9 PRINCIPLES AND 1,000 DAYS OF STREAKING
Happy Comma Day to me! It’s been 1,000 days since I first laced up my running shoes and started a Runner’s World Run Streak intended to last from Memorial Day to the Fourth of July. With each step, I’ve become stronger, wiser, and more courageous and self-compassionate. I do all I can to live my life according to the values and lesson I share with others as authenticity is very important to me in both my personal life and counseling practice. Here are a few of the many lessons I’ve taught and applied in my running experience.
When things feel hard, focus on your breath.
In the beginning days of running, I digested everything running. One particular article about
breathing techniques explained that you step harder on each out-breath. It recommended timing your breathing so that the in-breath is one count longer than the out-breath (i.e. in for 4 and out for 3 or in for 3 and out for 2). This avoids stepping down harder on the same foot every time. This has become a habit for me—typically 3-2. I’m not sure if this has the benefits it claims, but it has been a good grounding technique when I start to struggle mentally or physically. Whether you’re stuck in regret of the past or carried away with anxiety and negative thoughts, you can bring yourself back to the present moment by focusing on your breath. There are numerous breathing techniques for both grounding and running, so I keep it simple and practice it often. If it’s too difficult to remember, it won’t help.
Baby steps will move you forward.
The brain works very hard to protect and keep us safe, so it tries to talk us out of anything difficult, uncomfortable, painful or boring. Setting realistic goals (both achievable and sustainable) are essential to achieve success. Taking on the RW Run Streak challenge meant committing to just 15 minutes a day for 40 days which felt very attainable when presented in that way. Although running a mile was easy for me, running a mile every single day was not. I was, however, determined to complete the 40 days and eventually 365 days and now 1,000. If the challenge was presented as a 1,000 day challenge, I never would have agreed to it. The concept of building on smaller goals is how I trained for my first 5K. Using the C25K app, I started out running 60 seconds at a time which I knew I could do. Sixty seconds became 90 seconds then eventually 30 minutes. I think you get the idea. If you have a goal or project that feels overwhelming, break it down into the smallest possible parts. “All or nothing” thinking will keep you stuck. You don’t have to do it all at once. Set a timer for 15 minutes or focus on a small task or section and see what happens. Once you get started, it’s not so overwhelming.
Whining doesn’t get it done.
Doing a run streak doesn’t mean that I feel like running every day. The first year was the most challenging and involved me deciding over and over if I wanted to end my streak. No matter how much I wanted to quit, I couldn’t imagine letting down my family and especially myself. It didn’t stop me from whining about it. Procrastination got the best of me and sometimes still does, causing me to run in the heat or late at night. Some of my best runs started with a bad attitude and ended in gratitude. One cold winter morning, I really didn’t want to go out so set my intention on gratitude. I had the opportunity to see the sunrise and a sky with cotton candy clouds. I may not feel like running every day but I’m grateful that I get to choose. Research supports that focusing on gratitude is effective in improving physical health, emotional regulation, and self-motivation. A little gratitude can shift your perspective, change your attitude and help you improve your life.
Don’t be a jerk.
Oh how I remember the voice of the self-critic, especially during my long runs when I trained for my first half marathon. “You’re too old.” “You’re not a real runner.” “You can’t do this.” The self-critic protects you from the shame of failure by talking you out of things that appear too difficult. It tries to motivate you to do more by berating you. You say things to yourself you would never say to others. Why? Because it’s mean and hurtful. What I found to be helpful was speaking to myself with self-compassion. I spoke to my 12 year old inner child and reminded her she was Amazon strong like Wonder Woman. “We can do this.” Seeing yourself as a child may help you to speak more kindly, and saying “we” feels more encouraging, creating a sense that you’re not alone. Being assertive without judgment can also be helpful. “Just get out there. You’ll feel so much better when it’s done.” Rule of thumb: If you wouldn't say it to a child, don't say it to yourself.
When you fall, get back up and continue running.
During my runs I have stumbled over cracks in the pavement or on loose rocks on the trail but was always able to find my balance. I fell for the very first time while running on October 24, 2019, #RSD882. It happened so quickly, I was unable to break my fall, skinning both knees and my right shoulder. The impact was so great that the air was knocked out of me, and I unwittingly let out a sound as my body collided with the sidewalk. Thankfully, I managed to turn my head in time to avoid damage to my face. I remained on the ground, I think, for only a few seconds. I picked myself up and determined that no one saw me fall. Then I assessed the damage, brushed myself off, and gently ran back to my car. How did this happen? I wasn’t paying attention. Before my run, I had been texting with a colleague who was planning to attend my workshop the following day. When I got a notification on my Apple watch, I looked down attempted to read the message. It only took a moment to lose focus and get tripped up. To make matters worse, I fell again three days later at the end of my long run—only a half a mile from home. The first time I was stunned; this time I was angry. I paid attention to every step I took this time, so how did I fall again? When I stopped being angry, I recognized that I did too much too soon but I was proud for not giving up and finishing my run both times. Eventually we all fall but there is much to be learned from it.
Wear pants that don’t slip.
A friend bought me a pair of Wonder Woman leggings that I planned to wear for my first half marathon. I did a dress rehearsal and discovered that they would not stay up. So for the event, I pinned them onto a pair of capris that I wore underneath the leggings. Unfortunately, I didn’t use enough pins and my plan failed. Just a mile into the race, I stopped over to the side and removed the leggings. It took me a while to figure out the correct styles and sizes to wear. What is pretty is not always practical, and what works for other activities does not necessarily work for running. I’ve gone on runs where I was pulling up my pants the entire time—these runs lasted only a mile despite any plan to run longer. Having the right resources makes it so much easier to reach your goals. Remove all obstacles and distractions and that might interfere with you obtaining your goal.
More is not always more.
The requirement for a run streak is to run at least one mile during each calendar day. When reading posts on the Streak Runners International Facebook group, I felt that running one mile wasn’t good enough. Many were posting mileage that was far greater than mine. I felt like I was falling short even though I was meeting the requirements. The feeling I had defeated my purpose. Running provides me with a sense of accomplishment but comparing myself to others did the opposite. How did I get caught up in that? I know better. I determined that challenging myself does not mean that I need to run myself ragged and cause damage. Rest days are important for the body to recover and rebuild. A slow, easy mile is a way to care for myself and ensure that I can keep running. Sometimes it’s necessary to push yourself to reach the next level, but be careful not to create burnout or cause unnecessary damage because you’re overdoing it.
It’s okay to change your path mid-run.
Every day I set out with a planned route. Most days I follow that route. Other days I throw out the plan for a variety of reasons. Last summer, a major sidewalk improvement project in my neighborhood caused me to adjust my route every few days to avoid construction. The feeling of cement legs often shorten my runs. The best feeling is when I’m feeling light and energized and decide to extend my run, like when I added 2.3 miles to my 5 mile run for a total of 7.30 miles on #RSD730. Having a plan is a good place to start, but you can’t predict everything that will happen along the way. Be flexible and don’t get stuck on a specific outcome. Some of the best journeys are those you don’t plan.
I originally started my run streak just to prove I could do it. I don’t remember if it was an intentional shift or gradual shift, but I re-established my reason for engaging in the challenge. It became a commitment to myself, a testament that I am important. No matter what else was going on in my life, I could show up for 10 minutes. Anyone who knows me, understands that running is a priority. So many clients tell me they don’t have time to care for themselves. Are you saying the same thing?
Maybe it’s not a run streak, but you can decide to show up for yourself and do something good for you every single day. You are worth at least a few minutes a day.