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Running Man

February 23, 2010

With a title like that, this could actually be about my experiences on a life-or-death game show hosted by Richard Dawson, but since I don’t have the physique or accent to carry that off, I’ll tell another story.

“I did WHAT?”

In September 2009 my wife Verity sent me an email. Something like this: “I just signed up for the Calgary Half-marathon next May. Want to join me?”

“Yeah, right,” I thought, staring at the screen. “Like that’ll happen.” But I clicked through to the race’s web site to have a look anyway. “Hmm,” I thought, “this does look interesting. It’s for a good cause. And I do need to get into better shape. And hey, I get a T-shirt.”

Suddenly, I had the application filled in, gave my credit card a virtual swipe, and received an email saying I was officially a road racer.

“Wait…what? How did that happen?” Somewhat in a daze, I dashed off a quick email telling Verity the news. And then, to add insult to injury, I tweeted this:

“Well, ohh-kay.” Semi-smug satisfaction mixing with dazed confusion. But pretty soon, a feeling not unlike impending doom set in as I started to realize what just happened. I’d just publicly committed to running half a marathon. 21 legs-screaming, lungs-burning, kilometres. With thousands of other people watching.

“What the heck did I just do?” I thought, “I’m not a runner! Runners are those crazy, endorphin-juiced ectomorphs in tights. I’m a 46-year-old, almost-100 kg couch potato (that’s 220 lbs for the non-metric crowd).” Sure, I walked and biked a fair bit, but the couple of times I’d tried to take up running ended with me bent over at the side of the road wheezing, desperately trying not to throw up. And now, the whole world knew I had signed up for this damn race. Well, OK, not the whole world, I only had about 50 followers. But enough to make it difficult to back out and just deny the whole thing ever happened. “Oh, dear!” I thought. Or words to that effect…


Wow. 5 months or so later, I’m running 5 times a week. I average about 25 km/week. It’s something I actually look forward to, and when the run is over I want to keep going. This past weekend I ran 10 km without stopping or having to walk. Sure, it’s still nowhere near the race distance and my pace is pretty slow, but I’m right on track on my training program. I’m actually excited about the thought of participating in the event, and I think I’ll actually be able to do it. And, I haven’t once had to clean up any vomit.

One of the side benefits of my newfound pastime is uninterrupted time to think, a real gift for someone with an analytical nature like me. I’ve thought quite a bit about the reasons I’ve been able to actually make this happen, and I’ve come up with five things that contribute to this success. And, the more I think about it, the more I’ve seen how they can apply to other parts of life. If I may be so bold, I’d like to share them.

Success Factors

  • Set goals – I know, I know, this is a no-brainer. But it’s huge. Looking back, I’ve often thought about exercising more, or getting in better shape, or losing weight, or whatever. But none of those was sufficient to actually get up and do something about it.

    So what makes up a good goal? First off, it has to be clear. Otherwise you won’t really know if you’ve reached it or still have further to go. In this case, it’s pretty clear: go to Calgary on May 30 and run 20 km. There is also a tacit pre-goal: don’t die beforehand.But there’s more to it. Goals need to be outside one’s comfort zone, not something you already do or know you can be successful at. Running half a marathon definitely qualified, since I could barely run around the block without curling up in the fetal position.

  • Get accountable – Here’s where we move past the pipe dream stage. Setting a goal is great, but nothing spurs action more than publicly declaring “I’m going to do it.”  Taking that step puts your credibility on the line and you run the risk of being dismissed as a person who doesn’t follow through. Once I told my wife and sent my somewhat glib tweet that I’d actually signed up for a race, a whole bunch of people knew about it and would know if I didn’t do it.

    Time and again, publicly putting myself out on a limb has been a great motivator, whether I was applying for a new job, submitting my first conference presentation, or agreeing to actually go out and play bass in front of an audience consisting of more than my wife, daughter, and the cat. All somewhat scary prospects, but with great rewards.

These two factors alone don’t explain success; they’re just the beginning.  Something like training for and running a half-marathon takes a lot of work, not to mention time. So what’s the magic that pushed it into the realm of true success? I believe it takes three more factors, which I’ll explore more in upcoming posts.

But for now, wanna help hold me accountable? Please consider sponsoring me for this goal I’ve set. If someone actually puts money down on it then I really have to make it happen. Or if not me, why not sponsor my wife? It was, after all, her idea,

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