Three lessons from a couch to 5K

The run

I have always perceived a divide between those who exercise and those who do not, which I have observed with my feet solidly placed in the “not exercise” camp. I never quite got the appeal of working out, particularly running. Running I felt belonged in the same category as rubbing sticks together to make fire. Our Western society has advanced well beyond the need to run from wild animals or chase down our dinner.

That said, one thing I have in common with the general population is my progress towards getting older. I am reminded of this fact when I walk down stairs and my pinned knee decides to behave more like a free hinge than a support mechanism. I feel my mortality when I catch the train with seconds to spare and then spend the next ten minutes catching my breath. I am conscious that the word ‘physique’ is not necessarily reflected back at me by the figure in the mirror. I see the trajectory resulting from inactivity and it is not one to which I aspire.

More than these physical realities, however, I am aware of the connection between physical exertion and leadership, mental awareness and happiness. There is something about pushing yourself physically that prepares you for the pressures placed on you by commercial tensions in our society. The correlations between physical and mental health are also well documented. A leader in his field recently asked me to schedule a meeting later in the day because he found the discipline of his 10k morning runs critical to his business and personal success.

Thoughts such as these were on my mind when I changed careers recently and was offered a spot on a 5k run with my new team. I was already making significant changes in my life, so I committed to the run with two months to prepare.

The lead up and the run

I was in my twenties and the U.S. Navy the last time I ran more than necessary to catch public transport. Before I hit the pavement, I thought I might need to relearn a few things after two decades of inactivity. So I spent a Saturday morning watching YouTube videos on running techniques, looking up couch-to-5K programs, chatting to a few of my running friends, and reading blog posts about the experience of others.

After researching long enough for it to turn into procrastination, I hit the road. I didn’t follow any program per se, apart from ensuring my progression was gradual. My thought was that I was less fit yesterday, today I ran, and tomorrow I would be more fit than today. I walked a lot in the beginning, and tried to be conscious of what my body was telling me.

I gradually increased my distance over the two months leading up to the event. I averaged around two to three runs per week and kept it to the 2.7km run by my house. The week before the run, I did my 2.5km run twice in a row just to prove to myself I could pull off 5km before the event.

This meant the actual run was a non-event. I did what I set out to achieve, which was to keep running through the whole 5k. My Stava app said I pulled 5:24 kilometres, which I am proud of but it is a number relevant only to me in comparison to my previous times.

Which leads me to a few other life lessons that came to me on the road…

Lesson 1: Everyone is running their own race

A barrier to my starting to run was a concern about what people would think as they saw me huffing and puffing along the road. This is silly, I know. Have a think over the past month and try to recall any single person you saw jogging alongside of the road. I know I can’t, and I propose neither can you. The reason why? Because the majority of the population is busy running their own race. Realising it is not about you frees you up to fully run your own race.

I suspect the only person who may remember me was a bystander towards the end who had her hand raised as I ran by. I was pretty happy to be finishing, so I raised my hand to meet hers in what I assumed was a call for a high-five. The look of annoyance on her face as she lowered her hand and left me hanging leads me to believe she was just trying to cross the road. She, I believe, may remember me. I will have to live with that.

Lesson 2: Run your race, not your competitors

Classes of running society emerged as we ran the 5k. You had your walkers who mostly stayed to the side of the path. You had your joggers who maintained status quo. Then you had your runners who jumped curbs beside the path and weaved their way in between the masses.

I found myself keeping pace with the person in front of me, planning my strategy to pass them. By focusing on other runners, however, I adjusted my pace to theirs and did not realise they were causing me to slow down. When I realised this, I shifted my focus to the time I meant to keep and only focused on the competition so as to not bump into them when I passed.

The obvious commercial and career metaphor is to run your own race and not focus on the competition. You see this reflected whenever a market player makes a move to copy another. When asked for a response to Burger King’s Big King burger replication of the Big Mac, McDonald’s statement was simply “We’re focused on our business and our customers”. So it should be with each of us.

Lesson 3: Spend it all before the end

There is a balance between not burning yourself out and using everything you have in the run. This required knowing the general path of the race and where I was going to end up.

Such it is with life. I have a general idea of where I am going and a vague idea of statistically when I will end. That said, both the destination and duration of my life are uncertainties. For each day I have left, my plan is to pace myself in such a way that I will spend all I have before the end. I do not want to finish my race knowing I had more to give.

