on Going the Distance

I’ve been running on and off for a pretty long time. My first memory of running was at an elementary school track meet. As far as I remember it was kind of a surprise to me, that I was going to race in a track meet, never really considering myself a runner. Perhaps my phys ed teacher figured it would be good for me, considering my early “husky” days and he sprung it on me, or maybe I was just in denial of the fact that I had no choice but to partake in that event. The specific memory I have is of lying on the ground, eyes closed, completely out of breath, dizzy and light-headed, my best friend holding a Popsicle over me, probably to help with my blood sugar. It was not a good feeling at the time, but I can chuckle about it now.


Fast forward probably a decade, I ran my first organised 10km run as part of a work team.  I was mountain biking at the time, climbing up everything we rode down, so my cardio was pretty good to start with. A few of the first runs were really difficult, but the weeks went by and the distances slowly lengthened (one of my coworkers basically “coached” us). I slowly became stronger. Many of the runs were with coworkers, and many I did on my own. Some of my favourite running memories are of the Burnaby Lake in the autumn during these days, the air cool and moist, the damp ground covered with yellow and brown leaves. I’d slowly learned to love running.

It was around then that I also started hiking up The Grouse Grind with a weekly group, the same group that I first learned to love running with. It got a little competitive between me and one of my co-grinders. Our speeds improved, and I soon became bent to always be the first up the hill. Every time we went up became a race for me. I did achieve my personal record of 48 minutes, but with a price – I encountered my first running related injury which caused me to stop running until the following year.


I haven’t mentioned it before, but I used to paddle outrigger canoe competitively. Before I returned to school I was on track to qualifying for racing in a boat going to what is basically the world cup of outrigger canoe paddling in Hawaii. That is another story, but it is a big reason why my running tapered significantly in the years after the Grouse Grind. Combined with my return to university full time, and having to work to pay for it, I basically stopped doing most things related to sports and running.

The running kind of of started again, intermittently, through university, and I found myself living in Burnaby, able to revisit some of the places I learned to love running. I was also fortunate enough to be selected for a field study in Italy, where some of the group ran so I joined them. My love for running returned with my renewed habit of daily morning runs for seven weeks. They weren’t long runs, 30 – 60 minutes at a time, but I got to explore Rome, Florence, Tuscany and Milan by foot and in the early hours when the roads were all cool and quiet. That habit returned home with me, and I was strong enough that 12km morning runs became a daily ritual. I even lost 25lbs and was the leanest I’ve ever been!

A few years and life events later and I found myself in Kelowna, training for running in barefoot/minimal shoes, motivated by a continued pain in my knee that always arose after about 15km (I’ll definitely write a post about that one day). I’d never been able to break that 15km barrier, no matter what shoes I’d tried, and I didn’t really know anything about good gait. I came across barefoot/minimal running and thought I should try it. Slow, regular runs over time and focusing on foot strength and changing my gait paid off – Over the course of 3 years I finally doubled my distance to 32km! Once I felt strong on my minimal barefoot shoes however, my bravado took over and I started pushing my distances faster than I did at the start. The foot and knee fatigue at the end of that season turned me off from running for a couple of years. It was too much for my body, and too fast.

Present day – I’ve been cycling weekly, getting into cycling in the way that I tend do with things. High volume right away, increasing distances quickly. I started with 50km, then 60km a week later, then 70km the week after that and finally 80km. Just this past weekend, my knees had been sore for two weeks straight, no matter how much I stretched and massaged the related muscles. I decided to dust off my trail shoes and go for a run. But this time I tried a little bit of wisdom. Slower than I thought I should, and short – just an easy 5km. Well guess what – the knee pain is gone and it was a terrific run.

Yesterday’s short, slow run

What is my point through all of this you ask? What I haven’t mentioned is that I’m also learning about playing the long game with my career and with personal success. I’ve tended to expect results fast when it comes to my efforts. For the most part I’ve been successful. I can learn to use new technology pretty quick, which is very valuable in my career as a software developer. These days though, playing it slow and steady is a strategy I’m finding more and more value in as I see evidence of its success in my life. So these are the things I’m trying to work on, both in my sport related pursuits as well as in my life, in order to learn to play the longer game. I hope you find them valuable too:

1. Start Slow

Whether it is a career based decision, a financial one, or if it’s a day of running, I need to start out within my ability. I know I can run 32km after years of consistent training, but I shouldn’t start to try running 32km. Since I’ve been off of running for a couple of years, I’m going to have to spend some time reviving my stamina and endurance.

