Remember those New Year's resolutions you drew up in December for keeping fit? Didn't think so. Own up: Four weeks into 2011, they're as abandoned as those kettle bells in the corner - the ones you received as a holiday gift but now serve as dusty paperweights. Consider this your shot at do-overs - a second chance to whip your lamentable derriere into shape this year.
1. Return to childhood
Whether you're walking, whacking a ball, chasing a Frisbee, shooting hoops, rock-climbing, running, skiing, skating or doing anything else that re-creates you, it ought not to feel like a chore or obligation: It ought to feel as exhilarating as playing childhood games. In fact, one of the best ways to recover this sense of fun is to get a bunch of adult friends and co-workers together and dial back the decades for a rousing game of hide-and-seek, crab soccer or kick the can.
2. Mark your calendar
In an effort to maximize his enjoyment of canoeing and kayaking, a wise friend has made a practice of crossing off a handful of specific dates throughout the year, clearing them of all other obligations and committing them to the pursuit of paddling - a practice adaptable to your own preferred recreational activity. Even commit to burning a vacation day at work.
3. Find the right gear
If your favorite recreational activity has at least one magazine devoted to it, odds are good the publication reviews gear specific to that sport. Maybe it even publishes a special issue, like Outside's summer and winter Gear Guides, which rate the best in bicycles, hiking boots, kayaks and so on. While you could restrain yourself from an impulse purchase, if it reignites your passion for getting out and exercising, it could be a wise investment. New skis, better snowshoes, a lighter bike or even a tent that's easier to set up can revive your interest when an activity has slipped in your priorities.
4. Get low
Many of the secrets to core strength can be found close to the ground, in disciplines including yoga, Pilates and quadrupedal movement. Start easy by learning to crawl across a room on all fours while conscious of how each movement feels to affected muscle groups. Find a good yoga or Pilates instructor (or take advantage of those classes at the health club you already belong to) and practice at least three times per week throughout the remaining 11 months of '11.
5. Find a tall building near you
Anyone who sits for a living knows there are times when neither coffee nor Pandora will cure your mid-afternoon lull. For such desperate moments, there's nothing like several flights of stairs to restore your desk-jockey productivity. Most of Madison's tallest buildings can be found on the isthmus. The Capitol alone contains enough different stairways that you can climb and descend five days a week without repeating the same route twice. If one stair at a time is too easy for you, try two at a time - or alternate one stair with two while remaining attentive to your breathing and biomechanics. Do not run (climbing stairs will get your pulse rate right up there).
6. Live - or park - within two or three miles of work
Doing so facilitates walking or biking to work, transforming your daily commute into one (if you bus the other way) or two low-impact aerobic workouts per day. Say you live 2.5 miles from work. At an easy pace, that works out to about 40 minutes walking or 10 minutes biking each way. Plus, instead of burning dollars on gas and parking for your car, you'll burn calories for free. Try to get to work under your own power an average of at least three days per week.
7. Ride a dragon
Last year's inaugural Capital Lakes Dragon Fest was my "Dang, what a blast" experience of 2010 - an immersion in dragon-boat history, team dynamics, exotic paddling techniques, esprit de corps and profound competitive exertion. This year's dragon-boat festival is scheduled for June 25. Recruit up to 23 friends, neighbors and/or co-workers to form a team, or try to score an open spot on an existing team. Registration and other details here.
8 & 9. Make a run for it
So many people have run a marathon by now - or biked 100 kilometers, or even finished an Ironman-distance triathlon - that it's getting harder to impress friends and neighbors with one's completion of such endurance tests. You might still get a "Wow!" But you also risk mere congratulations or, worse, a cynical shrug. The 50 Furlong World Championship or the Pi Mile Run? Now, those are not your run-of-the-mill foot races. Scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Saturday, March 5, at the Paoli Bar & Grill, the 50 Furlong World Championship amounts to 6.25 miles (almost 60 meters longer than your more commonplace 10-kilometer run). Sponsored by the local Hash House Harriers, it also comes with a low registration fee of $5, which includes beer after you cross the finish line (more race info on the Madison Hash House Harriers website).
Sponsored by the East High School Math Club, the Pi Mile Run extends 3.14 miles - a distance providing the opportunity to put abstract geometry formulas into real-world practice, and a bit more than 50 meters longer than the more familiar 5K. It takes place on Saturday, May 28, at Warner Park, with registration at 9 a.m. East Math Club adviser Phil Galarowicz invites email inquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org.
10. Join a group
The Madison area is full of sporting clubs that are glad to have you visit to see if you like the game, or the group, or both. From the Bombay Bicycle Club's summer rides to Mad City Paddlers outings to moonlight hikes on local Ice Age Trail segments to Madison Curling Club lessons and open houses, it's easy to try out new activities with no commitment or investment.
11. Take it to the limits
One day, out of the blue, someone knocks almost three minutes off her personal-best time for a 10-kilometer run and realizes she's faster than she ever imagined she might be. Or somebody at the gym finds he can knock out seven extra reps on the incline leg press and tries putting another couple 45-pound plates on the sled. When things like this happen, they register on people's faces, as if they're thinking, "Wow. Did I really do that?" Yes, you did. You may indeed be faster, stronger, nervier and more durable than you think.
A year is an aerobic event, not a sprint. Consider the first week a warm-up, take the second at a metaphorical trot, build to a pace you can sustain in the third week, push your limits in the fourth, then build on that foundation by going hard week, harder week, hardest week, easy week.