There’s two things you need to know about me before reading this. One, I like to measure success with numbers. Two, I am good at procrastinating.
Perhaps unfortunately, the way my brain works is to compare all things in life on a numerical scale. What grade did I get on that test? How much does that job pay? How fast did I run that mile? Rationally, I know that thinking of things in these terms isn’t ideal. It’s possible to not have the top grade in a class but still understand the concepts and be competent. It’s possible to find a lesser paying job and still enjoy it. And it’s possible to enjoy running and not always be getting faster. I know these things on a rational level, but my first instinct is a different story.
Running is something that as of the last 2-3 years I’ve been trying to get into. I’m not a traditionally athletic individual. I’m woefully incompetent at hand-eye coordination and I didn’t grow up playing sports. However, running is something that seemingly anyone should be able to do without significant training. I like the idea of not needing equipment and being able to just get up and go whenever the whim hits me. I like being outside. I like being alone with my thoughts. I like feeling like I’m getting stronger every time I run. It’s good, it works for me.
But ever since I started running, I was disappointed to learn that I’m not good at it. I have tons of friends who are exceptional runners. My boyfriend, Adam, can run a marathon at 6 minute flat pace. Gross. Literally all of my friends in college ran the Pittsburgh Half Marathon in 2014 with respectable times. And I’m friends with several other people (Catie, Arty, Erica) who have run full marathons with amazing times (in my opinion). It’s pretty motivating to be surrounded by talented and dedicated runners but it’s also slightly demoralizing to know I’m so much slower.
On a good day, I can run a 10k in an hour, on a bad day it’s slower. And by bad day, I mean, a day where I haven’t been eating well that week, a day where the humidity in Houston is up to 90% and the ambient temperature is also in the 90s, a day where I took a break the week before and I’m feeling lethargic, etc. I know that not every day can be fast, but that doesn’t make me like it. I often get discouraged when my pace doesn’t get faster. I realize that part of the problem is I don’t really do any sort of track workouts or interval running, I just try to run as fast as I can every time. Remember guys, I’m new at running. I just learned how to pace myself for longer distances last year.
Sometimes, I will let what seems like a lack of improvement, based on the numerical results from my GPS watch, get to me and I will stop focusing on running so much. In addition, I will let my excellent procrastination and excuse making skills get in the way.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve used an excuse to let myself be a lard for that day and not just get out there and run some distance at any pace.
I’m tired, I feel sick, I have terrible cramps and I feel like my insides are being torn apart (you know you’ve been there), I’ve had a rough day at work and I just want to sit in my bed and eat my feelings, whatever. I will let myself use these excuses and then be inactive rather than have what I would categorize as a mediocre run.
So I decided for April, to motivate myself by setting a numerical goal. It’s important to know how your brain works so you can trick it. My goal in April was to run at least 3.1 miles every day in the month, NO MATTER WHAT. A 5k a day, if you will. And I did it!
While my pace hasn’t gotten significantly faster (the way I generally measure improvement), I definitely felt much better! Knowing that I was going to do all this running, really made me focus on eating well and sleeping well (to the best of my ability). I think I had my most consistent dietary habits during this month. I would eat a fulling breakfast every day and a good clean vegetarian lunch. Breakfast and lunches haven’t been an issue for me but I sometimes tend to slack in the dinner department. Previously, if I had been feeling particularly tired after work I would sometimes eat only cereal for dinner or just ten thousand snacks but never a full meal. During April, I always made sure to have a hardy snack before the run (usually a banana PB smoothie) and a real dinner. This really helped.
This goal kind of became something I looked forward to completing and checking off each day. There were days where I really didn’t want to do it. I woke myself up out of naps after work at least 5 times and forced myself to go for a run. When running a lot, it’s important to get enough sleep and I think that was something I wasn’t necessarily doing the best job of. I even woke up early one morning (think 5 am) before work to get a run in so I had the evening free to hang out with friends. This is absolutely absurd because if anyone has tried to wake me up in the morning, they know it’s not pretty. But I really committed.
Every time I felt that I “forced” myself to run, I ended up feeling really happy about the decision once it was over. It was nice to feel accomplished for the day and I could feel myself getting stronger. There were some fast days and many slow days. Yet as whole, during the rest of my day when I wasn’t running, I felt 10x better.
Towards the final week of the month, I realized that 3.1 miles a day would only total 93 miles for the month. And math-minded Julia decided that that wasn’t good enough and a nice round number like 100 miles would be better. I was literally so tired from all the running by the last week and I had also given up on consistent stretching by this point (oops) that going more than 3.1 miles a day was a bit of stretch goal. I managed to slug out those extra 7 miles and completed the month by being able to say I had ran at least a 5k a day for 30 days in a row for a total of 100 miles and I am really proud of myself!
I’m pretty pleased that I’ve found a different way to motivate myself. Setting numerical goals is something that works for me. I will admit, that after April ended, I had a rather hectic week at work and took four days off from running to sit in my bed and feel stressed and sorry for myself (lol). I like to call these days #larddays. I suppose that’s a testament to the power of setting goals and I’m in the process of setting some running goals for myself for the remainder of May. I’m planning to run a half marathon in January so I’m trying to keep at it even during the terribly hot Houston summer.