I am not a runner.
At least that’s what I’ve always told myself.
Sure, I’ve been curious about it at times, like when my friend April started running half-marathons in graduate school. She has this inspiring way of making crazy things—like halfs and sky diving—sound like experiences I need to have. I started to toy with the idea that running could be great…then quickly gave it up once I actually tried it out. That was definitely something that was better in theory than reality.
In the million years since then, I’ve dabbled a bit, mostly intervals on a treadmill during which I’d glare at the timer the entire time, willing it to move faster. I think, at most, I got up to two miles, but still no love of running. It was a means to an end, just a convenient way to exercise. People told me that they so preferred running outside to a treadmill, but not me. The one time I tried, I could’ve sworn I was at it for an hour. Turns out, it was actually only 10 (excruciating) minutes, no exaggeration.
For some reason (Ok, I know the reasons), I decided that I was going to run a 10K this year. You know what? I’m glad I did because I got a lot more than I anticipated out of this journey; I learned 6 important life lessons about success.
Life Lesson 1: Set a SMART goal.
As a psychologist, I know what that means: set Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound goals. I help people do that all the time. Do I do it myself? Not so much. I get lax about it. This 10k was a nice reminder that SMART goals really are the way to go if you want to be successful. I signed up for the race months in advance as a commitment device to help hold me to a time frame and keep me from backing out later. Then, I got specific about my goal: I was going to run the entire 10k on Sept. 9. This goal seemed doable, but it would definitely take some serious training if I wanted any chance of succeeding.
Trevor, my never critical, ever supportive S.O., is a runner and a morning person. I am neither. Still, I thought that running together might help in the motivation department. The night before our first planned run, he informed me that we’d have to get up around 6, maybe 6:15, to get it in before he had to go to work. “Ok, but that’s going to be hard. I suck at getting up in the morning,” I told him (at least a dozen times) in preparation for my inevitable grumpiness. “You’ve already given up,” was his gentle reprove from the other room. What was that? I expected assurances that it wouldn’t be that bad, so his response caught me off guard…and he was absolutely right.
I tell my patients all the time that brains are liars and awesome rationalizers. Excuses can be insidious and convincing, but dang! I didn’t even realize that I was already making excuses for falling short of my goal. It’s like I was unknowingly setting the stage to fail.
Life Lesson 2: Don’t fall for sneaky excuses.
Beware of excuses, justifications, and rationalizations. If you even slightly open the door for them, they’ll come bursting through.
After that light bulb went off in my mind, I smiled, kissed his cheek, mentally thanked him for that lesson and resolved to get up at ridiculous o’clock…which I did. Thankfully, our run was rained out.
It became apparent pretty quickly that I was going to need a formal plan for training if I wanted to reach my goal. Willy-nilly going for a run here and there was not going to cut it, so I decided to use an app (10k Trainer by Zen Labs) for guidance.
The early runs were super easy. We’re talking 90 seconds of jogging. Piece of cake! As the times increased, though, so did the difficulty. I found myself struggling to complete the assigned runs, prematurely calling it quits more frequently than I’d like, so I started to question my formula. There had to be more to this than just logging the miles. Sure, stamina and endurance play a role, but I’ve seen an 80-year-old marathoner and people who don’t look like runners doing similar distances. What, then, is the key? I figured it must be about mindset. All of a sudden, this 10k thing became more about hacking my mindset than training my body…and made this challenge right up my alley.
Building on lesson number 2, I started paying attention. I recognized that as soon as thoughts like “Ugh! This is hard. I can’t do this. How much longer? This is awful” started springing up, it was usually a matter of minutes before I was walking. It made sense, though; thoughts drive behaviors. Running was strenuous enough for me, and those thoughts were the psychic equivalent of running with heavy weights on my ankles. How could I take my not-so-helpful mind out of the equation?
Life Lesson 3: Set Personal Rules and use them to your advantage.
Make decisions ahead of time and set them in stone. Don’t even BEGIN to go down the mental path of questioning them. If you start to negotiate with yourself, you will lose. It’s only a matter of time.
This strategy worked well for me when I tried the Whole 30 last year…even at a networking event at a local brewery with free beer and tasty off-limits food. I closed the mental door on temptation by not even indulging a thought about “maybe just one…”
Turns out this strategy worked well with race training, too. I made the Personal Rule that I run until the app tells me to stop. No questions asked. No checking the time. No complaining in my mind. I didn’t even entertain the possibility of breaking that rule. To help, I gave my mind the task of focusing on a super awesome audio book instead (Side note: The Way of Kings series is fantastic! If you love Game of Thrones, give this one a shot. Trust me.)
