12 weeks ago I never thought I’d run a half marathon. But three weeks ago I couldn’t comprehend the fact that I wasn’t going to.
I’m going to tell you the story of how my dreams of completing said marathon were shattered by a small, erratic terrier. But more importantly I’m going to tell you how this whole experience changed my outlook on life – in 12 short weeks.
It began with an email. I was invited to train for, and compete in the Nike Women’s Half Marathon. As no one else in my office would, I agreed to do it. “Why not?” I thought – a question that didn’t take long to be answered.
The first week went something like this…
Followed by two or three weeks of this…
At which point I met with my trainers – Bec Wilcock and Sam Strutt – and everything changed. I had an epiphany: “Sh*t, I actually have to run 21km soon.”
So I got into gear. My coaches constructed an 8-week training program specifically tailored to my needs. It consisted of speed runs, recovery runs and one long run per week. I tracked my workouts, my diet and ultimately my progress in my training journal and gradually I improved.
I had good weeks and bad weeks. Times where I felt extremely motivated and times when any excuse would do, but eventually the switch flicked and I wanted to do it. In under two months, I went from running three kilometres to managing sixteen and to be honest, I felt great. I noticed a few changes…
I was more ‘focused’ (read: fresh on a Sunday).
I was getting stronger and my legs were getting leaner.
And my food intake could’ve been confused for the rations of a small village.
And then this happened…
Except it was a dog instead of a pole, and my knee instead of my genitalia. As the story goes, I didn’t get to run the race… but it’s the journey that counts, right?
Training for a marathon (or half marathon) is not easy. It is just as much a test of mental strength as of physical endurance, and I learnt a lot in the process.
And while these may have kept us alive during our primitive years – fleeing from predators and foraging for food – in today’s abundant world, they keep us stagnant.
According to Tony Schwarz in the Harvard Business Review, high achievers have one thing in common. That is, “their willingness to push themselves beyond their current limits…despite the discomfort that creates, the sacrifice of more immediate gratification, and the uncertainty they’ll be rewarded for their efforts.”
In other words, if you allow yourself to drift, to merely go through the motions and never push yourself beyond your limits, you will never improve or truly succeed.
This was a quote in my Nike training journal that really resonated with me. It was useful when my mind was chanting “stop” during long runs and when I was at the physiotherapist receiving treatment for my knee. I learnt that pain and discomfort are in the mind and if you remember that, you can manage it.
You need to challenge yourself and push your limits often because no one ever triumphed by staying in their comfort zone. Ask yourself, do you shy away from challenges? Is your immediate reaction to say no to confronting situations? How often do you push beyond your self-imposed limits? It’s easy to maintain the status quo but it requires courage to take risks. It’s when we are uncomfortable yet forced to cope that growth occurs.
We spend years of schooling constantly competing, pushing ourselves to be the best that we can – in sport, academics, music and more. We are pushed by our teachers, our parents and our classmates but when we finish, who is around to push us? The answer: you are.
The sooner you realise that you are the only one who is going to force yourself to be active, the sooner you will be on the road to success. Which leads me to my next point…
For most of us, it’s more appealing to lie on the sofa eating Doritos than to get up and go for a run. And when push comes to shove, more often than not our motivation disappears as quickly as the chip packet. So in the words of Kayla Itsines, “rely on discipline not motivation.” And since we’ve all seen her banging body and unwavering dedication, it’s safe to say it’s a foolproof plan.
But practicing discipline doesn’t come overnight. My training has taught me that it pays to make things habitual. A study published in The European Journal of Social Psychology found it took on average 66 days to form a habit, such as eating fruit at lunch or running for 15 minutes a day. However, the actual number of days ranged from 18 to 254 days. The results showed that the easier it was to integrate these small habits into the participants lives, the more likely they were to become automatic. In other words, make small changes to your routine and build on them until you form habits. Or stop thinking and #justdoit.
You’ll never get anywhere if you don’t know what you’re striving for, so set goals. As an average person, I don’t often challenge myself. I hope to get through the day without spilling coffee down my white top or forgetting my lunch. I set small goals not physical feats like ‘run 21km in under two hours’. But I’ve learnt it’s important to set high benchmarks because we are capable of a lot more than we give ourselves credit for. Make goals achievable, yes, but not easy. As I have said, you will only grow from the struggle.
There is no point setting goals if you don’t track your progress. For me, I exercised to stay fit, I went to gym classes and followed a fairly repetitive fitness regime. It wasn’t until I had something to strive for, and milestones to meet, that I realised how little progress I had made with my fitness.
For athletes, self-tracking is hardly a new phenomenon but the benefits of the quantified self transcend fitness. Whether you are hoping to become more productive at work, diagnose a food allergy, or sleep better, tracking personal data can provide significant insight. By collecting information and recognising patters, we are given the tools for self-improvement. Plus, new technologies are making it simpler than ever to take the quantitative methods of business and science and apply it to the personal realm, to allow the individual to take control. And I’d advise you do just that.