It’s the truth – I don’t like to run. I have never loved running and doubt that I ever will. I remember being in college and jogging erupted as the new way to get in shape. Deciding that I would give jogging a try, I laced up my tennis shoes, walked to the top of my driveway and began running. After a minute or so, I began to question and wonder what was so appealing about jogging? I quickly decided that this was not my idea of fun or fitness. Where was I running? At least in a softball game you ran base to base with purpose. There was no destination or end in sight and without purpose, I quickly dismissed running as a means to fitness.
Fast forward many years later. As an adult, every fourth of July as I was out participating in traditional patriotic activities, I would see people around me wearing their coveted “Peachtree Road Race t-shirt”. This annual 10K race held in Atlanta every year draws thousands of runners. Each year I saw those t-shirts and desperately wanted to be one of the people wearing them. There was just one problem…I don’t like to run. I eventually mentioned to someone that just one time, I wished I could run the Peachtree. Whoever I was speaking to said, “You know that you can walk the race – you don’t have to run it.” I had no idea! While I am not a good runner and dislike running, I knew that I could walk six miles. I decided that this would be the year that I would conquer the Peachtree and get my own coveted t-shirt. Two of my friends, my husband and I registered for and participated in the race. We walked almost the entire time – perhaps with a few spells of jogging and at the end of the race, I got that shirt! Not only that, but I had a blast! This was not just running, but an incredible fun event. Who knew?
A teacher at my school who was an avid runner convinced me that I could learn to be a runner. He suggested that I just needed to run a minute then walk a minute. I came home from work and tried his strategy, quickly realizing that I needed to modify his plan. A minute is much longer than you think when running! I quickly changed the strategy to run thirty seconds, walk a minute…or more. Eventually, I could stretch those times to longer, but I had to set my own pace and do what worked for me. My husband and I had such a good time at that first race that we began signing up for 5K races in our area. Knowing that we could run some and walk some, we signed up and even braved the cold and ran one race in sleet to the finish line. Running in the 5K races gave me the confidence I needed to go to the next level .
I soon discovered that there were races at Walt Disney World. Not only would a runner get to run through the park, but would get a special shirt AND a huge medal. You see, I still don’t like to run, but I love Disney and was influenced by the payoff at the end of the race. This particular year, Disney was having a ten-mile run in the fall (I thought that meant the weather would be cool) starting at ten o’clock at night (I am not a morning person, so I thought this was a plus). My husband and I enlisted our same two friends that had walked with us on our first race and we began to train for this race. I must admit that I barely trained and prior to the race, seven miles was the longest that I had done a run/walk. My husband, who had running background, was worried about me being able to complete the ten miles. This was the first race I had ever participated in where I had to keep a certain pace to remain in the race and was by far the longest race I had ever attempted. He was going to stay right by my side to encourage me as we ran the race. Andy told me that the hardest part of the race would probably be mile six or seven. He was sorely mistaken! I thought that mile ten would never end and was the longest mile in the history of miles. At one point in the race when he was encouraging me to run more instead of walking, I must admit that I glared at him and told him that there is a fine line between encouragement and aggravation. We did complete that race, got our medal and somehow I walked back to the car. I am still not sure how my feet carried me the additional distance. All I could think of was I need to rest!
My next goal was to try and run the Disney Princess half-marathon, but I don’t even like to run! This time I talked my next-door neighbor into running with me and we began to train for this run. I realized after minimal training for the ten mile run, that unless I developed and implemented a plan for success that there was no way I could run the longer distance. We developed a plan and from September to February, we increased our distances of walk/running. During this training time, I was having significant physical issues with my hips requiring physical therapy. The therapists kept commenting, “You’re running a half-marathon because????” A month before the race, I was telling them that I was going to push on, I had trained for so long and after this race, I may never do another, but this was a goal that I was intent on completing.
Runners kept telling me about how during the race I would be tired, that my adrenaline would kick in and I would get a runners rush. I am still waiting to get that runner's high, it has never materialized in training or in a race. The morning of the race, I was up at 3 am to catch the bus to the starting corrals. Three hours later, the race began and off we went. I continued my “slow and steady wins the race” strategy. I will admit that I think I did very well for the first nine miles of the race. Even though I had gone up to twelve miles in training, around mile ten I was unsure that I would make it. My feet were swollen and hurt. People older than me and much heavier than me passed me by. I just had to keep going, reminding myself of the end goal and talk myself into putting one foot in front of the other. Drawing near the end of the race, my neighbor spotted two elderly men that had been right behind us at the start. These men were in their eighties and their pace was the same as ours. Seeing them was just the push I needed to finish the race. I was determined not to finish behind two men in their eighties! They were amazing - unfortunately, they saw us as well, smiled and began to run faster. That friendly competition during the last mile got me to the end of the race ahead of our competition.
So what does running have to do with setting goals? I have found over the years that people struggle with setting goals and following through with the goals that they set. My running experience became more of a lesson to me in goal setting/accomplishment than about being a better runner. Here are some comparative techniques that I think are important when setting goals:
- Be realistic. While my end goal was to run/walk the half-marathon if I had initially started with that goal I probably would not have met it. Instead I set a realistic goal of walking in a six-mile race. It was something that I knew was possible.
- Have a purpose. A goal without a purpose is short-lived. A purpose-driven goal will keep you pressing on when times get hard. While in this instance my purpose was shallow (to get the shirt or medal), your goal may be to obtain a better job, better health or make a difference to others. Knowing and believing in the purpose of your goal is critical.
- Set small goals, which will take you closer to your end goal. If your goal is a particular type of job to obtain, just take the first step toward that goal. Without setting the small steps, you will often get overwhelmed and quit. If your goal is to be healthier, take just the first step.
- Develop a plan. List the steps or activities that will bring you closer to your goal. Remember, “slow and steady wins the race.”
- Enlist encouragement and/or accountability from others. In my case, I knew that I would have difficulty running those long races alone. I enlisted family and friends to make that journey with me. Long ago when I was working on a graduate degree, there were four of us who did that together making the journey more fun.
- Never lose sight of your end goal. There will be bumps and trials as you head to your goal and often it is easy to say, “I Quit.” When you hit those difficult times, remember just to keep moving. Don’t let the frustrations of the moment keep you from the exhilaration of meeting your goal.
- Finally, celebrate your successes. Realize that each step taking you closer to your goal is a success and builds confidence.
My husband once asked me what the top three accomplishments in my life were. One of my top three was completing that half-marathon. I think because this goal was so far out of my comfort zone and abilities, paired with seeing my short-term and long-term goals on the way, catapulted this experience to be one of my top three accomplishments.
What are your dreams, your goals for yourself? We all have dreams, but without setting goals, they will remain just dreams. Take the time to really look at where you are in life or in your career. What do you want to accomplish? Life is short – don’t delay and start setting goals to get you closer to your dreams! I am hopeful that you can use these techniques to realize the goals that you have. Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.