I felt like I had a break through! I had cracked the mindset code. Granted, my Personal Rule approach didn’t pan out every single time (I definitely broke my PR the day it was so hot I thought I was going to vomit and pass out), but I was able to shut down those mental ankle weight thoughts and, instead, focus on my book and putting one foot in front of the other. My confidence grew, and this goal seemed realistic.
And then I got, what I can only assume, was the Bubonic Plague two weeks before the race. Not ideal. I had worked my way up to 4 miles running, and I knew I had a ways to go. My body, however, had other plans and refused to stop coughing and generally being gross.
Trevor assured me that walking part of the race would still be a victory. Nope. I wanted to run the whole thing, and walking would be a failure. As the plague raged on, however, I became increasingly accepting of that idea. I wouldn’t be able to run the whole thing, but at least I’d do it.
Life Lesson 4: It’s ok to take a step back, reassess the situation, and adjust accordingly.
Sleep escaped me the night before the race. When that alarm went off before the crack of dawn (what is it with runners and the wee hours of the morning?), I was coughing. And SOOOOOO tired. Should I even go if I’m not going to be able to run without losing a lung? What’s the point? Is it even in my interest health-wise to try?
I groggily googled coughing and running, which answered with a resounding no. I’m off the hook! Deal! I climbed back in bed, where I proceeded to toss and turn, mentally wrestling with myself. Am I just making an excuse? I learned that lesson already didn’t I? But no. Dr. Google says don’t run with a cough. After 20 minutes of increasing guilt and disappointment, I got real with myself. I WAS making an excuse. I was just tired and didn’t feel like getting up yet.
Fine. I got out of bed, put my tennis shoes on, shoved some peanut butter in my mouth, and called an Uber. I noticed that I already felt better. Deep down, I knew that going was the right decision, and I knew I wouldn’t regret going even if I walked the whole thing.
Life Lesson 5: Show up. Even when you don’t want to.
You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, right? Isn’t giving up without even trying an even bigger way to fail than falling short?
As I lined up with thousands of other runners, I focused on what a beautiful day it was. I could not have asked for better weather if I’d designed the day myself! There was absolutely no way I’d be able to run the whole thing, but at least I’d get some movement, and I’d enjoy being outside and listening to my book.
Despite knowing that running wasn’t physically possible, I figured what the heck? I decided to give it a try—albeit a so incredibly slow try—just to see what would happen. I’d made peace with the idea that I’d be walking the majority of the mileage, so there was no pressure to push my body beyond what it could handle. To my surprise and delight, though, it could handle a lot more than I thought. A mile passed almost without effort. No coughing (and, honestly, no sweating or real exertion, either. I was pretty much running in slow motion). I could keep going.
I hit the three mile mark with ease….and the realization that I WAS DOING THIS. And, what’s more, that I could KEEP doing this. I was going to run a freakin’ 10k!
Now, I’ve done a lot of work with self-limiting beliefs—working to change my own as well as to help my patients change theirs—and I thought I had a pretty good handle on them. As I ran, though, I contemplated just how thoroughly, unquestioningly sure I was that I would not be able to run this morning…and just how wrong I was. I came dangerously close to not even trying, and it was a psychological slap in the face how off my predictive powers were. Not only was I going to cross the finish line despite being sick, I realized that I was going to be successful because I was sick. It forced me to start slow and stick with a sustainable pace. If I had been well, there’s a pretty solid chance I would’ve started out much faster, burned out after a few miles, and STRUGGLED through the second half. I don’t know if I would have made my goal or not, but I seriously doubt I would have enjoyed the experience as much as I did.
Life Lesson 6: What you perceive as a limitation may actually hold the key to your success.
As I reflected on my first 10k, I felt proud. I accomplished something I wasn’t sure I could do, and I learned a few important lessons along the way.
Epilogue: Imagine the shock when I found myself eagerly looking forward to my first post-race run…for no reason other than sheer enjoyment. The horror! I’m not a runner…am I?
Bonus Life Lesson: With dedication and a mindset shift, that thing you dread may just turn into that thing you look forward to.
Originally published at www.ablindquest.com