Addicted to Progress

Yesterday on Facebook, plant-powered athlete/author Rich Roll asked:

What are your best thoughts & ideas on how to set and achieve a goal? Curious about new ideas for a new project I am working on. Let me know what has and hasn’t worked for you.

Eerily, I was mulling over a variation of that question during my swim yesterday morning (which, admittedly, may have contributed to some slower-than-usual pace times), so I had some ideas ready:

There are two ways to get to a big goal, and the method that works depends on the person and where they are in their journey. Some people need a big, crazy goal to get them motivated, while others find something so big to be daunting and need to take smaller steps towards their goal. 8 years ago I started with the goal of running 1km, and this year I’m doing my first Ironman.

I’d like to expand a little more on that answer, and talk about how I’ve used the concept of big and small goals to transform my lifestyle.

ORTA Trail Race

So how do you know whether to set a small, achievable goal or a big, crazy goal?

Well, let’s assume that making constant progress will eventually get you there no matter what.  If goals can be broken down into a series of sub-goals to achieve, then we just need to figure out how to make sure you’ll keep playing long enough to make it to the end-game

Who are the experts in making sure people keep playing? Video game designers and casinos.

In 2001, John Hopson wrote an article called Behavioral Game Design, in which he explained how game designers use psychology to get people addicted to their games.  He specifically discussed reward schedules, concluding that variable reward schedules – in which rewards are given after a variable or random amount of activity, such as winning at a slot machine – are the most addictive:

In general, variable ratio schedules produce the highest overall rates of activity of all the schedules that I’ll discuss here. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the best, but if what you’re looking for is a high and constant rate of play, you want a variable ratio contingency.

A more recent article by Chris Bateman expands on the variable ratio contingency to describe the highly-addictive strategy used by subscription-based games like World of Warcraft: escalating ratio contingency.

It seems as if the merit of the escalating schedule is that in the early stages, the rewards come regularly, which helps the habit set in, while later on the rewards come further apart which gives more time to focus on the nature of the activity rather than having the activity overshadowed by the reward.

If you read the preceding quote from the perspective of setting a goal, you can see how it’s initially advantageous to set smaller, easily achievable goals in order to reward progress.  As the activity itself becomes enjoyable, the rewards are no longer required as frequently and those big, crazy goals don’t look quite so daunting.

So get yourself addicted to progress by learning from the experts. Start small, and escalate as you progress.

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The escalating schedule mirrors my journey over the last eight years as I went from literally wondering how anyone could  run 10km without stopping, to training for my first Ironman.

Initially, my goals were achievable within a month or two – I think it took me two months to progress from jogging my first 1km to finishing my first 5k in 32 minutes (yes, I still remember my time).

A few years later, my goal to finish a half marathon took over four months of training (and yes, I remember that time too – 2:03:59), reducing the frequency of the reward as my fitness and enjoyment increased.

It’s been over 8 years since my first run, and now I’m spending 8 months focused on a single goal: Ironman Canada 2014.  I can honestly say that it’s no longer just about the goal – although trust me, I’m still going to be celebrating when I finish – but the journey itself has become the reward.

And that’s how you become addicted to progress.

So now that you know the psychology behind making goals achievable, what goal are you going to get addicted to?

TTC Track Meet Report

I started off Sunday morning with a wonderfully meditative easy run to finish off my recovery week, and I spent most of the hour thinking over my races in the last couple of weeks and reflecting on the progress I’ve made.  I never really got a chance to think too much about the track meet two weeks ago because I was so preoccupied with my half marathon, but on Sunday morning I was able to relax and enjoy the success of the last two weeks.  So my run wasn’t really about the run; it was about getting outside, enjoying the sun and soaking in all the results of steady and consistent training.

Sunny snow along Leslie St on my way home.

Sunny snow along Leslie St on my way home.

