I was in my early 20s when I set out on my first run. I’d been hitting my gym regularly, mastering the elliptical and stationary bike and dabbling in strength training, too. But when it went out of business, I decided to change up my routine and start running outside instead of paying for a membership elsewhere. Since I was working out consistently, I figured I’d run one mile, no problem, and increase my mileage from there. But on that very first run, I didn’t even make it that far.
The day before, I planned out my route, which amounted to about 10 blocks total. But I only made it one. Now, it wasn’t for lack of motivation. I simply wasn’t as fit as I’d previously thought. The burning in my lungs was crippling. I couldn’t breathe, and I thought my heart was going to explode. Afterward, my legs were so sore that I couldn’t use the stairs for three days. I was perplexed by my body’s inability to perform. And frankly, I was disappointed that I’d failed to run just one mile.
I questioned my decision to forgo another gym membership because after that one block, it seemed that running any worthwhile distance was going to be impossible for me. But then again, based on that first running experience, my gym workouts didn’t exactly seem to be paying off. So I decided I’d keep running until I could at least complete a full mile. I’d set a goal, and I was going to reach it, even if it took much longer than planned. Even if every inch of my body resisted.
After my legs recovered from that first short but brutal run, I laced up my shoes and set out again. This time I was able to run two blocks. And the next week I ran three. Each week, I increased my running distance by one block, until I finally ran the mile I’d set out for about 10 weeks earlier.
I’d set a goal, and I was going to reach it, even if it took much longer than planned. Even if every inch of my body resisted.
Once I knocked out a mile, I set a goal to run two, and before even reaching it, I registered for a 5K. The thought of running three miles was intimidating — after all, I’d only just mastered one, and it had taken me much longer than expected — but my body had proven that if I took things slow and steady, I could reach a goal that at first seemed impossible. Week by week, I increased my distance by one block, and when race day came, I felt confident that I could run the 3.1 miles I’d signed up for — and I did. I wasn’t the fastest runner, but I’d proven I could do something that my body had screamed I couldn’t on that very first day my feet hit the pavement. To me, that’s what mattered.
Over the course of five years, I worked toward longer-distance races by running one additional neighborhood block at a time. While I focused on 5Ks for about two years, I slowly progressed to running a 10K, then a 15K, and finally a half-marathon, by tacking on an extra block during each week of training. While some might consider my progress to be too slow, any progress is good progress in my opinion.
These days, I continue to run varying distances depending on the time of year and availability of races. And while my speed hasn’t increased much since those early days of running, my distance sure has — and I’m proud of how far I’ve come. When I first started, I could hardly run one block, but now I can run more than 13 miles, and I’ve done it countless times.
When it comes to fitness, it’s easy to set goals. But when reaching those goals takes longer than expected, it’s just as easy to give up. However, it’s important to remember that slow progress is still progress. It might be one block at a time, one minute, one rep, but it’s one more than before. If you’re feeling frustrated, remember that you don’t need to compete with others, you simply need to complete what you set out to do. What matters is reaching your goal, but the amount of time it takes to do that? Not so much.
Pressuring yourself to reach a goal before your body is ready can lead to defeat, both physically and mentally. But giving yourself permission to build stamina through slow and steady progress can help you cross the finish line — whatever that looks like for you — and prevent the burnout that can come with trying to do too much, too fast.