighborhood easily allows for that.
This not only passively develops mitochondria and positive hormonal release for my relevant running muscles, but also helps circulate blood through my body and spur along whatever recovery I might need from prior workouts.
I’ve always worked to eat well, eat healthy, without worrying so much about being perfect. But this is one year where I do want to clean it totally up and see how far I can take eating clean within my current situation.
While I log everyday food choices in MyFitnessPal, they don’t do much to provide a micronutrient breakdown of essential vitamins. I do take supplements but I want to improve how much of those vitamins come from my actual diet.
I’ve used Sparkpeople to get a handle on vitamin totals, as to date it’s the only nutrition tracker that can provide solid information on daily vitamin intake. I can get more into this later, but I have found (as is probably the case for almost everyone) that my daily diet is woefully lacking in a lot of key vitamins. More in a bit on how I remedied this.
My family cooks or orders dinner every night and I don’t have control over what they prepare. usually, what they prepare is acceptable though it’s infrequently ideal. I did get them to ditch canola and vegetable oil for avocado and olive oil in cooking and that’s been an improvement. But there’s still a lot of pork and corned beef and the occasional takeout from Popeye’s or Chicken Shack. I won’t complain about getting the latter for dinner, but it’s still fried in those aforementioned bad oils.
All of that said, while they have control of that one meal, I have control over all the others prior to it. Between that, and my family sometimes cooking healthy items (e.g. they baked chicken last night, and that’s obviously a-okay… plus, they do often steam vegetables, or potatoes in lieu of white rice, or add some sliced avocado, etc)… I can probably get adherence to a clean diet to around 80% or so. Plus, I do like the healthy food choices I make on my end, and adherence to that is only a matter of not getting lazy and settling for takeout.
I don’t expect to 100% stick to this, but I want to see if I can entirely avoid getting any takeout food in 2021. Sorry, local restaurants! I may have basically, single handedly kept the Fausto’s Mexican Grill near my home in buinsess during much of 2020. As much as I love their food, my goal will be to totally avoid visiting them in 2021. (They are doing better business now in the current lockdown climate, so I think they’re going to be okay)
Much of December 2020 was experimenting with everyday positive food choices, to see what I could comfortably stick to. Using Sparkpeople, I tinkered with different choices to see if I could get at least 100% of the RDA for several key nutrients, mostly Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Magnesium, Calcium, Potassium, Zinc. Other key nutrients are easy to hit (e.g. many men struggle to get enough B Complex vitamins and Iron, but I certainly don’t), but these are always a challenge.
I’ve found personally that:
- I actually need to eat more meat. Along with needing the extra protein when working out, meat has several key nutrients like zinc and potassium.
- Currently I usually don’t eat breakfast in the morning, intermittent fasting instead. But if I’m going to work out everyday, I probably should, and I certainly have the appetite for breakfast. And meat baked early in the morning before my family awakes (I get up around 5am) is the easiest way to do it. Chicken is probably the easiest meat for this situation. Fish works too, but as I’ll mention in a bit I already build fish into one other meal and that might be too much. Plus the macro composition of chicken and its Vitamin K2 content makes it a better fit for my daily goals.
- My occasional habit of snacking on almonds (I used to have trouble digesting them, and now I don’t) needs to become a regular everyday habit, not just for the magnesium content but because they’re one of the few rich sources of Vitamin E.
- I don’t eat vegetables regularly, and I can make sure that comes to a halt. Whether or not my family prepares any for dinner, I have total control over lunch and can include carrots or spinach without a problem.
- My workday lunch meal of 2-3 cups brown rice and a can of wild caught tuna should be an everyday habit rather than just a workweek habit. I found I slept better during the workweek, and the brown rice’s relative truckload of magnesium is probably why (you can get more than half of your RDA from 2-3 cups of brown rice alone). Even if I didn’t want to eat tuna or sardines, I could prepare some other meat instead. But the canned fish makes it a lot easier, since I only need to set a rice cooker and wait for it to finish.
- Also, that meal is a good place to add the spinach or carrots, maybe even some garlic.
- (The arsenic and mercury concerns with the above are mostly overblown these days. 10-20 years ago they would have been more valid concerns.)
- Most workdays I had a midday snack of 1-2 bananas and a couple of clementine oranges. This adds a lot of potassium, fiber, (obv) vitamin C and an underrated amount of vitamins A, E, and others. So, like the fish/rice lunch, I should make that an everyday plan.
Between all of this, Sparkpeople indicated I would get nearly all my needed vitamins between these daily choices and the average result of whatever my family cooked or brought in for dinner. The very end of 2021 was basically a trial run for this approach, and so far I’m feeling pretty good plus it’s not too hard to do.
Active Everyday Learning
I always dabble in learning about subjects I like, working on my language skills through Duolingo (I work mostly on Spanish with a little bit of German, French, Dutch, Chinese here and there), obviously the work I did this year for my CPT and running coach certifications, etc. Now I want to make learning a more conscious daily routine.
I already make sure to hit Duolingo everyday (my current streak is 228 days, with maybe a handful of freezes employed during that day, and that was after losing multiple 20-50 day streaks to memory). Usually, it’s before bed, and it’s just a quick refresher on a prior lesson or 2-3 to keep the streak going and avoid a standings relegation.
I want to combine another approach to make sure I get more conscious practice: The Pomodoro Technique. You set a timer for 25 minutes and focus on getting as much done as you can in that time, before a 5 minute break. So if I do one 25 minute block of Duolingo every day, I can actually make progress on lessons instead of just refreshing ones I had done long ago.
And maybe I can get promoted past the Pearl League!
Along with that, I still have other learning ambitions. I have another CPT cert I still need to test for before mid-March, so to start the year I’ll certainly be working on that. I also am studying for a Certified Nutritionist cert (and am learning a lot of nuts and bolts about human biology in the process), and that will require work to start this year as well.
And I’m also still learning a lot across the board everyday, from my old books on running and fitness and other topics… from the internet on various topics, etc. I plan to focus this a lot more and use an old approach my college English professor John Webster taught us long ago. You read and learn, and then you write a short piece about what you learned. (In fact, this is how I produce a lot of the material on this site)
So, everyday, I want to produce Three Things: A brief breakdown of things I learned or improved my knowledge upon, that can be of use to other people. For the most part, this will center on health and fitness concerns, though you may see some other random topics. It comes down to whether others may be able to use that information.
I have some other bigger plans unrelated to the above items, but those will be fleshed out and spelled out in time as they become relevant.
Again, I don’t plan on running any races in 2021. And I realize the topics I may need to help people with will probably go beyond running, as it’s likely many of you won’t be running any races either. But your fitness, your health, your lifestyle, and wanting to improve yourselves will always remain a relevant topic.
So look for more info out of this space in 2021, as I get to work on what I hope is a productive new year.