Step by Step
This is a repost of a blog from 2016.
Several years ago I heard a radio interview with a triathlete. Each race differs but the standard is more or less swim a mile, bike 25 miles, and run 5 miles. I’ve never been a good runner, but there was a time in my life when I could easily swim a mile and/or bike 25. I decided I wanted to get back to that place.
I finally made the commitment in early February of this year. I am not participating in any organized race, just going to pick a day and do it for myself. Just to prove that I can. I picked September 21. It’s the harvest season and it seemed like this would be my project, the thing I would “grow” this spring and summer.
So, I sat down and crunched some numbers and made a spreadsheet. Starting from zero and getting up to the above goals in 7 months meant I would have to add .2 miles per week to my running capacity, 2 miles to my biking game, and 2 lengths of the pool to my swim.
Those tiny increments seemed easily doable. The only challenge really would be to stick with it. I’ve tried to create exercise goals for myself before, but never been able to sustain them. I knew there was no way I could accomplish my goal unless I made slow and steady improvement. I couldn’t train once a month and expect to reach my goals.
One mile is 70 lengths of the pool I swim in. My first try I did four and that felt like a lot. The next time I did ten. Now I am up to 40 (over half a mile) and it feels like a nice workout. My last bike ride was 19.5 miles. It was exhausting. I would not have been able to walk, let alone run 5 miles after that ride. But I made it and will do it again until it becomes easy.
As expected the running is the hardest for me. And so it is the training I least like to do. It took me about six weeks to figure out that one of the reasons it didn’t feel like I was making as much progress is that I thought that there is no way to rest while running. On a bike you can coast down hills. In the pool you can back stroke while you catch your breath. But there’s no coasting in running. Then I remembered a friend who had run the New York City marathon by running half a mile and walking half a mile the whole way. Walking is the resting of running!
My running endurance is now slowly improving. My last time out I ran about a mile out of 1.6 mile total distance covered.
Apparently, I had a lot of fixed ideas and expectations for how this was going to go. I am disappointed that I have not lost any weight yet with all this extra exercise. But I have noticed that things are a lot less jiggly. Maybe the weight loss will come.
There have been some completely unexpected benefits. My mood has improved. (Should have listened to that therapist all those years ago who told me that moving was a better antidepressant than pills.) I’m getting to spend time outside in what I think must be the most beautiful spring in the history of springs. Someone told me I’m glowing the other day. Most importantly, I’m feeling more confident.
This feels like the first goal I have chosen purely for myself in my life. No one is making me do this. There’s no prize at the end, no public recognition. When I gave myself the pep talk about consistency I had no idea if I’d be able to keep up with it. I had no idea if I’d be able to reach my goal. I still don’t .
It’s always easy to get distracted, to find that thing that’s more important. Especially in this case when I have no outside accountability, no consequences if I don’t make it. For some reason, I am keeping up with it. The most unexpected benefit is that I am keeping a promise to myself. I’ve not been really good at that in the past; I’m much better at keeping promises when there’s someone holding me responsible. Whenever I open my spreadsheet and mark down that I’ve been able to go a little farther than last time, I’m keeping that promise to myself.
I’m also learning something about incremental benchmarks along the way. I set a stretch goal and gave myself plenty of time to reach it. Because the end was so far off I felt like the whole thing had a lot of time to fall apart. Each time it doesn’t fall apart I have an opportunity to celebrate getting a little closer and not giving up. There’s still that voice that’s telling me that I won’t make it but it’s getting drowned out by a lot of celebrating these days.
My next goal is to learn how to really internalize all these lessons. I’m not sure what will motivate me when I pass this goal. I’m kind of afraid that I’ll just stop on September 22, but I’m hoping I will be so in love with honoring the promises I make to myself that I’ll keep going.
I had no idea that this was going to be a process of inner growth. I thought I was setting myself a purely physical challenge. I shouldn’t have been surprised. I know perfectly well that any time I can’t do something, going deep and looking at what’s really holding me back will probably get me past the resistance.
I LOVE finding growth opportunities where I least expect them.
I’ll keep you posted as I progress, but right now, I gotta go for a run.