I am not a runner. I am a person who sometimes runs. I run to leave the house. I run to be active. I run to be outside. Running often gives way to a clear head that gives way to contemplation.
1. You never know who you’re setting the pace for
Over Christmas and the bleak period between then and January, I didn’t run very much. It was cold enough to make my throat rasp, just walking. I was a week or so behind my schedule to run a 10k race at the beginning of February, but I could catch up. At the same time Mr Story and I were away from home, with the use of a small gym. After trying to run for a few very short minutes in the cold, I decided to go over to the dark side, and use a treadmill. I normally hate them. I work from home and a big reason to run for me is to leave the house, to breathe fresh air – as fresh as it gets in North London – to look about, explore what’s going on near where I live. I rely on looking at things to keep me occupied, and the unexpected pauses provided by traffic lights and crossings. The relentless self-conscious slog of a treadmill run does not provide these things.
Mostly, I discovered, it does not provide the variety and change of pace I easily, subconsciously indulge in. I have shown myself incapable of properly controlling a treadmill. I have previously pressed the emergency stop button with my over-enthusiastic stomach – rather a shock and sudden stop, flung forward over the front of the machine.
So, when on a treadmill, I choose a pace and stick to it for the allotted time. Which means that week, on the treadmill, I chose a pace, and stuck to it for forty minutes. How long those minutes seemed. How certain I was, every single moment that I would need to press the stop button. It was not a pace faster than my usual pace, but without regular slowing down and speeding up, my brain was fried and my feet were tied to a hypnotic rhythm.
About half way through one of these runs, my mind was both bored and panicking. It was only the relentless rhythm of my feet still going and my lungs still breathing that was keeping me on the treadmill. I knew if I slowed the machine, I’d be walking for a long while, before getting up the urge to run again. My fingers twitched near the buttons. But then, a woman climbed on the treadmill beside me and began to run.
Her feet pounded the machine next to me, providing me a rhythm to follow and inspiration to continue. A certain amount of solidarity and a certain amount of pride meant that I felt I couldn’t stop while she set the pace beside me. The encouragement provided by just her presence next to me was huge. It provided me the calm focus to continue the run.
She stopped before I did, but I felt the amount of time on the treadmill was now manageable, and finished the full run, having kept pace. I wouldn’t have without her presence next to me, without the rhythm of her steps. I remember wondering at the time what the correct etiquette was for thanking a random stranger from the treadmill next to you, for keeping you going.
While I was wondering this, and glugging down some water, she turned and spoke to me. She told me she was impressed how long I’d carried on running, that she’d had to stop. I was shocked. I consider myself to be a splodgy, slow runner, but more than that, I had been concentrating on keeping pace with her, not stopping while she was running beside me, and keeping the rhythm that she was keeping. I had no idea that she was trying to keep pace with me.
This really resonated with me; how often in life and business do you see someone else who seems to be setting the pace, someone you follow, who seems to have their rhythm all sorted, whose presence seems to push you further than you’d go by yourself, only to discover that they feel themselves to be behind, a follower?
How often do you assume that other people see the same struggling person that you tell yourself you are?
Well, whilst you feel you are struggling to keep up, other people can’t see it. They can’t see your fingers twitch towards the stop button, or the thoughts in your head, screaming that you can’t continue. They just the result of your resolve; your success, your completion of the task.
Don’t stop – you don’t know who you’re setting the pace for. While you’re aiming to keep pace with those ahead of you, you’re inspiring a lot of people behind you.
2. A Concrete Goal Keeps You Going
So, I had a 10k race booked at the beginning of February. In the months before that, how often did I run? Regularly.
I don’t currently have a race booked. How often do I run? Next to never. There are other excuses I could come up with to explain this – tooth infections, work on our flat – but none are properly valid.
I have never won a race. At least, since my first Sports Day. I don’t remember, but my Dad says I cleaned up and won loads of races, because I was the only child who paid attention and ran in the right direction. But since that first set of races, every other Sports Day was a painful awkward event, where I didn’t mind being last as long as it meant it was over. Sport and humiliation are tied together in my mind extremely closely. I have never wanted to be first, I just wanted to be invisible. This fuels my need to run when I have a race coming up. More than getting a personal best, or being a lithe athletic sort of person, training for a race is humiliation avoidance. I don’t want to have to give up. I don’t want to be noticeably rubbish. I want to keep going, to make it round in one go.
While this is a ‘negative’ sort of goal – focusing on avoiding a situation, rather than achievement, it works. It forces me to out and run when I don’t want to, even though there’s water in the kettle and a sofa covered in cushions. It forces me to break down the steps to getting there, what runs to do and when, and increasing distances and times until I am able to run a race without humiliation. This humiliation is in my own mind of course – races are not populated by jeering crowds (unlike Sports Days!)
There is so much usefulness is having a goal, negative or not. Whether it’s ‘not wasting my life being in this job this time next year’, or ‘selling my hand-weaved beard protectors to ten more shops over the next six months’, having a realistic goal encourages you to breakdown what needs to be done to get there, focusing on action, rather than vague lifestyle plans that are unmeasurable.
3. It’s Important to Slow Down
Can I just say how much I love Laura? Her calm voice on the Couch25k podcast is so encouraging, and got me started on this running malarky.
The thing I love most about her is the amount of time she spends telling you to slow down! This seems a little counter-intuitive for a running app, but it works. When people say they get out of breath running for a minute, and could never run longer, it’s because they’re running full pelt. Running as fast as I possibly can only lasts for a very short time. To achieve half an hour, an hour of running, it’s vital that I spend the first half telling myself to slow down. To keep running week after week, it’s important to tell myself not to run for a long time every day, but to pace myself. I gain nothing from splurging all my energy at the beginning, and collapsing further along.
Why sprint yourself knackered at the beginning, to crawl over the finish line? This thought works so well in business projects too. I find it so easy to concentrate on what I want the final result to be, the finish line, so I scrabble and rush to get there, forgetting that ideas, designs and projects benefit from slow and steady development. Once this slow and steady distance has been covered in the beginning stages, it so much easier to speed up to a triumphant finish.
4. Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Support
This is partly an excuse for a note to thank anyone who has ever stood alongside a race and cheered on runners, joggers and stragglers. I don’t know if you know how important it can be for someone to see a smiling face or hear a general, ‘Come on, you can do it!’
If you’re dragging your legs around a course, wondering what in God’s name you’re doing there, out of choice, having paid good money for it, wondering if anyone would notice if you just gently collapsed into the nearest hedge and crawled home, you might decide to walk or give up. Or you might hear an exceptionally well timed piece of encouragement from a stranger in the crowd. These shouts swell your heart, encourage you and make you realise your legs, although they may be shaking, can keep going.
The desire to give up, curl up in a corner and hope that no-one will notice you were ever there, occurs every now and then in running and running a business. Mostly, you’re by yourself, and you will provide the voice that tells you to keep going. But no-one can do this all the time. Sometimes you need someone to do it for you. And in that strange quirk of nature that means we often trust other peoples’ opinions more than our own, someone else’s support will be incredibly meaningful.
Make sure you have places to get that support, whether it’s testimonials from your clients to boost your confidence or drinks and chats with other people in your industry. Sometimes it will be a completely unexpected blog post, request or magazine feature. Whatever it is that tells you you can do it, that support is invaluable.
How did you start running? What motivates you to do it? Have you learnt anything from it? Are you also a bit in love with Laura from the Couch25k podcast?