With all of that being said, I really do want to share my experience at the Toronto Triathlon Club‘s inaugural track meet.  I haven’t run track since high school, when I finished last in the 200m sprint at the city track meet and swore I hated running.  Before that race, I would train with the track and field team sometimes (it didn’t last long), and I distinctly remember being out on the track early one morning with the most impossible workout ahead of me: 16 laps of the track, sprinting the straights and jogging the turns. I think I made it through 5 laps before I gave up and decided I’d never be a runner.  I really wish I could go back and talk to myself then; I’d tell high-school Kim that being a runner isn’t about innate ability (although some people have that), it’s about sticking with it long enough to see results (and that’s the part most people are missing).  I’d also tell her that running teaches you amazing things, leads to to wonderful places and introduces you to the most caring and dedicated people you’ll ever meet – and that none of this requires you to run fast or far.  It’s not about numbers, it’s about the community.

…I told you I was feeling reflective.

Fortunately I didn’t leave this track meet swearing that I hate running.  If anything, it made me love running more: I saw people of all abilities and ages out racing in the middle of winter, and having a fantastic time on a Saturday afternoon.  There were kids that looked like they were barely 8, Master’s runners who win their age groups, triathletes who haven’t been running all year, and what felt like more spectators and volunteers than there were athletes!  And that’s not even counting the food…

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The track meet was hosted by the Toronto Triathlon Club at Monarch Park Stadium, which is a real treat in a city without indoor tracks.  We started with a 1600m, followed by 400m and – for those brave enough to extend their suffering – capped it off with a 3000m race.  My main race was the 1600m since I’m not really a short track runner – 400m brings a completely different kind of pain – and I didn’t want to hammer a tough 3000m the weekend before my half marathon.  All three events were open, so I decided to race the mile and 400m, then take it easy on the 3000.

The Mile:

I did remember one important thing from doing 800m and 1600m intervals in the summer: it’s really easy to start out too fast, and a mile feels like five when your body gives up on you halfway through the race.  Unsure of my fitness level at shorter distances, I decided to take it quite easy in the first 800m and really hammer it home in the last lap.

Starting off easy meant I spent the first two laps in last place, and last is a tough place to be – especially when there are only four people in the race.  It took a lot of determination to hold my own pace rather than racing everyone else. I was able to pass two of my three competitors in the third and fourth laps, but despite some pretty decent suffering I wasn’t able to catch that last person in front.  Second place in my heat, and 6:09 finish!

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Photo by Hector Rodriguez

The 400m

Second only to the 800m in suffering, the 400m race is all about giving everything you’ve got for a single lap of the track.  There was no pacing strategy for this race: the pace would be all-out from start to finish.

My heart rate was about 180 before the gun even went off because I was so excited!  This time I started off in first place, which came with a new challenge: constantly checking over my shoulder to see if anyone was gaining.  Although I was terrified I would get passed the entire time, I held on to win my heat in 1:17.  That one really hurt!

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Photo by Hector Rodriguez

The 3000m

After all this you might be thinking, “who would attempt to race ALL THREE EVENTS at a track meet?” and I can tell you sure wasn’t in any condition to be running anything after destroying a mile and 400m!  Although I had intended on running the 3000, I was so high on adrenalin that I was shaking and knew that I would be sacrificing too much the week before a big race.  I told the organizers I was pulling out and started walking to cool down.

Funny thing though…I felt better after a lap of walking, and I ended up caving and agreed to run in the second heat of the 3000m; yes, with all the Masters runners who could whup me on an easy day.  But Michael said he was taking it easy too and he’d run with me the whole way, and we all know I’m a little crazy – so I said yes!

I’ve never taken it so easy in such a short race! Although we were running well below 10k pace, it felt easy and I had enough breath to return some good-natured heckling from certain (ahem) people yelling “if you’re smiling, you’re not running fast enough!”.  We knew we’d get lapped (and we did) but it was the most fun I’ve ever had running so fast!  I loved the finish: we decided to kick it, and when Michael said “come on, give it everything!” I sure did! We crossed the finish line less than a second apart in 13:22.

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Photo by Hector Rodriguez

Post-Race

Hanging out with like-minded people always makes my day, and when food is involved I’m in heaven. I took some of my vegan, gluten-free lentil spice muffins – and was so incredibly flattered when four people asked me for the recipe!