Same goes for pursuing other goals like saving money for instance. I have monthly commitments that prevent me from putting away LOTS of money every month. I can afford to put away a little bit of money every month, and my bank account shows my success building up over the years.

Every little bit counts.

2. Make it a Habit

I have tons of habits, some good and some bad. Introducing new habits is never easy but it is important so that I can be consistent over the long term. For fitness this means scheduling a weekly meeting with a personal trainer or running near home before work, where it is easy to get out, get a good run, then quickly get home and shower.

This summer I started spending one hour every weekday morning on something that would benefit my personal development directly. I’ve learned a bunch of new software related skills, read a ton of books and made it part of my morning coffee drinking ritual. My wife and I also have a weekly Friday date night set which keeps us both from overworking. It’s my favourite night of the week.

Both my personal life and my professional life have seen success of these new habits which I’m now applying to cycling and running. Next: form some new ones.

3. Pay Attention

Whether it is my emotional well being or a pain in my knee or foot, I have to learn to read the signs and pull back on the reigns if necessary to evaluate what it is that I am doing. When I find myself generally happy, but reluctant to head to the office in the morning, I know something is wrong. If my knee is sore after two weeks, maybe it’s time to change something?

If a business strategy I’m working on is showing some successes, it could be worth focusing some extra time on it to see if it is worth scaling.

Our bodies and brains are pretty good at knowing when something is amiss, whether it’s an emotional or physical thing. On a lot of systems out there, there are usually indicators to watch for to know when something is working or when it is failing.

When the signals are showing, I need to get better at slowing down to read them, and then acting on that input appropriately.

4. Increase Slowly

I read somewhere that 10% increases are the way to get better at physical training. This is most likely a gross generalisation, but distils down to good advice. When I failed at the 32km max distance mark, I was increasing my distances to quick. Same goes for my jump back into cycling, increasing by 10km at a time. When I retrained my gait for minimalist running, I started out at 2km runs for a few weeks, increasing in increments of meters. Now that I do the math, it was increasing at about 10% every couple of weeks.

This slow increase helped me get used to and even get strong at a given interval of performing. If any problems were going to arise related to anything else (nutrition, not enough sleep) I knew it was not related to the run itself.

If you are like me and like to go go go, and go hard, then this slow increase can sometimes get boring. I like the experience of new places, I like going fast and hard on my bike.

To get around the boredom of a slow, long path, I’ve developed a habit of going to new trails to run, or going to new coffee shops for each of my morning hours of self-focused work. This helps a LOT.

5. Love the Results

Months ago I started my own small business endeavour that makes me a few dollars a month. It started out really slow, and I would watch the related statistics daily until the moment of my first sale.

Getting that first felt really good! After that I was motivated to grow the business a bit more and make some changes so it could be more successful. Seeing real results is so motivating, especially after you spend the time building something and worry that nobody will be interested in what you have to offer.

This is a good case to execute fast, so you can get a real item out there for people to see, then get added motivation when you see that they like what you are doing. Now I focus on executing thing fast, ignoring perfection, just so I can get more results to love (and some results to tell me I should stop what I’m doing, related to “Pay Attention” above).

6. Focus

I use Evernote to record ideas that come to me throughout the day. The notebook labelled “IDEAS” is by far the notebook with the most notes. Ideas for businesses or apps or other projects come to me almost daily and I get excited by them.

The problem with so many ideas is I’m regularly distracted by something, when I should be working on something else.

So far I’ve tried things like the Pomodoro technique, various site blockers, todo lists and more, with varying degrees of success.

The one thing that has worked the most for me, is saying “no”. This goes for things I’d like to do and things other people want me to do.

The “IDEAS” notebook still regularly gets hit with new ideas weekly, but the “PROJECTS” notebook, the one with actual, active projects, only has two projects in it at any given time. This has worked wonders for my ability to execute, and I have more live projects now than ever before. I also deliver finished projects faster than before.

I’ve also learned to prioritise the projects I choose to work on a number of metrics. These include: long-term goals, short-term goals, happiness. If a project I want to work on can hit most of those items, it grows legs and I work on it. If not, it goes into a “FUTURE_IDEAS” folder for later down the road.

On the trail in Kelowna

Everything I’m working on is a “work in progress” but I’m making headway. I’ll be going for another run tonight, probably my third this year. What are you working on to improve for yourself? What techniques do you use to help? Please comment below and we can talk about it.

This post was inspired by today’s Daily Dose. I was thinking about hiking yesterday as I ran. I would like to do more of it. I think I will.

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