When you feel like you just can’t continue…

…start again.  Start as if you’re starting from scratch.

I was remembering this morning the experience of running my very first sub-hour 10K, back in March 2010.  It was a really big deal for me, but I absolutely loathed it!  Around 6K I really honestly thought I couldn’t go a step further.  I’d started too fast and I felt dreadful – dizzy and out of breath and aching.  I thought about how I’d stop right there, get off the path, give up and walk back to the lockers.  I clearly imagined myself walking back across Regent’s Park, collecting my bag and going home. 

Then I realised that whilst I’d been running all this through my mind, I’d still been travelling forward, one step at a time, at exactly the same pace.  I’d covered some more ground.  So it was possible to keep going.  I got back in my race and ran the last kilometres like I was just starting out on a little 4K run.  I didn’t manage a negative split, but I did get in before the hour (58:28).

At the more dramatic end of the scale, Scott Jurek, one of the greatest endurance runners, got 60 miles into the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon in Death Valley when he collapsed by the side of the road, feeling utterly hopeless and unable to go any further.  As recounted in Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, Scott told himself “There’s no way.  You’re done.  You’d have to do something totally sick to win this thing now.  Sick like what?  Like starting all over again.  Like pretending you just woke up from a great night’s sleep and the race hasn’t even started yet.

And he did it.  He got up, shrugged off the pain of the last 60, and ran eighty miles faster than ever before, even setting a new record time for the Badwater race with a time of 24 hours, 36 minutes.

I think sometimes life goes the same way.  You might have worked incredibly hard or ploughed your heart and soul into something, built yourself up to achieve your goals and dreams, and then for whatever reason doubt enters your mind.  It seems too hard, and the end too far away.  All the little setbacks and struggles that you overcame at the time, suddenly feel like a weight of evidence that tells you it won’t be possible to reach the finish.

But what if you throw them aside?  Dismiss all your doubts and fears and anything that’s come before this moment?  Start exactly where you are right now and take one step forward, as if it’s your first?

“What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step. It is always the same step, but you have to take it.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Do more successful people run? (Or does running make you more successful?)

Getting a new perspective

I’m fascinated by the other people out running in the early morning, and the commonalities that have us setting our alarm clocks an hour early, pulling our running clothes on and heading out into a dark, chilly morning.

Without any hard evidence (as yet!), I’m sure that as a group we achieve more, create more, solve more problems and demand more of ourselves.

The inventor, James Dyson told the FT’s weekend magazine recently that he’d “think nothing of a six-mile run before breakfast”.

There is plenty of medical research to be found on the benefits of running on energy levels, mental alertness and positivity, and all of these factors surely contribute to higher productivity.

I also think running, and particularly early morning running, encourages three more subtle success habits:

  1. The habit of starting something: getting up and getting going.  Creating or inventing or pioneering requires taking a step on a new path, departing from the usual, breaking the mould, starting something brand new.  Sometimes it’s difficult to get going on a new idea, but it’s only once you get started that the next steps present themselves.  Thus I think the practice of starting your day by shaking yourself out of the “normal” routine, getting up and getting going, inspires a more active and creative mind.
  2. The habit of being open. I think our tendency is to be closed; head down, under pressure, rushing, stressed, stubborn and frustrated.  Getting out in the open air and space and breathing in a new day is an excellent counter to modern life.
  3. The habit of being uncluttered.  Wherever possible, I don’t take anything with me but my keys.  If I’m going to run at dawn, I need to lay out my running clothes the night before and streamline a morning routine that would otherwise certainly tend towards cluttered!  I think it’s good practice.  Free yourself and your mind, and see what comes in!