Years ago I took up running and even though I gradually built up to about three miles, (5K) I could never run it without having to slow to a walk at least once but often several times per run. Despite that massive imperfection, I signed up for a 5K race, assuring myself that there was no rule saying you had to run it non-stop. I just knew it was something I wanted to do.
About halfway through the 5K run I could feel myself giving out – my lungs were burning, my feet were dragging – but when a white-haired old lady shuffled past me, my pride forced me on. Before I knew it, I was crossing the finish line – and I had done it without stopping even once! When I accepted a Dixie cup of water from one of the race volunteers, I gushed, “Oh my god, I can’t believe it! I just ran the entire 5K without stopping – for the first time ever!”
The woman gave me a funny look and shook her head. “Oh no, dear, that wasn’t a 5K. That was a 10K.”
What? the? fuck??
I used to be very regular with my exercise regimen, whatever that looked like in any given year. Whether it was aerobics and cycling or running and weight training or rebounding and yoga, I’ve always been very invested in my health. But for the last couple of years, for various reasons I just haven’t been able to stick with any exercise. Finally, I just got so tired of feeling not just physically out of shape but emotionally like I couldn’t count on myself, that I was determined to do something.
On January 4, 2017 I made an agreement with myself to run at least one mile every single day for a full year.
Why one mile? Because no matter how tired or busy I was, I knew that I could do one mile, which takes me ten minutes (not including the warm up and cool down). I figured if I couldn’t spare ten minutes every day, I had a pretty fucked up life.
Why one year? Well, why the hell not? Easy peasy – start when I put a new calendar up on the wall and stop when I take it down. It felt like the perfect challenge for me (not putting a calendar up – running). And no, it wasn’t a New Year’s resolution – it was a New Life’s intention.
But I guess the more important reason was:
I wanted to see what I could accomplish if I refused to accept my own built-in limitations.
I wanted to do this every day to create a habit that would become so engrained in my body and my mind that I didn’t even need to think about it – I’d just do it no matter what had happened in the day. You know how it is – sometimes you’ve had a long day at work, you’re feeling ill, you have no energy, it’s raining or scorching hot outside, it’s midnight or the crack of dawn, you receive a fun social invite….
See what I’m getting at? There is always some excuse ready and waiting should I secretly want to get out of running that day.
So as you probably guessed by the title of this blog post...
I DID IT!!! I ran at least a mile every single day for the last 365 days! I kept my promise to myself. WOO-fuckin’-HOO!!!
Often I ran more than a mile, but not over three. I didn’t keep track, but figuring conservatively, I probably ran closer to about 510 miles in 365 days. That’s almost 20 marathons. If you’re more of a visual person, that’s from San Francisco to Tijuana, Mexico. Or through six states and one federal district from New York, NY to Raleigh, NC.
Anyway, here’s the thing: once you’ve decided on something and made your mind up, it just seems to happen. It works out, or you figure out how to make it work out.
Over this last year, I’ve come face to face with my best excuses to avoid doing things – but ran my daily mile anyway. So now I am officially out of excuses.
Here are some of the situations I’ve run in this past year:
in 95-degree heat (or 35 Celsius)
in 40-degree cold (or 5 Celsius)
in several neighborhoods around Los Angeles
in Vancouver in the pouring rain
up hills in San Francisco in the rain
in Cleveland in the autumn rain
in Columbus (no rain!)
in Chilliwack on a country road in the rain (with deceptively deep and camouflaged puddles)
after getting up at 5 a.m., traveling via plane all day (one stop), and arriving at my destination that evening
at 7 a.m. the morning after my midnight run
when I was so exhausted I could barely keep my eyes open
the day after an 8-stitch surgery
when I really, really, really just didn’t want to run
when my knees were giving me trouble (I use a patella strap)
when my legs were sore from a hike the previous day
so early in the morning that it was still dark out
after I had already gotten into my pajamas to go to bed because I almost forgot to go for a run that day
the day after a second 8-stitch surgery plus got the stitches from the previous surgery removed
on a treadmill in a hotel gym in Las Vegas because it was 110 degrees outside
at 6:30 a.m. before an all-day conference for five days in a row
while on vacation to visit a friend – and wound up running with her (the only time when I ran with someone)
while sobbing my eyes out because a couple of hours prior my dad called to tell me that my grandma died (oddly, I ran harder and faster and longer than ever before that day)
In the past, that conniving voice in my head would have whispered, “You can catch up later in the week,” but my later-in-the-week self always conveniently forgot to do it.
What surprised me, though I don’t know why, was that progress isn’t linear. When I first started last January, it’d been a while so I had to stop and walk several times to catch my breath or rest my brick-heavy legs. Then over the next few weeks I got better and was able to run the mile without stopping no problem, or run further than a mile, or run faster.
And then suddenly one day for no reason I couldn’t run the mile without slowing to a walk four or five times. And sometimes that would go on for weeks, and then just when I thought there was something wrong with me, voila! I’d run three miles like a bat out of hell, effortlessly leaping over fallen branches and flying up steep hills.
This is what it looks like watching perseverance in action.
The definition of persevere is: “To continue in a course of action even in the face of difficulty or with little or no prospect of success.” It’s one thing to talk about concepts like that, but it’s quite another to actually observe it in your own life in real-time. It isn’t always pretty or tied up with a beautiful bow and it’s almost never consistent or neatly organized. But it’s like winning an emotional lottery when you realize how capable you actually are, no matter what the voice in your head insists.
On the outside it might’ve looked like I was easily persevering, but there were many days when I just wanted cash in my chips because my progress didn’t look how I thought it should look. But because of this agreement with myself, I just kept finding new ways to motivate myself on the run.
Sometimes I listened to a random mix of upbeat music or just one exciting new (for me) song over and over, like:
“New Day” by Anouk
“Stronger” by Samantha Jade
“Drive It Like You Stole It” by Sing Street
“Fuck You” by CeeLo Green
“Can’t Rely on You” by Paloma Faith
“Something You Can’t Deny” by Young Vinyl
“No Easy Way” by Jeff Michael
Sometimes I listened to an album:
soundtrack to Sing Street
any Joan Jett album
any Maroon 5 album
Christine and the Queens
Chloe Kohanski’s “The Voice” performances
Sometimes I listened to a motivational or interesting podcast or video:
Sometimes I listened to stand-up comedians (it’s actually a lot of fun to run and laugh):
So before I turn this into a 365-mile blog post, I would say that the chief lesson I learned or, rather, the most important thing I saw in myself over this last year is this:
the biggest opponent to my success that I face is my own mind.
When you have a belief (“I’m not athletic,” for example, or “It’s too hard for me”), the mind contrives at all costs to make that belief true. As my opening example illustrates, the mind really is a bullshit artist because for a year or so it had been convincing me that I couldn’t run 5K without stopping when the reality was that I was fully capable of running 10K without stopping.
At the end of the day I can easily strengthen my muscles and improve my cardiovascular system, but how do you tackle an opponent so insidious that it is hidden within the folds of your own so-called rational mind?
510 miles is the answer. In other words, look your mind dead in the eye, tell it to go to hell, and just keep going.