What I Learned from Running 500 miles

 

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{This post was originally written and published on my old blog January 2015.  The lessons are relevant still today, and I felt this was appropriate as my first post for this new blog.}

Happy New Year! 2014 is packed away, and 2015 is rolling in with a roar.
As I do each year, I’ve spent much of the last week of December reflecting on my year past and thinking of the year ahead.
For those of you who know me personally or follow me through social media, you know I was on a personal health journey this past year and that I documented it most diligently on Facebook. When everything was said and done, I felt I learned enough useful lessons on my journey that I should share with you, my friends and readers.

What I Learned from Running 500 Miles
At the close of 2013 I spent a bit of time thinking about what I wanted to improve, specifically, with my health. I had been running sporadically for about 3 years; but I was never consistent enough to really progress into a strong runner. I thought that if I could just be more consistent, then I wouldn’t feel like I was having to start all over each time I laced up. There were times I would run 3 or more times a week for maybe a month and then go for weeks without even putting my running shoes on. The inconsistency was killing any chance of me stretching my distance or improving my time. Not that those 2 things were goals of mine. I never really thought about them. I just wanted to be able to run a 5k without feeling like I was dying in the first mile.

So in January 2014 I set my goal to run 500 miles by Dec 31.

December 30, 2014 I crossed my 500th mile with a group of friends running with me and a number of other friends waiting at the finish line for me. I was exhilarated and proud of my accomplishment, but those feelings paled in comparison to the truths I discovered on my journey to that 500 mile mark.

Here, in a nutshell, is what I learned from running 500 miles this year. These lessons are applicable in so many areas of life–personal relationships, job, community commitments, etc… I’ve learned more about myself through this journey than I ever imagined–all because I wanted to run more consistently. Perhaps what I’ve learned can help you in some way. Maybe it will even inspire you to get out of your comfort zone and set a goal for yourself that scares you a little. I hope it does.

1.  Setting a goal is powerful–
Having a specific, attainable objective on which to set your sights makes the difference between a wish and a goal. This is not something vague that you will think longingly of one day reaching. This is a destination with a deadline.

There are a few key elements I’d like to point out and expand upon:
Be specific.  You must know where it is you want to go; otherwise you won’t know how to get there, how long it will take, or when you’ve arrived. When I set my running goal I had a hard and fast number–500 miles. I did not say “I’d like to run lots of miles this year.” How do you define “lots of miles?” That is subjective and vague. But by setting my goal at a very specific number, I was then able to break that number down into monthly totals and then into very do-able weekly numbers. If in January I had focused on 500 miles when I could barely run 1 mile on the treadmill, I would have given up. I would have been overwhelmed and considered my goal of 500 miles as unattainable. But by breaking that big number into smaller, bite-sized targets, it didn’t seem so intimidating.

Be realistic.  Your goal must be attainable. It should be something that is big enough to scare you but realistic enough to motivate you. Each monthly/weekly benchmark should be set at a level that will instill confidence and will continue to motivate, always pushing you towards your bigger overall goal.

Set a deadline.  “Some day,” “One day,” and “Before too long” are too ambiguous. If you have not set a specific completion date, you will never be motivated to take the actions required to accomplish your objective. There will be days that you don’t feel like doing the tasks that need to be done. You can count on that. And without the expediency of a deadline, the discomfort of taking action will outweigh your desire to see results. With a deadline, I guarantee the opposite will become true. Many times when I just didn’t feel like running or I could think of 1,001 excuses of why I should be doing something else, my deadline loomed over me and reminded me that what I did not accomplish today would need to be done tomorrow in double measure. What I learned is that the frustration of NOT running and NOT getting closer to my goal, all the while realizing I was moving ever closer to my deadline, greatly outweighed the discomfort of actually getting out the door and JUST DOING IT. If there had been no deadline, there would have been no impetus to motivate me to keep on keeping on.

Evaluate Regularly.  Having a deadline is only half the story. In order to stay on track you must have regular check-ins. Set benchmarks with mini-deadlines. This will prevent any eleventh hour panic. Help set up a path for success by consistently tracking your accomplishments and keeping yourself accountable to the finish line.

Write it down.  Making a commitment to yourself should be a big deal. Putting your goal down in black and white pulls it out of the realm of fantasy in your mind and makes it more real and tangible. There is something substantial about seeing your goal on paper. It makes your commitment more real, as well.

2.  Once I have committed to something, I’m pretty unstoppable–
This was a big eye-opener for me. Often when I stop to think about where I am now and where I want to be in the future (personally as well as career-wise), I am filled with doubts. Have I made the right decisions? Am I on the right path? Should I check myself and change course? Self-doubt and second-guessing begin to take over, and then I freeze and am unable to make even the most insignificant of decisions. But having a clearly-defined goal alleviated nearly all those doubts and questioning. Figuring out where I wanted to go was most of the battle. Once I knew my destination, there was no way I wasn’t going to make it. Obstacles arose all along the way, but I never stopped trying to figure out a way to make it happen. Proving to myself over and over again that I COULD do it, that I WOULD do it was wildly empowering! Each hurdle I jumped, each step I made closer to my goal solidified my commitment and improved my self-confidence.

3.  I am never too independent or self-sufficient to need help–
This was my toughest yet most gratifying lesson learned. I’ve always viewed myself as an independent person; someone who doesn’t need anyone else. What I learned is that asking for help or allowing others in to help is not weakness. I learned that if you let others in to share triumphs with you, push you to grow, and help you through the tough times then you all will be lifted to a higher level of accomplishment and pride.  As far as running is concerned, I always viewed it as a “loner” sport. You just get out and run. There is no need for a team, or partner, or anyone other than yourself and the ground beneath your feet. Until this spring, I never knew how wrong I was. I joined a neighborhood run group and met some wonderful people; some who have become very dear friends now. Running with others pushed me beyond my comfort zone and as a result my run improved. I began running further distances and faster speeds. My companions’ quest for personal improvement only further encouraged me in mine, and in turn we helped each other keep moving forward. A sub-lesson I could add here is: When you surround yourself with positive people, you will get positive results. I can not convey how much I love the truth of that statement!

4.  Anything is possible if I set my mind to it–
Really, you can’t get more cliché than that; but I’m not sure I ever REALLY believed it about myself before this year. Without question, now I know that if I: Set a specific goal with a deadline, Write it down, Commit to it, Break it down into smaller, quickly-attainable goals, Evaluate regularly, and Surround myself with positive people, I will achieve it.

So now, though I’m closing the book on 2014 I am looking ahead and planning new goals for 2015. May it be a healthy, happy, and prosperous year for us all.

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