In 2017, I ran and ran and ran. You could hardly guess that my running had started off by chance. Running in general is something I have done on and off for a very long time, since finishing high school. I played basketball in high school, which kept me physically active, and when I finished school I needed a suitable replacement. Somewhere along the way that became running. Ever since high school though, courtesy of basketball, I’ve had a bad knee that had always prevented me from taking my running past a certain point. I’d start running a bit more frequently, or running long distances, and then my knee would start complaining and I would stop out of fear of doing any more damage. My knee was always in my way.
In 2017, I kinda just kept at it. The running culture didn’t stick right off the bat. In the first quarter of the year, it was a lot like any other New Year’s resolution. In Jan, I clocked about 19km total. At the time I was averaging 4.5km per run, and since I had just started running, these evening jogs involved some walking and some running, my stamina was not anything to write home about.
From the beginning, my intention was to be able to comfortably clock 5km, nonstop.
In Feb my cumulative distance run was 18km. I could still lie to myself that I was keeping up my end of the bargain.
March brought a winter, I ran 1.9km that month.
It was one run.
At this point, I was effectively failing at running. It was such a mental struggle to go outside and actually run to the point where I stopped doing it completely. Do you sometimes lie to yourself, know you are lying to yourself, but then each time continue to give yourself the benefit of the doubt? And each time are still genuinely surprised and disappointed when you do not follow through. While at this stage, I was still setting alarm clocks which I knew I would snooze come morning up till I would finally just put them off completely, turn over and continue sleeping.
April came with a wind of change. On the 2nd of April, a Sunday, I went for a run at Karura Forest with a friend and his friend, Ken and Sitati. They both run seriously. Much more seriously than I do. They set out to do 16km that day, but courtesy of me we only did 7.7km and I kid you not I almost died. I had stitches, I had cramps, I could not catch my breath, breathing like a bear and my feet were finished! It was quite the sight and not in a pretty way.
During some of the dead time during the run, when Ken was speeding ahead and Sitati was keeping me company as I tried to catch my breath, as well as just trying to make sure I don’t get lost because it’s Karura Forest, he gave me some words of encouragement. “If you can”, he said, “you should try to get in a few runs during the week, it helps get your body used to it. Do short runs, a 1km around the block, say, 3 times a week, is way better than waking up once a month and deciding to go HAM on your running goals then attempting to run a 5km.” Which is exactly what I was attempting on that day when I tagged along with people who were out to run 16km.
That was it. Why those words had such a great impact, I cannot tell you. Classic case of hearing exactly what you need to hear when you are ready to hear it. I changed my whole ethos towards running.
Before, my plan was to set out doing approx 5km long sessions that involved both some walking and some running then slowly work towards phasing out the walking and just running the whole distance. At this point, I decided to flip things completely by setting out to do only what I could.
I started doing runs that were 10 minutes long, that’s it. It was literally a lap around the block, from our gate, down to a certain roundabout, up a hill and then back to our gate. The idea was to make the run so short and painless that it left me with absolutely no plausible excuse to skip it. Honestly, even if I woke up late and needed to rush through my morning routine, would a 10 minute run considerably alter the trajectory of my day? Except by possibly making it better actually, cause at least I would have endorphins flowing in my system, putting me in a good mood. I also changed my running time to mornings as opposed to evenings. With evenings, I had found that occasionally I would come home too tired to run, or would get caught up at work and come home a little too late to run. Basically, evening runs left too much room for excuses. Morning runs that were short and sweet were perfect.
With this whole shift, in April I clocked 31.31km!!!
The total count of runs was 18.
This actually blew my mind! I changed my whole mentality from wanting the “whole cake” all at once, ie. going for the whole 5km whether it was run, or walked or crawled, to taking only bite-sized chunks of cake, ie. short 10-minute runs which averaged at 1.4km per run. At the end of the month, my total distance run was a clear 10km more than I had ever achieved in any month previously.
After this I really just became unstoppable. The very practical realisation that ‘Haba na Haba Hujaza Kibaba’ spurred me on. I kept at it, pushing myself to always do a little more. With each new month, I would slightly increase the distance that I ran. Add another block or stretch or loop to my route. Funny thing is, these additions were really not about the distance but more about what my environment provided. The most convenient route from my gate, around the block and back to my gate.
