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Maybe things aren't as out of my control as I thought
“Habits seems to make little difference on any given day, and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous.”
Earlier today, I checked my profile in Strava, the fitness-focused social website and app, to find out how I’ve been doing so far this month as I try to keep up with our May running challenge. (Strava, for me, is my running journal, and it’s also where I get to connect with lots of you, too.)
I knew this month has been better than the months leading into it, but I didn’t realize just how much. In April, I ran just shy of 23 miles; in March, I did better with just shy of 40 miles, but February was a slow month for me also, with just 22 miles. And that’s after January, a month I normally find new enthusiasm for getting back in shape, but I logged just a hair over 40 miles.
This isn’t to say that a mileage number is the be-all, end-all of how I or anyone else should judge the effort they’re putting into something. (Or that you should use numbers at all, in fact — the experience of running itself, how you feel and what you get out of it in the moment, is what gives me the most enduring sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.)
But, at some point, you have to acknowledge that the numbers aren’t lying, and they are telling me something. That, for myriad good reasons, I simply wasn’t giving my all to the thing I’m writing to you about every week. I wasn’t digging down and finding that inspiration I needed, even though I’m sure I could point to any specific day and say, yes, I had a good reason for skipping my run that day.
This month, however, that’s all changed. After a four-mile run I took this morning, I’m at just over 53 miles for the month — and feeling increasingly confident about hitting my goal of 100 miles for the month, something I haven’t reached in a long, long time.
So, what’s changed?
Not a thing I can point to in a concrete way. I haven’t changed what I eat, or purchased new shoes, or tried new gear. I haven’t bought a new treadmill, and I still run outside on the same trail I’ve always loved running, here along Atlanta’s Chattahoochee River.
What is different about this month is that I said to myself, almost without consciously realizing it, “no more excuses.” When I sent out the newsletter to you at the start of this month, announcing our May running challenge, I put myself in a box — a box with only one way out, and that’s by running 100 miles.
Necessity has been the mother of invention, at least for me. As this month has progressed, I’ve found ways to squeeze a run into the cracks and crevices of almost each day — days that involve my full-time job and picking up my son from school, as well as activities for him and for our daughter, who’s about to graduate from high school this weekend. (A fact I’m still processing!)
In the weeks and months leading into this one, an idea had taken hold in my mind: that I can push running to the side because it’s inconvenient right now. There’s too much going on, I have so many other things to take care of. That can wait. Now, that all may be true; there are times when we do, in fact, have too much going on. When our lives are filled to the brim, and when seemingly less important things just have to wait.
But, for me, that idea took hold without me even consciously thinking it. It just crept in, and made pushing my own goals to the side easier and easier. I had forgotten what I’d written in the research I’d done for an essay last year, after I spoke with writer Neal Bascomb about his book The Perfect Mile.
In the book, Bascomb writes about the legendary Roger Bannister, the British medical student who would become the first to break the 4-minute barrier in the mile, on a cloudy, windswept day in Oxford, England, back in 1954. What interests me now about it is how Bannister had to do what I’m doing now:
When he trained for the Olympics — and after, as he trained in pursuit of the four-minute barrier — Bannister was a full-time medical student at Imperial College London. That meant he was usually limited to a single, 45-minute training session in a day packed with classes, rounds at the hospital and the socializing expected of someone of his station.
(Okay, I’m not training for the Olympics, of course 😃 But I face constraints and limitations not unlike Bannister’s, and somehow he found the time to break a record no one at the time thought could be broken. It makes one think…)
What’s been a revelation for me is to discover that my thinking around running — and, by extension, around any dreams and goals I’ve harbored — had changed without me realizing it had. That, in a way, I’d given up on it without even being aware I had.
The running challenge we’ve been doing all this month has been fun for me and jolted me into a new awareness, that I need to regularly check in with myself and ask, where is my head right now? Am I where I want to be? Am I actually the captain of my soul (as the famous poem says), or am I drifting along and being led mindlessly by thoughts I wasn’t even aware I had?
I’d like to send out a huge thank you to every one of you who has participated along with me, and are striving toward goals of your own — no matter what your distance/number is. It’s been a blast to hear from you in our daily chats in the Substack app, and see the progress you’re making.
If you’re interested in joining us, there’s still 13 days left in the month — we’d love to have you!
As always, keep in touch and let me know what’s new and good with your running/life — and have a great run out there today.
P.S.: If you remember last week’s post, in which I discussed finally doing something to address my hearing (or actually my lack of it), well I did it: I’m trialing a pair of hearing aids. And, I’m discovering there is this entire world of sound I didn’t realize I’ve been missing out on — especially in the morning, when the birds sing, our back yard is filled with a symphony of song that I had to strain to hear until now. Just amazing.