Ups and downs: A question of mindset

One running goal missed and one achieved. That’s how 2014 ended.

2013 went so well, achieving the 2000-kilometre target weeks before year-end. 2014 was a different story and though I covered less distance, it was a much harder journey. It didn’t kill me so it must have made me stronger in true Nietzsche tradition. With scars to prove it, I feel invigorated and ready for the next challenge.

distance 13 v 14

Over the last two and a half years since running has come back into my life, it has been more than a mere metaphor for my life itself. Setting goals has pushed me to some huge efforts but has also at times made me want to throw in the towel!

Here is an account of the last year and what I have learnt along the way.

January-February:
The year started really well. After achieving my 2000k target in early December and setting a new target to run 1000k in the five months until my 40th birthday, I was on the crest of a wave. I went on to run my biggest ever month in January. This set me up nicely for “Tokyo” at the end of February. At the Tokyo Marathon, I set a very ambitious 3:30:00 target – 10 minutes quicker than my PB. Tokyo was the first of three marathons I ran last year.
While I started well and was 15 minutes ahead of schedule at 30k, my overzealousness got the better of me in the last 12k. I slowed down significantly, resisting the urge to walk. My eventual time was 3:32:13. During these last 12 kilometres my self-talk turned negative as I focused on the the pain I was feeling rather than on achieving a challenging goal. Japanese novelist, Murakami Haruki said in his memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running:

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

My feelings at the finish were mixed: joy at finishing with a good time and not walking; despair at not meeting my target. My thinking was turning towards self doubt and I was choosing to suffer – not just during the race, but after too. My extended honeymoon period with running was now over and I found it hard to get out on the road again. Hindsight now tells me that I managed to get to the end without walking because I had trained so rigorously. It would take me until later in the year to learn this lesson of tenacity.

March-June:

march june
My passion for running reached its lowest ebb. I took a rest after the exertions of Tokyo. While I needed to be averaging 200k per month to meet my goal, I struggled to run more than 75 in March and a paltry baker’s dozen in April. By the time of my 40th birthday, I was nearly 500k (a mere 48%) shy of my goal. I have to take this opportunity here to thank my wife again for all the birthday party planning – behind my back – in bringing my father and many of my friends to Kamata to surprise me!

Source: runkeeper.com

I didn’t have the appetite to set a new goal right away having failed so miserably!

Finally on June 1st, I set a new goal: seven months to run 1000k by year-end. While June was also not a great month, I did start to rebuild my habit again. It may sound basic, but commtting to these basic steps has worked for me:

  1. Set alarm
  2. Get up an hour early
  3. Put on running gear
  4. Step outside

If I achieve the above, I succeed in going for a run. When excuses set in, it is usually because I wait until after work to run.

July-September:
Anyone who knows Japan will know that these are the most unbearable months of the year when the humidity and temperature combine to create a double whammy of stickiness. And this is just from raising an arm to press the remote control. Running is not well advised during these months unless very early in the morning or late at night. But when you have a commitment to running, you have to overcome every excuse for not going out, even if you run the risk of getting complaints from your wife about stinky, sweaty running gear 😉
In 2013 I didn’t use it as an excuse as I ran more than 200k in August and September in preparation for the Osaka Marathon. In 2014, this dropped significantly though I did give myself a ready-made excuse: a career change!

July to September happened to coincide with the biggest change in my career in ten years, when I brought a close to my very rewarding and enjoyable time in publishing for a role working with a wider cross-section of industries spanning the public and private sector.
While I stepped up my efforts in July, as I got closer to leaving my old job and starting my new job, I let busy-ness keep me off the road more often than I would have liked. It was easy at the time to justify taking a day off here and there, but as I re-learned later, I need to go for a run to refresh my spirit and relieve the stress of the day!

As Nelson Mandela famously said:

In some ways, I saw the garden as a metaphor for certain aspects of my life. A leader must also tend his garden; he, too, plants seeds, and then watches, cultivates, and harvests the results. Like the gardener, a leader must take responsibility for what he cultivates; he must mind his work, try to repel enemies, preserve what can be preserved, and eliminate what cannot succeed.

Running is my garden.

mar to jun

October-November:

October and November brought new challenges as I learned my new job. Anyone who has changed careers will have experienced “Impostor Syndrome“. During my first three months, I allowed myself many times to suffer from these symptoms. Once again, it was running that provided me with a crutch, when at other times I might have used my travails as an excuse to take a day off training here and there. So I did my best to run as much as I could. I took my running gear on a business trip and managed to get runs in in Northern Ireland (Belfast), Scotland (beautiful Edinburgh including the Royal Mile and the castle), and my hometown in England (past Warwick Castle – an even more beautiful construction than Edinburgh Castle – excuse my bias)! Of course it helped that I had to run two marathons during this period.

At the end of October, I ran Osaka for the second time. After my 3:32 at Tokyo, I entered the race confident that I could run 3:30. I was quietly confident of 3:20. What I chose to ignore was my training record. With a poor summer record to compare against the previous year, I was deluding myself. While I was on target for 3:16:00 at halfway, I hit the wall at 26 kilometres and faded fast. Though I will spare the photo, it didn’t help that I had developed a blood blister covering a quarter of my left foot! Succumbing to the pain, I made myself suffer through the shame of walking, hobbling, trotting, cramping up and getting a free massage through the last sixteen kilometres. A poor but justifiable return on my investment: 4:27:45 – more than an hour slower than my secret target.

Just a few days after Osaka, I received a package in the post from Fujisan Marathon – a race around two of the five lakes near Mt. Fuji at the end of November. In the excitement of changing jobs, I had forgotten that I had entered! My wife frantically booked the last room in a hotel right near the start line. Thanks again for the support you give to me Eri! My expectations were much lower, but with the benefit of Osaka and my autumn runs still in my legs, I ran the course in 3:40:54. If I hadn’t succumbed yet again to walking with four kilometres to go, I would have achieved around 3:35:00.

December:

While I had managed to pick up my run rate in the autumn, I had left myself with lots to do in December. In order to achieve my 1000k target by New Year’s Eve, I would need to run 212 kilometres. I knew this wasn’t impossible as I had achieved this before in January and also September 2013. But at the same time, I knew that I would need to run most days to make it happen. In June 2012, it was a public declaration of intent that gave me the impetus to begin running. So I tried the same tactic, posting this image on social media:

IMG_5207

It worked! On New Year’s Eve, I managed to run the last 14 kilometres needed in order to meet my goal.

Source: runkeeper.com

Seven days into 2015, I am tracking nicely towards my 2,015km target. As I re-learned the importance of habit, each month I will commit to running at least 150 kilometres. My next marathon will be in my favourite Japanese city of Kyoto.

And if you fancy a run in Tokyo from time to time, let me know! It would be great to encourage one another!

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