I haven’t posted this recipe yet because it will be featured in the launch of a new project I’m working on with Hector: Our Fresh Kitchen, a resource for health-conscious people where we’ll share easy and delicious recipes for any diet using fresh, whole ingredients.  I hope you’ll check us out and sign up for our newsletter for some sneak previews and a reminder when we go live on March 20.  You can also find us on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.

Time for a Change

There have been a lot of thoughts jumbled around in my head lately – I think the best description is that there was a knot in my head – and tonight I had the most amazing opportunity to spend time with myself. I got outside in the beautiful evening, and walked until I had figured things out…which took a long time, but was absolutely worth it. I’ve decided to renew the values I had when I became a vegetarian at 4 years old: it’s time for a change, and for me that change means adopting a vegan diet.

I’m not starting this alone. I deeply appreciate the support of Héctor, who surprised me with a cookbook by my favourite vegan blogger, Angela Liddon of Oh She Glows. I feel so incredibly blessed, and very relaxed. Time for a new start!

Happy Monday, everyone. :)

Chilly Half Marathon

Chilly Half certainly lived up to its name this year!  Despite the -20 wind chill and a dusting of snow overnight, over 2000 brave runners came out to Burlington for the Chilly half marathon and Frosty 5k – and brought along even more courageous spectators who didn’t have the benefit of running to stay warm.  This was my first time running the Chilly Half, but I had heard great reviews; it’s certainly one of the more popular winter races among my group of running friends and a nice way to keep some motivation going through the winter.  After having the best race of my life, I have to agree!

Starting off with my goals and expectations…

This was my first race following a DNF at Scotiabank half marathon and a disastrous marathon debut in Hamilton last fall.  Although I’ve done six half marathons, I’ve never felt that I raced a half to my full potential – there were always cramps, blisters or piriformis injuries that held me back – and I knew that my PB of 1:52 from fall 2012 didn’t really represent my current fitness level.  So with having done next to zero speed training since taking 6 weeks off after my marathon – I’m not completely sure racing the 400m, mile and 3000m races at the TTC track meet last weekend counts as an ideal speed training strategy – my time goal was to finish under 1:45, taking 7 minutes off my personal best…and honestly I wanted to beat that goal by a couple minutes and hopefully finish in the 1:42-1:43 range.  I also wanted to do this with a negative split, and feel strong at the finish.  Having fun goes without saying! (more…)

Sweet Potato Kale Pizza

It’s official – Friday night has been declared Pizza Night in the Kim-and-Hector kitchen.  But when I say pizza, I’m not talking about 2,000-calorie mounds of dough and cheese that make you feel guilty and slightly nauseous the next day; I’m talking about a crisp homemade crust covered with roasted sweet potatoes and red onions, mozzarella cheese and crunchy balsamic kale.  This is not Pizza Hut pizza.  This is so much better.

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Photo credit: Hector Rodriguez

So here’s how Pizza Night works: every week we choose a different kind of pizza, based around an ingredient we want to try or a neat recipe we found.  Last week we chose kale because I got a giant bunch in my bi-weekly produce box, and the search for a unique recipe resulted in this gem from Two Peas and Their Pod: Sweet Potato Kale Pizza with Rosemary and Red Onion.

Seeing as this is the first time I’ve posted a recipe using kale, I have to add a note here: it took me forever to find ways I actually like kale.  I tried kale chips, steaming, frying, salad (at which point I also discovered that just about anything tastes pretty good when it’s covered in Caesar salad dressing and Parmesan cheese)…and I got sick of everyone telling me to try kale chips.  (more…)

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bites

I’m sitting at my desk with a delicious peanut buttery oatmeal cookie sitting all alone looking at me, just daring me to eat it, and I’m trying really hard to resist eating it until after my spin class tonight…but I’ve got the last-Friday-before-a-recovery-week munchies and pretty much want to eat everything in sight!  I already ate its sibling, as well as a Ferrero Rocher chocolate which somehow slipped into my lunch bag this morning.  Oops.

Eaaat meeeee!!!

In the meantime, I’m distracting myself by coming up with all sorts of nasty drills for tonight’s spin class at Energia Athletics.  I’ve settled on a Flat-Build-Climb choreography, repeated three times and ending in a 7+ minute climb.  Any takers?  That’s what I thought, I’ll see you at 6! (more…)

Ginger Lentil Muffins

This recipe has been updated!  Version 2 can be made vegan and gluten-free, and you can find it here: Spiced Lentil Muffins.

