It’s 30th of December, 2017, a wonderful sunny day. Time: around 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Just arrived home after barely running the last 5k of the year. I ticked them off and looked at the paper with a thorn of sadness stinging me: I still have 30 more kilometres to run this year in order to complete my 365k challenge. Yeah, about that…
How it all started
Sometime around the end of December 2016 I came across an article relating how an over-ambitious young man finished his 365k running challenge way before the end of the year. I think it was about mister Zuckerberg, but it’s not that relevant anyway.
I’m not very sure what crossed my mind while reading that piece of article, but it was definitely something across the lines of “if he could do it, I can do it to!”. Running 365 kilometres in a year seemed like a smart idea and a great challenge to take up in the new year.
Of course, after taking this decision, it was the moment to waste precious time planning everything, calculating how many kilometres I had to run in a month, a week, a day. 7 kilometres a week? It seemed easy peasy to achieve and around 3rd or 4th of January I was already out in the cold, scoring up the very first kilometres of the year. Not even for a second had I thought whether I’m doing it for all the wrong reasons or not…
And then it all went wrong
It started off quite well – I mean, under zero temperatures didn’t scare me at all. I figured I would go lightly in the first cold months and gain ground during spring and summer, so I could finish lightly in the last months of the year.
It’s just that… life happens. And I was so focused on the numbers of the challenge, that I didn’t think of creating a habit out of it. Instead of aiming and imposing myself to, for example, run 2 or 3 times a week, I became obsessed with the simple goal of achieving 7 km a week.
There were days when I couldn’t go running because it rained or I was sick. There were also days when I was on the road travelling or filled with work and couldn’t cram not even 5 minutes of running in between. There were also days when it was sunny, I was feeling well and had free time but dreaded the challenge so much that I refused to go running (and regretted it afterwards).
A couple weeks of not running were enough to end up thinking “7 km a week feels so easy, I could surely run 10 or even 15 a week, so it’s not that big of a deal if I miss a week or 2. I’ll just recuperate afterwards”. I would simply redo the math and get myself used to the idea that now I had to nail 8 or 9km a week. Looked so easy on paper – funny how your own brain sabotages you!
You see, the thing is that I’m also not really a fan of running. It’s ok, I might even enjoy it sometimes (and 99% of the time I feel good afterwards), but usually it’s boring as hell. I never do it out of pure pleasure, but for the sake of keeping myself in shape when I can’t find the time to hit the gym. Usually, I run 1-2 km at once and then feel overwhelmed with thoughts of how boring it is, how tired I feel and am I there yet?! I’d happily change 5 minutes of running with one hour of basketball because it is so much more challenging! Really, I heard people saying they RELAX when they run! They let their mind wander freely and not even notice when they scored 5, 7 or 10k! How do you guys do it?!
My average is of 3km per run. I rarely ran more and if it happened, it was usually running combined with power walking. The most I ever ran at once was …7 km. And that happened just ONCE the whole year!
Back to the story of the challenge, I found myself in November with about 70-80 more km to achieve by the end of the year. I pushed myself harder than in all the sunny months before (when it would have been so much more pleasant to run outdoors) and forced myself to go running even when I didn’t feel well. For about 2 weeks I was beyond motivated, I went running in cold evenings with drizzle every day or every other day and gaining plenty of ground.
Until my body just didn’t want to keep up with my bullshit anymore and I felt too weak to go running so often anymore. Weather was also getting much worse, days were so much shorter… I ended up throwing in the towel and convincing my mind it was over and that was that.
Well, I didn’t stop completely, I just took it much more slowly and went running during weekends when the weather was pleasant, trying to disconnect my mind from the idea of finishing this crazy race.
What I learnt from this experience
It might sound like I had an awful experience overall, but it’s not entirely true. Running had good parts as well and I did learn a thing or two.
First and most talked about is the benefit it has on your overall health and shape. Luckily, I never had big weight problems (I would happily lose a kilo or 2, doh, but I never thought of myself as fat), however I’ve also always been into sports. I can’t ever say no to good food, so thankfully I compensate with exercising often. Pushing myself to keep on running towards this goal helped me stay fit during a year when I couldn’t find enough time for going to the gym or playing other sports. It also helped keeping in shape overall for the various hikes we did this year and the tens of kilometres of walking around Barcelona, so I didn’t get tired easily and could keep a good pace without losing my breath.
Second – and a very important advice! – never eat before running! Leave at least 3 hours in between and even more if you ate a huge heavy meal. My best runs were the ones on an empty stomach.
Third, if you set a similar goal, have a REALISTIC plan to follow and stick to it. Take into account things like weather, locations, time. And try to make it a healthy habit, it’s much more useful in the long run.
Last but not least, it’s OK to push your physical and psychological limits a little bit more every time but it’s not OK to force your body against it’s wishes just like that. It’s a balance I’m still learning, but your body usually tells you when something’s not well.
So… my favourite place to run?
I’ve been running all over, from running tracks in and around my hometown Oradea, to the streets of Barcelona or amongst the hoards of tourists gathering in Park Guell.
But of all the places I got to run in this year, my absolute favourite is definitely Carretera de les Aigües in Barcelona! Fresh air, stunning views of the city extending at your feet towards the endless sea and enough kilometres in length to keep on going without getting bored of the same scenery! Here’s actually the same place I nailed my one and only 7K run I mentioned earlier! (photo below is from Tibidabo, which is higher than Carretera de les Aigues – unfortunately I didn’t take any good images while running on Carretera).
Looking back now, after the year has passed, it wasn’t even such a crazy goal after all! With the right approach, I could have nailed it decently.
For 2018 I decided to continue running, but try to make it more of a habit – like running 2 days a week, between 3-5 km each. I’m not sure whether this will really work out because I also plan to go to a gym again, so I might not have the time for everything! I will keep track of how much I run though, just for comparison purposes and not to achieve any specific goal by the end of the year.