What’s next: Exposing fears by getting serious

The morning view

I have come to look forward to my strip of sidewalk that leads me into the morning sunrise. I now have my sights set on other events, and am even contemplating numbers like 10k, 20k and the holy grail of a marathon. That said, there are certain realities of life I now need to deal with, such as a pinned knee which is now causing some funkiness in my hip.

My aches highlight another life metaphor: our limps get exposed when we decide to get serious about something. Perhaps it is the fear of finding those deficiencies that prevents us from stepping out. These are my own reflections.

For others that are metaphorically running with me:

  • If you are physically able and have not run a 5K, I would encourage you to give it a shot. You will learn your own lessons along the path.
  • If you are a runner or were one of the over 2,700 participants with me on the day of my 5k, thank you. Knowing there are others on the path gives me confidence in knowing there is a community to tap into.
  • If you are physically unable to run but you continue to push yourself in other ways in your own race, you are an inspiration. Thank you.

Success is built from a series of steps towards the destination we set for ourselves. Each person is on their own journey. I am grateful your journey has taken you past this blog. Before you continue on your way, please take the time to share your own reflections with others below.


7 Responses

  1. jane

    November 6, 2013 7:09 pm

    Congratulations. It was a revelation to me that I could enjoy running after years of the couch bit of C25K. I’m a touch addicted now. I’m that jogger that steadfastly gets through it, but I’m slow. Love that comment about running your own race. I remind myself of that as I get lapped. If it had have been me, I’d have high fived you.

    I don’t know if its for you, but my running has been absolutely fuelled by AudioFuel. I run to the beat and feel more like I’m back in my clubbing days than running.

    Enjoy your training for 10K – and beyond.

    • Chad

      November 6, 2013 7:52 pm

      Thanks for sharing, Jane, and for the sentiment of the high-five. 🙂

      Yes, the music keeps me going. Pendulum was my music of choice for the 5k, takes me to my happy place.

      Knowing I am running with you will help keep me moving along.

  2. Ian

    November 6, 2013 11:54 pm

    Hi Chad

    It’s great to hear that you have become a runner. I’m proud of you mate.

    I did my first full marathon in July this year, and it was a very rewarding personal journey.

    Be prepared for the mental / emotional journey of distance running too. You expect the physical battle with your body, but the emotional battle gets you.

    As you know, I lost my father to cancer a couple of yrs ago, and ran my first marathon in his honour, whilst raising $$ for cancer research. The experience made me stronger, helped me deal with the grieving process. I also ‘chat’ to him a bit when the long runs get tough!

    Good luck, and welcome to the running fraternity 😉

    • Chad

      November 7, 2013 6:58 am

      Hi Ian,

      Thanks for your comment! I remember your run, proud of you as well. A marathon sounds intense, but is on my radar. I will see what the doctor and physio say about my hip and hopefully hit the pavement again after a clean bill of health.

      I will think of you and have a few chats as a pound the pavement. 🙂


  3. Ralph Lavelle

    December 6, 2013 3:24 am

    Among the section of the population that “does exercise”, I’ve come to think more and more that there’s a meaningful distinction between those who do so artificially, i.e. go to gyms, and (sorry) “jog”, and those who do so by cycling or walking instead of driving or commuting, explore their surrounds on foot, go to a national park, play football with their kids, all that. Exercise, movement, activity, should be woven into your life, not isolated in the sterile environment of a gym listening to deafening remixes. Walk to the shops, leave the car behind. Cycle to your friend’s house. Even just get up and go for a takeaway coffee a few blocks away, that sort of thing. Marathons are artificial: they guy who did the first one died – no one wants that.

  4. Stacey

    March 11, 2014 11:23 am

    Hi Chad, love the musings and the metaphorical impact of running ‘the race.’ So much of your content rang true – keep that wisdom coming. So often in our lives I think we get swept up in the hype of ‘the race’ that we forget that we must find our own pace and our own stride. I know for too many years I spent too much time trying to run someone else’s race that got me nowhere.

    A wise teacher from the movie Dead Poet’s Society once said – ‘Strive to find your own voice, because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all….’

    Thanks Chad for reminding me to run my own race
    Cheers, Stace

    • Chad

      March 11, 2014 7:54 pm

      Thank you for the comments, Stacey!

      Your words ring true. Authenticity is a valuable commodity, a scarce resource we have in abundance. I look forward to seeing a better world as a result of you finding your stride! 🙂