I would (run) 500 miles, and I would (run) 500 more

I have written about my Adventures in Working Out in this space with some regularity, but also with trepidation. It’s a selfish endeavor. Shortly after I began running in earnest and making friends with others that did, I realized that runners like to write about their running, but that didn’t make me any more comfortable doing so myself.

To be fair, it does makes sense. Writing about your running (or any other hobby you may have, for that matter), makes it more real, and it makes you accountable.

That said, I’ve tried to avoid devoting too much time to writing about it. I don’t pretend that anyone would really care, particularly people who read this space and might not know (or care about) me personally. About a year and a half ago, though, I wrote this piece, about having reached a point where running was actually a part of my life, and not just something I was trying out like a New Year’s Resolution or  a new brand of beer.

I wrote that with some trepidation, knowing that a year later I’d look stupid if I had given up going to the gym and regained the 15-20 pounds I’d lost. But I felt comfortable that running had, indeed, become a permanent part of my life. That I’d be able to stick with it.
I still didn’t really consider myself a “runner” in the sense of what I picture in my mind when someone uses that word, but I was now able to run farther and longer than I’d ever imagined I’d be able to.
I couldn’t say for sure how many miles I ran in 2010 because I didn’t count, but I would guess I probably ran 300 or so. That’s not even a mile a day, obviously, but it’s unlikely that I had run much more than 300 miles in my entire life previously. So it seemed like kind of a big deal.

But I knew I was still at the bottom of the running totem pole, and wanted to set a bigger goal for 2011. Something that would be a very real challenge for me, but that was still realistic. I settled on 500 miles for the calendar year. That would be my goal for 2011.

The funny thing about that number is it either sounds like an awful lot or it doesn’t sound like many at all.
If someone had suggested to me when I was 27 that I try to run 500 miles in a single year, I would’ve laughed off the idea. You could just as well have asked me to run 5,000.
But now that I regularly talk to people who can run 26.2 miles in a row without stopping, I realize that 500 miles is basically nothing. It’s a little less than 10 miles a week. My friend Jeri ran over 1,300 miles in 2011, and she didn’t even have a hard-fast goal (as far as I know), that’s just where she ended up (we joked that we should do shots of 1800 as a celebration of our collaborative efforts).

I had just gotten to the point that my lungs and legs could handle 10 miles in a week when I set the goal, but I still had to consider the other variables that can get in the way: Work, family commitments, travel, illness, and the one I feared most, injury. I just had to take my chances.

To help me, I kept a running tally on my twitter account.
3 miles. 37 total.
5 miles. 122.
1 mile. 287.
2 miles. 500.
This drew some good-natured and probably deserved teasing from some (horrible people like Darren Rovell will tell you that tweeting about any kind of exercising is against some imagined twitter code, but screw that guy), but I knew it would be the best way possible to hold myself accountable. I knew that simply jotting the mileage down on a piece of paper wouldn’t work. I’d lose it or forget or whatever. But anything posted on twitter is there to access anytime. I could always go back to the last post to see where I was, and while I don’t think anyone would’ve really cared if the mileage updates had just stopped one day, there was something very satisfying about sticking with it, and seeing the number slowly but steadily climb, of reminding people, ‘Yes, I’m still doing this. I haven’t quit.’

I got off to a great start, and by late spring was well ahead of the pace. But I forgot about all those variables that could get in the way. It was pretty easy to find excuses not to run in the summer, with baseball games, barbecues, Wild Water West and trips to the lake all sounding a lot more fun that spending a half hour jogging on the treadmill or down the sidewalk.

By the time summer ended I was behind the pace, and with football season starting, I was going to be much busier than I had been during the summer.
I knew better than to try to make up ground quickly, instead trying to register a 13 mile week here, a 12 mile week there, and never have a week go by where I ran less than 9 or 10. To make this long story a tad shorter, I was back ahead of the pace by about mid-November, and I reached mile No. 500 on Dec. 23.
I meant to keep going and hopefully get to around 515 or 520, but, after an entire year of almost perfect health, got sick the week of Christmas and had to take a week off. I ran six miles on New Years Eve, putting my final tally at 506.

I certainly don’t want to get self-righteous here, but after I surpassed 500, I realized that the number wasn’t the thing. It was setting a goal and then reaching it. I don’t think enough people do that, by all means including myself. I tried to think of other times in my life that I’d set a long term goal and achieved it, and I couldn’t really come up with anything. Graduating college maybe, but that was easy. Earning a walk-on spot on a college football or baseball team? Chickened out on those. Managing one of my amateur baseball teams to a state championship? Failed on that one. Get a job as a sportswriter? Maybe, but I work to live, not the other way around. Never felt like a major accomplishment. This was, it turned out, kind of a big deal for me personally.

I’m not upgrading the goal in any big way for 2012. 600 might be a possibility, but work might make that difficult. My goal for 2012 is just to surpass last year’s total of 506. If I somehow manage to really blow it out of the water, maybe I’ll set it higher in 2013.

Being that it’s now the New Year, the gyms are now full again, as they are every January. People who are fat and flabby, weak and unsure, are filing in, hoping that maybe this is the year that they finally drop that spare tire, or just get back into good enough shape that they can sleep better, and enjoy a more active lifestyle.
I’m all for them doing so. And while I’m not arrogant enough to suggest I can tell them how to make it work, there are a few pointers I can offer for anyone who might be trying again this January.

It’s hard, and it sucks. If you’re looking for an easy quick fix, liposuction is your only option. You have to work out all the time, not just once in a blue moon. And it could take months before you actually notice a difference in your appearance. Most people quit because they get frustrated when they don’t see immediate results. I didn’t give a rip about losing weight or looking different, so that made it easier for me to stick with it. You have to be really patient.

Once you reach your goal, of losing weight or getting in shape or whatever, that doesn’t mean you get to quit. Working out, running, lifting, whatever — being active has to become part of your life. It has to be something as routine and necessary as eating lunch, as paying your monthly bills. It’s never over. That’s probably the hardest thing.

Hold yourself accountable. Excuses are just that - excuses. Without my twitter updates, I bet I would’ve quit.

And lastly, it’s worth it. I’ve put a few of the pounds from when I was fat back on, but for the most part, I’m where I want to be. I’m more active than I was in college or the first few years after. I’ve got a lot more energy. And yes, I look better than I did.

I know a lot of people will find this piece to be narcissistic and self-indulgent, and that’s perfectly OK, because it is. But maybe there’s just a few people who will read this who are thinking they’re never going to get back in shape, and if there are, I want them to know they can do it. It’ll take time and a lot of work, and there aren’t any really great payoffs.
But it’s worth it. I’m hoping I run 500 miles or more every year for the rest of my life.