Wednesday, January 01, 2014

A revolution on resolutions

Runners love to talk about goals -- almost to our detriment. We love setting new personal bests, beating our times for distance, for pace, for speed. We set goal races, have running bucket goal lists that we look to fulfill with ever building collection of bibs and medals. Sometimes, we race for those medals.

I'm just as guilty. If I'm meeting a runner for the first time, during a run, we'll eventually talk about goal races, goal times and lifelong running goals.

But many of us are here for the long haul and we realize that goals are not the point of the journey associated with being a long distance, long-time runner.

I've never made New Year's resolutions, never believed in them, never thought they added much more than a half hearted dead-of-winter attempts at improvement that inevitably -- and I mean inevitably -- fall short. The few times I started one, I failed miserably, like the time when I bought a stationary bike that sat in my condo for a full year before I decided to give it a spin. Besides, I hate gyms to begin with and a packed January evening gym session feels like torture, even more than a -19C windchilled city street.

I read a piece recently that distinguishes between goals and systems as a means to an end. The writer says stick to the systems -- those tedious, every day commitments -- and what we call goals are not only achievable but also a signpost on the road to a better you.

As writer James Clear writes, using an example from our sport but also writing about writing, winning or self development, "If you’re a runner, your goal is to run a marathon. Your system is your training schedule for the month." (Read it, a great piece.)

He writes:

Choosing a goal puts a huge burden on your shoulders. Can you imagine if I had made it my goal to write two books this year? Just writing that sentence stresses me out.
But we do this to ourselves all the time. We place unnecessary stress on ourselves to lose weight or to succeed in business or to write a best-selling novel. Instead, you can keep things simple and reduce stress by focusing on the daily process and sticking to your schedule, rather than worrying about the big, life-changing goals. 
When you focus on the practice instead of the performance, you can enjoy the present moment and improve at the same time.

I've been wearing a Boston 2013 wristband pretty every day since a buddy gave it to me in the final days of spring. I wear it because it represents the solidarity I show for our sport, but also that it represents the next signpost, one day getting back to Boston. It represents for me a goal, but I'm not going to get anywhere by looking down at my wrist while I'm typing away at my computer. My wrist ain't getting me anywhere.

As I enter the eighth year of marathon training, my 13th season of marathon training, for my 27th marathon, all I can think of are those systems that have gotten me so far, with a long way to go.

Running long
I just completed a 36 day running streak. I didn't do it by thinking of the 36 days (the day before US Thanksgiving and today, New Year's Day), but by committing to running every day. It meant planning runs before a company work party, or early morning wakeup calls to get a 5:30 a.m. run in. At the end, today, my 36th day, wasn't a day to jump up for joy, it was another marker, the next day of a running streak.

Healthy lifestyle
As part of my training rampup, I committed to focus on non-running aspects of my health. I revamped my diet from top to bottom, starting with morning smoothies to eating more fruit, fibre and cutting down on carbs. Twenty pounds lost were not done through dieting, but through conscious eating and continued exercise.

I'm not embarking on a New Year's inspired diet after a holiday binging because I consciously ate and exercised through December. I haven't gained a pound, in fact, I didn't gain any off season, postmarathon weight. Similarly I did weight work and core strengthening exercises almost daily not to get a 'more' toned body, but to help my running form. The result of this work -- weight loss and more tone -- was more an implementation of habits (or systems) than goal setting.

Embracing your own process
Every season, I sign up for races. On surface, they feel like the same goals I know is to our detriment. But I often see them as accountability checkmarks. The second I sign up for a May marathon, I know I have to commit to running in January to April. Knowing I want to finish that marathon with a decent time reminds me on a Sunday morning to get up early or to change into my winter running gear after a long day of work. My simple act of signing up for a race forces me to create a system and program -- a calendar, filled with dates with my Garmin and soles. I recently got a coach for the first time, and he's given me a training schedule, filled with tough workouts and increasing mileage. In those lung-busting runs to come, I will be focused on hitting splits and laps, knowing that the end of the system comes race day. Even on race day, experience tells me that they can't all be the best days, just another day to test all the work that you've done up to toeing the line. And I'm fine with that.

My 'resolution'
So on New Year's day, no goals to be made here. I've been in the midst of it all, today is Wednesday, the third week of a 20 week marathon program, and there's plenty of work to do. Yesterday, today in the bitter cold and maybe tomorrow morning when the next run comes up, probably in the early morning when goals are nothing but your own breath clouding the horizon.

Early morning run

1 comment:

Robin said...

Great post Kenny...certainly makes sense that's for sure! I've never been a Resolution person myself. Happy New Year.