Now I get that you might be feeling a little skeptical about lentils in muffins but just hear me out. You trusted me on the zucchini chocolate cake, right? And look how well that turned out! Just try them, and you’ll never look at a lentil the same way again.

By now, you might have realized that I have a teensy bit of a muffin fetish. They’re so easy to bake, incredibly versatile and very portable – what’s not to love? So when I ended up bored around the house on a Saturday afternoon, what else was I to do but create the recipe I’ve had floating around in my head for a month?

Bonus: if you’re an endurance athlete like me, these have the perfect carb to protein ratio (4:1) for recovery. Just sayin’. :)

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Sweet Millet Congee

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It’s a quick update today, but after four days on the Wild Rose Cleanse, I still haven’t had those terrible first few days everyone talks about. No cramping, no GI issues, no headaches and normal energy levels. I also realized that the Wild Rose diet is basically what I always eat, with the exception of dairy, sugar and flour. Not too difficult to find delicious ways to cook with all that’s left!

The best part of avoiding sugar has been learning a bunch of new ways to flavour things. I put tons of cinnamon in my oatmeal, along with frozen cranberries for a delicious, cozy breakfast. I also tried cooking millet since it’s one of the recommended grains, and discovered an amazing recipe on the back of the package! I’ve made some modifications and I’d like to share it. (more…)

Up and Over

Climbing technique is a key skill for competitive cyclists, and lots of recreational cyclists also benefit from learning how to properly pace and crest a hill.  We all have a tendency to ease off a little as we reach the top of a hill and the grade levels off, but if you add a push at the top and over the hill you can recover at a much faster speed than if you rest as soon as you reach the top.  I don’t know about you, but I’d rather do that little push to recover at 35km/hr rather than dying at 6km/hr over the top of the hill.

Okay, so now that we know the best technique for cresting a hill, how do you practice it?  By doing Up and Overs of course!  You can do these outside, on a trainer or in a spin class – whatever floats your boat. The key is to keep the effort level high until you’ve moved from the hill to the sprint.  No sneaking breaks in between! (more…)

Wild Rose Cleanse: Day One

This week I decided to try a cleanse.  I know cleanses are viewed skeptically by most of the “I actually want to be healthy rather than just skinny” crowd, and usually lumped in with magic weight loss pills and wonder supplements.  Trust me, I feel the same way about most and I’m not about to go on a strict lemon-juice-and-cayenne-pepper diet.  The reason I decided to try a cleanse that I have evaluated as being healthy is because I believe in trying things for myself, rather than just following what everyone else says.  It’s true, I might be buying into the exaggerated claims of a multi-billion-dollar industry; but that’s not a reason not to give it a try and see how it works.

As for why I decided to do a cleanse rather than just following a normal healthy diet? For the past few months I’ve been noticing that my digestion is a little off and I’ve been having really strong cravings (no, I’m not pregnant!); yesterday I couldn’t resist a brownie with my lunch, simply because I saw a tray of desserts at reception, and that’s so unlike me.  I’m interested to see if the change in diet and supplements results in an improvement to how I’m feeling.

The other reason is that I feel like I need a reset on my diet.  I haven’t been eating well lately (by my standards), and considered doing an elimination diet a couple of weeks ago to break the sugar cycle – this worked until I started pulling 60 hour weeks at the office and had a couple nights of bad sleep, then I was right back on the sugar train.  The diet that goes along with the Wild Rose Cleanse is very close to a typical elimination diet, restricting sugar and dairy while focusing on foods like fish, whole grains and vegetables.  That’s the other reason I chose Wild Rose: the diet is real, unprocessed food.  None of this “fruit juice with ginger three times a day” stuff, because I know that wouldn’t last – maybe a day, and I would go nuts for actual food.  If you’re interested in critiquing the diet, a the whole thing is listed here.

So today is day one.  Steel-cut oats with whole cranberries and cinnamon for breakfast, and fried brown rice with egg, peas and corn for lunch.  Apparently the first few days are the worst, so I’ll keep you posted!