In May, this addition to my route was about 300meters, so now each run averaged at 1.7km. It seems a small addition, but like I said, ‘Haba na Haba Hujaza Kibaba’. May saw me do 21 runs and the total distance run that month was 36.06km. Yet again, I had broken my own record. That’s another thing, isn’t it? The fact that in all this, I was my only competition. It was always about me and how far I could run. It did not matter that the progress I was making felt small, all that mattered was that I did a little more each day, more than the day before.
June. In keeping with tradition, I increased the distance. My average distance per run was now at about 2.45km. I did 13 runs in total and clocked a cumulative distance of 30.79km for June.
In July, I ran 32.37km. I was averaging 2.7km per run, a 300m increase, and did 12 runs.
You may have noticed, as I at this point had, that the allure of short runs that could be done most mornings had passed. I was now running longer, further and less frequently but still averaged about the same distance each month.
In August, with an average per run distance of 4km, I did 7 runs and managed a total of 24.87km. I was running longer but less. In my defense, August and September were pretty busy in 2017, I did some traveling and the running suffered. In September, I up-ed my running distance to the highly coveted 5km but ran only 18.48km in total that month, 4 runs. Can you tell one of those runs was not even a 5km run? I was making progress but getting sloppy.
I lacked discipline.
Up till that point, my runs had not been too planned. Whether I ran or not would be determined in the morning, depending on how I felt when I woke up. When my runs became longer, it started to become hard to jump over the mental hurdle that determined whether I could convince myself to leave the house for a run or not. So I ran longer distances but my total count of runs per month went down considerably. For a while the trade-off was a little unnoticeable because my total distance per month stayed almost constant.
In October, I got an accountability partner and that made a significant difference! Average distance per run was still 5km. I managed a total of 9 runs and 45.65km. Imagine that! See how much you changed my life Siphiwe! 🙂 That was my best month in 2017.
In November, I managed a total of 10 runs and my cumulative distance was 43.32km.
In December, well, 5 runs, 25.31km. At least I still tried. It was December guys.
Allow me to take off on a tangent for a bit because I want to tie in my running journey with the rest of my life.
2017 was a hard year in my life.
Well, because I am the kind of person that has to see things to believe them. I am result oriented.
I have mentioned this before on here, allow me to do so again.
2017 was my first complete year in the rat race.
Also…my first complete year out of the system.
The system in this instance is our education system.
The first year where the objectives for my growth and development had been largely mine. Not preset hoops that thousands before me have jumped through and that I will now need to jump through, be weighed and measured and found either satisfactory or still wanting.
It was no longer so straightforward. I struggled to keep going especially when I saw no apparent growth and the mental load was gargantuan.
I was repeatedly pulled in many different directions in 2017.
Because a data scientist is literally a unicorn. Not just a mathematician or a software engineer, but both and then some. A domain specialist as well. It has not helped my stress levels that the role where I work is uncharted.
There have been no set objectives, no guidelines, no goals set out for me to achieve. I’ve had to define all of that for myself.
I’ve interacted with a wide array of people in the field, each with different backgrounds. The mathematicians, the academics, the software engineers. I am none really but spent the year trying to become all of them. Imagine being pulled in all these different directions, not too sure where my focus should be from one day to the next.
Near impossible to set goals. Near impossible to achieve them and near debilitating, mentally, to take hit after hit after hit and to have to get up, keep going.
Tell myself that there was growth even though I may not see it in the same way that I have become accustomed to, courtesy of the past 16 years of schooling. Schooling came with transcripts and report cards detailing the fruit of my efforts. The role I was handed required me to determine everything.
It has been a mental labour to keep going down that endless rabbit hole.
Running kept me sane.
It made sense. It just made sense. Week after week, month after month, I would get faster and stronger. I’d become more resilient. I would clock more kilometers per run up till I was finally doing 5km, running non-stop.
When I slacked, I felt it. I’d be slower. I would become short of breath much quicker. I also saw it. My cumulative distance run would be less.
With the running, I could see the direct correlation between effort and output.
Because this was one of few things that made sense in my life at the time, each time I ran I told myself I was also keeping pace of progress in other aspects of my life. If I was still there, running, day after day, getting better, then surely if I kept showing up in other areas of life, even though results were more difficult to time-box and quantify, I had to be making progress.
So I kept going.
325km later…I am not done running.
Yes, in 2017, I ran a grand total of 325km.
THREE HUNDRED AND TWENTY FIVE KILOMETERS!
If anything, that was just the beginning.
2018…longer, faster, harder. Not just with the running either, with everything.
P.S. How click-bait-y was the title of this post though?