I started running five or six years ago and I really had no idea what I was doing. I downloaded a “Couch Potato to 5k” podcast that helped me move from throwing up after running a block to running a straight 30 minutes non-stop. Suddenly I felt like I could see changes every week in my endurance. I decided the next year that I would try a 21k half-marathon in the Calgary Scotiabank Race. The biggest challenge for me was setting a good pace and not be one of those people that runs flat out at the start and has no gas for the next 20k. So I found a pace-bunny. Not as sexy as it sounds. It was a 75 year old guy with 2:15 written on pink bunny ears stapled to his hat. If you wanted to finish the race in 2 hours 15 this is the guy you wanted to stick close to. I think his name was Louie.
Louie had competed in the Boston Marathon previous to this and was full of good advice as a group of 20 or so runners and myself chased him down the road. Every once in a while he would turn around and start running backwards while lecturing on good running form… “Pump your arms while you climb the hill!”. I could not believe I was struggling to catch a seventy five year old man while he ran backwards and explained the intricacies of running form. My lungs wheezed and I couldn’t form words.
But what he was doing came from experience and technique. Little tweaks that shot him forward and held me back.
I usually run with earphones in and a playlist that fires my emotions but passion and “digging deep” just weren’t enough. I needed new lungs and a spare set of legs or I needed to run smarter. When I saw Louie drop a little suggestion here and there I turned off my music and started adding his hints to my tiny collection of running wisdom.
“Ok here comes the hill. Shorten the strides and pick up the pace! Everybody doing good? Let’s do it!” I paid attention to Louie, cut my stride length down a little and it felt like I’d shifted from fifth gear to first gear. Speed decreased but power shot straight up. I put away the music, forgot my running app and took free coaching lessons from an old Boston marathoner for the next two hours.
Small changes and consistency
I am not a fan of change.
In the past I’ve taken 3-6 months to get a good morning routine down when I start a new season of life, such as having kids or starting a new job.
There is a time to stir up your passion and make sweeping changes in how you do life. But I find a deliberate ‘nudge’ in changing a habit or moment in my day takes less willpower. It’s less upheaval to my overall life that’s filled with a lifetime of good, so-so and downright terrible habits. One little change that I can repeat again tomorrow and doesn’t demand a chain reaction of changes to the rest of my day yields an appreciable return on the investment over a month, a week or even over a day. I get a sense of self control. I get a tiny sense that I am stumbling forward in the direction I want my life to go instead of one big shift forward and then a big fail.
For example: I want to be better at a martial art, I need to lose weight, build my core, pray more and read my bible.
So I set out to get up at 5am and move from one thing to the next and have breakfast ready for my wife at 7:30.
Did it one day. Then: nope
So I write down a schedule of the week with 4 mornings for bible study and prayer and 3 mornings for martial arts combined with a workout.
Did it three days. Then snoozed til 8, missed breakfast. Felt bad, and hungry.
So maybe I just pray and read bible on alternating days. Get up at 6:00?
Meh. Pretty sleepy, don’t get much out of it. One week then: Fail.
I remembered something Georges St. Pierre said in his book “The Way of the Fight”
Every single morning takes root the night before
I’ll talk about this more when I discuss sleep but one sure way to destroy your resolve is to destroy your sleep. Your moods fluxuate more, optimism falls and willpower erodes. Temptation is so much stronger when you lose sleep.
It wasn’t that I had a bad start to my day, I had a bad finish to my night before! It may not be the same for everyone but if I turn out the light between 10:15 and 10:30 I can get up happy at 6 am. In fact I found that I could do this consistently, like for weeks. Then I found that I started waking up one minute BEFORE the alarm. My body started wanting a good morning all on it’s own!
Now I had a foundation for what I needed next…
I knew I wanted a lot of big things to happen but which was the most important component I should focus on next? I felt like God just wanted me to spend a little time worshipping him in the morning so I gave him whatever he wanted from 6am to 7:30 breakfast. No fuss about workouts or anything else, just a nice easy time with God.
Well now I’ve got time on my hands in the morning to do something with. So after a week of this I add a 10 minute workout based on recommendations that my core needs strengthening. So I do it. Easy peasy. Then I make it 15 minutes and add some more stretching.
One simple, tiny change, done again and again, made room for the next, and the next, and the next.
Pick something simple, something strategic, and do it a bunch of times.
Reflect on your result. What should you tweak? Do it again.
Short strides get you up the hill.
Grace with yourself
What happens when we’re out at a friend’s place late the night before or I fall into an old habit of late night TV? I sleep in. But the beauty thing about it is that I still have momentum. Have grace with yourself. Grace keeps momentum going in your life when you need it most. Guilt kills momentum. Guilt is emotional friction that eats your speed like locking brakes on a speeding car. If Jesus paid for all my sins and mistakes, big and small, then guilt is no longer a motivation that I can afford to act out of. Grace remade me and I spend the rest of my life catching my guilt-thoughts one by one and replacing them with the message of grace.
At the very point of my worst failure I still have the question that God poses to me constantly…