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!



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  1. Great job!!!!! Keep going!!!

  2. Giddy-up Matt! I can’t wait to follow your progress.

  3. The key is putting one foot in front of the other; never put one foot in front of the same foot!

  4. Matt,

    This post speaks to me like I can not even tell you. I have not trained or even ran since I ran my first marathon in October 2011. I want to, in my mind I tell myself I am going to, I even lay out the runs for the entire training plan, but I never START. I even joined your Boston Marathon Training group, feeling that if anything is impossible, it would be running the Boston marathon, and I wanted to make it a reality. I stopped even getting on the website. My mind aches for that feeling again, and my body definately feels its absence. I always feel like I will fail before I start, and it keeps from even getting out the door.

    Thank you for your post. It made me feel less alone. Especially from a guy who writes a website that I look to daily for inspiration.


    • Tina Young says:

      Hi Heather! That is exactly how I felt after running my first, and only, marathon. I had done halfs before and loved them. Then, new runners I had met were conquering a half and I felt I had to step up my game. The training was brutal and took away my joy of running. I used many excuses as to why I wasn’t running any longer. I eventually started taking indoor cycling classes and fell in love with that. I had never worked out in a gym before, I loved the outdoors and running had given me that. Once the weather broke, though, I wondered just what the heck am I doing on a stationery bike inside when the sun is shinning outside!! That’s what did it for me! I was back outside and loving every minute of it!

      In my experience, the marathon training burned me out. It was just too much for me. I won’t run another one because I can’t stand the thought of losing my love of running again. I hope you will find that feeling again. I believe you will!


  5. Good luck!

  6. Excited to follow your journey. I have thought about attempting an ultra, but will admit it scares me. You inspired me to take the final steps to become vegan in 2011. Your current journey may just be the inspiration for an ultra. Happy running to you!

  7. Melissa Miller says:

    I am so excited you are doing Burning River this year. I love your blog and recipes and proudly wear my “no meat athlete” shirt while I run and display your magnet on my car. I am a volunteer at the race and look forward to meeting you. Good luck with your training!

  8. Fantastic start. Way to go, Matt! You’ve got plenty of support out here!

  9. That’s awesome! I’ll keep an eye out for you on the streets and trails in and around Asheville!

  10. I’m running my first marathon in April (Brighton, UK) and have been vegan since the start of the year. My training has skyrocketed in the last month and a half. 100 miler eh? Tempting, very tempting!

  11. That race is in my neck of the woods! (I live in Cleveland)

    And you’re so write about inertia, be it with blogging, writing, running, everything. Once you start moving, it’s easier to build on the momentum.

  12. Awesome sauce Matt, congrats on taking that big next step.

    Better to fail forward than not try at all!

  13. You are one inspirational person Matt! I have my very first half marathon coming up in March and am scared shitless. The mere thought of running a marathon makes me weak in the knees. An ultra marathon? 100 miles? That is sheer madness and I have the utmost respect for you even considering that type of distance. You never cease to amaze me.

  14. You write the most inspiring posts! Last year was all about failure for me–I tend to go easy on myself and always give myself an “out” so I never get very far towards my goals. Your New Year’s post about turning pro was a turning point for me, so I set a goal, made a blog for accountability, and have really worked on being consistent. I’m a kettlebell lifter and my goal is to lift a million pounds by the end of the year. Working towards that goal will keep me on track for the 4 competitions that I plan to enter (and maybe win!). I really don’t think I would be on this path without your inspirational words. Many thanks.

  15. Great 100 mile choice. Best of luck in your training! Veggie power will conquer that 100 miles of trails.

  16. You are such an inspiration! I am not a runner, but I practice Seven-Star Praying Mantis style Kung Fu 4 days a week, and my fiance and I would like to run a marathon one day. We are also mostly vegan, trying to eat a lot more veggies and fruit than dairy or meat. Veggies definitely give a lot more energy than dairy or meat. 🙂

  17. Hey, best of luck Matt! The Burning River is 40 minutes from my house. Last year my daughter and I went and watched the beginning…yes, we were likely the only two there at 4:15 am who were not runners or crew, but it was very exciting! After the runners took off, we drove to the other side of the park to run 5.5 on the blacktop trail. (We didn’t have headlights to attempt the dirt trails in the dark) It is great that my daughter is old enough to run with me and it was inspiring to see all those people trained (crazy!) enough to start the race. All and all a very cool morning.
    not sure if it mentions it on the webpage, but you’ll be starting the race by a “castle”… Squire’s Castle…the old gate house to the mega mansion that was never built by the grieving Mr. Squire.
    If you opt to wear a No Meat Athlete shirt, we will say hello at the race this summer. Again, best wishes with your training.

  18. Congratulations on starting. Really looking forward to reading more. Good luck!

  19. Congrats for even starting! A hundred miles is very scary, but I know you can do it! I can’t even imagine! I’m currently training to do a 10k this year, and at some point, I would really, REALLY like to do a marathon, but running 26.2 miles sounds so scary. There is still a big part of my mind that’s telling me a marathon is beyond my reach, that it would be a big, fat DNF for me. Reading blog posts like yours, though, inspires me and I’m definitely not giving up my dream of running a marathon someday. Best of luck to you and I can’t wait to read your blog about the 100-mile race!

  20. I love this post — it really is easier – and so much less scary – not to try. Just gotta get out there. Thanks! 🙂

  21. Congrats on starting! I can’t wait to read your race re-cap blog 24 weeks from now!

    Is there any chance you’ll be at the Texas Veg Fest in Austin on April 6th?? 🙂

  22. Alanna Garrison says:

    Matt – great start on tackling Burning River — you are right in that you have to start somewhere! I can’t commit until I get a training plan put together and actually stick to it 🙂 I’m hoping to get through Mohican 100 in June for a WS qualifier — and I’ll be wearing my new NMA tank!!

  23. Jason Smith says:

    I’ll live vicariously through you for this 100. I have a very romanticized vision of what a 100 would be like. In my dreamy view I see it as an awesome hike/adventure/race. Keep that in your heart that its an awesome adventure! Forget the race & effort & sacrifice. They’ll only weigh you down when it’s time for you to fly! Enjoy Matt. I wish you the best of luck and hope you toe the line on the day.

  24. Awesome, Matt! False starts and DNF’s are only failures if that’s where you choose to stop. Life is one big endurance race. Good luck! Can’t wait to read about it.

  25. Jon Weisblatt says:

    The Miracle isn’t that I finished. The Miracle is I had the courage to start.” John “The Penguin” Bingham
    Good Luck Matt! Try to enjoy the journey.

  26. Great post! It’s so true, the hardest part of accomplishing any daunting task is finding the courage and focus to get started!

    Good luck, Matt.

  27. Good luck! This post is truly inspirational, and we all know you’ll do it! 😀

  28. Good luck to you. Ever forward, never backward!

    Also, do you have a specific training plan you’re following, or a mash-up of several different ones?

  29. Best wishes!! This post is exactly what the root of health and wellness should be about. Truly inspirational !!

  30. Good job Matt! keep up the new updates shared with us..

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