What Running 1000 Miles Taught Me about Setting Goals

8 Ways to Set Better Goals

I can’t really tell you why I decided to run 1000 miles in 2018. It felt like a good idea at the time… But on 15th December, I headed out for a 10 mile run and crossed the finishing line of 1000 miles. I actually went on to run 1010 miles before my legs gave up in protest - my right shin was really not happy after a run on Christmas Day with my dad.

At the end of the 10 mile run that finished my 1000 mile challenge

At the end of the 10 mile run that finished my 1000 mile challenge

Numbers aside, running that much taught me a lot. I had a similar experience training for my first marathon in 2017. Running acts as a hologram - all the beliefs and patterns elsewhere in life show up when I’m running.

Goals are one of the most important pillars of a productive and purposeful life. Yet, setting goals is something that most of us are pretty rubbish at. I set myself quite a few goals and challenges in 2018 - running was by far the most successful. And that got me thinking. What was it about this goal that made it so successful? What can I learn from running 1000 miles that I can take into other areas of my life? How can I use my learning to help you?

Have stretch goals.

I’m all for SMART goals...and the R stands for realistic. Yes, there’s no point setting yourself a goal that you know you can’t achieve. I wasn’t going to go from running 600 miles in 2017 to 10,000 miles in 2018. But we need audacious goals. Goals that lift our vision up from the day-to-day and expand our horizons. In my mind, a stretch goal is one that makes you feel a bit scared and also feels achievable. One that makes you feel proud to even be attempting it.

Break it down.

My mum is always reminding me - how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time [as a vegetarian and aspiring vegan, I do not condone the eating of actual elephants - this one is metaphorical]. 1000 miles sounds like a lot of running. And it is. But 3 miles a day, that sounds doable. Big, impossible goals are achieved one step at a time so break yours down into something that feels manageable and that allows you to keep track of your progress over time.

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Progress adds up.

There were days when I really didn’t feel like running. That running one mile, or even three, felt so insignificant compared to my overall target. But that’s the joy of the little steps - they really do add up. One mile today is one less mile I needed to run next week or next month. Often, I would tell myself I only needed to run one mile and then I could come home - those runs usually became three or even five miles, because once I got started, it didn’t seem so bad. And all those miles quickly add up. Three miles a day becomes 20 miles a week becomes 80 miles a month...

Show up everyday.

When I started out, I would run four or five times a week. And that was going okay. Until it started to become two or three times a week. And then a week would pass and I wouldn’t have run at all. And by June, I found myself about 150 miles behind where I needed to be. I’ll talk about quitting in a moment - clearly I didn’t - and I found that showing up to run every day, even if it was just a mile, was the best way to keep the habit up. If I did it every day, at the same time, I stopped thinking about it. It stopped being an option and a battle of willpower - it was just something I did. The best habits are those that you do every day - consistency will win over intensity every time.

Don’t quit.

If you’ve given yourself an impossible goal, it’s going to be hard. You won’t be making the progress you want to be.There will be times that you feel like quitting. Don’t. Or at least don’t because it’s hard. This could be your opportunity to do things you never thought you were capable of. When I started my year, running 20 miles felt like a lot. I had to really focus and apply myself to run 80 miles a month. When June ended and I was 150 miles behind where I needed to be, I had some ground to make up. So I challenged myself to run every day in July and to run 120 miles...which I did. And because I was enjoying it so much, I did the same in August. At which point, a good friend of mine told me he had been inspired by my challenge and had run 140 miles in August. Now, those of you that know me know that I can be a little competitive sometimes and I wasn’t going to let my friend get the last word on this. In October, I ran 150 miles. It was so hard...and if I’m honest, it was too much. But I had shown myself what I was capable of. I had expanded my comfort zone so much and upped my level. That feels pretty amazing, even if my legs were a little bit broken!

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Ask for help.

I’m usually a solo runner. In fact, I’m normally a pretty solo kind of person - it can be an overdeveloped strength which you can read more about here https://www.thepracticalbalance.com/blog/2018/8/28/all-by-myself. But I couldn’t have achieved those high mileage months on my own. I reached out to friends and asked them to come and join me on my longer runs - sometimes for just a part of the run, others would challenge me to run further than I had planned. Running with friends took the pressure off - the run became more about conversation and companionship than miles and pace. And it held me to a commitment to run on days when it would have been easy to keep it short. Sometimes, our impossible goals are too big for us to do on our own. Sharing the challenge with other people doesn’t undermine your achievement - you are still there doing the work - it just means you are not in it alone.

Understand your why.

When you start with the why (as Simon Sinek says https://startwithwhy.com/find-your-why/), you connect with your inner drive and motivation. My why was to make running a regular and healthy habit throughout the year, rather than my usual fits-and-starts approach to exercise. Staying connected to that why meant that going for a run, no matter how short, was achieving my goal. Focus on your why and you’ll create the feelings you want, regardless of the outcome. Whenever you set yourself a goal, make sure you’re clear about why you’re setting that goal. What does that goal represent to you? What does it allow you to do or feel?

Hold it lightly.

Your worth and your identity does not depend on you achieving your goals. Let me say that again because it’s really important. Achieving your goals or not achieving them does nothing to affect your worth as a person. Fear is a powerful force that stops us acting and we can weaken its grip when we realise, in the end, it doesn’t really matter whether we succeed or fail. Yes, have impossible goals and even more impossible dreams. Shoot for the moon and beyond. Do it because it’s fun and you’re passionate about it. Don’t do it because you think you have something to prove or that you’ll be happy once you’ve achieved X. Hold your goals lightly. Focus on the process - getting out and running - not the outcome. That’s the secret of enjoying the journey, not waiting for the destination.

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