I started. Really, actually, started.
The timing is good. This Saturday marks the end — of the hard part, at least — of writing my book. (I thought the same thing three weeks ago, but this time it’s for real.)
And last Saturday marked exactly 24 weeks until the Burning River 100 Mile Endurance Run, my “A” race for this year.
Twice in the past I’ve had plans to run 100-milers, even picked out the races. Once I even signed up, and wrote a blog post about it for a little accountability. So why am I not the proud owner of a badass 100-miler finisher’s buckle?
Because I failed to take the single most important step toward finishing anything:
I didn’t start.
The Smallest, Most Important Step
“A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.” – Lao-tzu
Productivity gurus and GTD experts will tell you that the way to avoid procrastinating, when it comes to big, hairy, scary projects, is to define and take the first (tiny) action. Basically, to start.
Want to get off the couch, get in shape, and run a half marathon?
The action to focus on each day isn’t running 3 or 10 or 13.1 miles, but putting your running shoes on and getting out the door. Once you’re out there, you’ll probably stay out and do a little more.
Procrastinating on that blog post, or that chapter in that novel you’re writing?
Do whatever it takes to get your butt in the chair and write the first sentence. After that, inertia works in your favor, and you’ll more likely sit there and write it than stop with one sentence. (Yep, this is me, today and every other time.)
So often, it’s fear that keeps us from achieving goals, and from starting in the first place. The beauty of starting, though, is that once you’re in the arena, actually doing the work, things usually aren’t nearly as scary or as hard as you make them out to be when you’re on the outside.
Why I Failed
In my previous attempts at 100’s (can I even call them attempts, if I never started?), I did some things correctly. I mapped out a rough plan with a few intermediate races along the way. And as I said, I even signed up once. That’s a huge step, and I’m proud of 2010-me for having the balls to fork over $125 for something that intimidated me as much as 100 miles did.
With a perspective that only comes with time, I can now look back and see why I didn’t start training. I told myself it was that I was burnt out and needed a break, that having a kid made it harder to do stuff like this, and every other not-completely-false excuse in the book too.
The real reason? I was afraid. Nothing more.
It’s Easier Not to Try
If you start an ultra and don’t finish, you get a big, fat DNF (“Did not finish”). It’s pretty obvious, looking back, that the reason I couldn’t get myself to commit to a training program and actually start is simply that I didn’t want to DNF.
I didn’t believe I could finish a 100, and I thought that if I started training, it was likely I’d one day start the race. Which meant — you gotta love how the mind works — that starting the training would get me one step closer to a DNF.
In other words: Don’t want to fail? Simple, just don’t try.
It’s not that I did nothing those other times. Most recently, last summer after I was inspired by Scott Jurek’s and Rich Roll’s books, I set my sights on a winter 100. And I actually did started running a lot — base-building, I told myself. I even put together a nice little running streak.
But I didn’t choose a training plan. I didn’t say, “I’m doing this,” and I didn’t mark on my calendar the exact date when training would begin. And because of that, it was easy (and comfortable) not to start.
The Difference this Time
I’m not quite foolish enough to proclaim that this time is “the one.”
A lot could go wrong. I’ve been fairly consistent with running over the winter, and on some pretty serious hills, but I don’t have the kind of mileage base I’d like to have.
But I know I’m a step closer. I’ve learned from my mistakes, and I’m better equipped because of them.
This time, I have a training plan. I’m using one from Bryon Powell’s book, Relentless Forward Progress (btw, we’re planning to have Bryon on as a guest in our next podcast episode).
This time, I programmed my trusty Google calendar to tell me when I had a few days before official training started, and when it was go-time.
And this time, this very week, I started. I put in the first 6-miler and 5-miler, and today I’ve got another 6 on the docket. Nothing hard yet, but it feels so very, very different from just clocking miles with no aim other than running for 30 or 40 or 60 minutes. For the past few years, that’s how I’ve run — for time, not for miles. For myself, not for any race goal.
It’s been nice, and in many ways it was all I could muster and it was just what I needed. But I’m ready to train again.
And now, at the very least, I can say that I’ve started.
PS — A quick advertisement that in about two weeks (Sunday, March 3rd), I’ll be speaking again at the NYC Vegetarian Food Festival. The title of my talk is “Hacking Habit Change: Engineering Your Diet and Fitness Habits for Success,” and I’ll be expanding on the topics of posts like these. Doug and I will be at the No Meat Athlete booth both days at this terrific event, so if you’re nearby, I hope you’ll come hear me talk and stop by our booth to say hi!