The birthday wish which led me on a journey of a million steps!

Lessons from marathon running applied to life.

This year was to be different. The older one gets, the more confusing birthdays become. Should we joyously celebrate another year gone by? One less which we have available in our unknown yet finite tally on this earth. And so, as with many readers, for me, birthdays have become increasingly reflective the older I turn.

Enjoy the journey and don’t get consumed by the goal”. How many times have we each heard this cliché? Words of advice which often time enter via one ear and exit via the other. I had decided that I was going to try and actually pay heed to the phrase this time around and set myself on a challenge long enough that I would almost be forced into experiencing the journey (and hopefully enjoying part of it) at least!

Readers would be familiar with a mantra I often talk about, the concept of experimental well-being. What I mean by this is that well-being means different things to different people and is therefore a relative, transient and ever evolving path for each of us.

So this year, on my birthday, I decided that I was going to experiment with my own sense of well-being, using my love for long distance running as the medium, and set myself a long and repetitive goal which I knew would challenge so many aspects of my life. The intent was to complete 5 successive Half marathons (distance 21.098 kilometers) in each of the successive 5 months of the running season. #DocMBig5Challenge

Overall this challenge lasted 156 days, many of which began at ridiculously early times of the morning (the earliest of which was at 3am). Over this period, I clocked up a total of just over 1 million steps (1,022,760 to be exact)! With a daily average of 6,556 steps, which seems decent on the face of it, scattered over that period of time there were however 9 individual days in which I walked for less than a thousand steps and my lowest point was a day in February in which I covered only 455 steps, which equates to just 300 metres. That’s shameful! But looking back over the data I was happy to discover that whilst I set out to complete 5 half-marathons, I had in fact completed 6. There was a day in September, whilst I was in New York for the United Nations General Assembly meetings, in which I actually walked far enough to qualify as a half-marathon! #SurpriseNumber6

Last weekend saw the completion of this experiment and as I spent the last 48 hours recovering from the final run, I began to reflect about what this journey has taught me – four reflections which I am happy to share with you all today.

  1. Never forget the purpose of our task.

Why do we do the things which we do in our lives? It is so easy to get caught up in the day to day minutiae of our tasks that we can forget the larger purpose of our mission. And so often during this challenge for me, either forcing myself to wake up when the world was still fast asleep or making myself stay at home on a saturday night so that I don’t over indulge in food and drink with my friends, I became tempted to surrender to my short term will and either go back to sleep or just have another G&T. But where would that have gotten me? Loneliness I came to realise was part and parcel of any major endeavour in self-improvement, and in those lowest of moments it is most important to keep reminding oneself of what the larger purpose is, in order to stay disciplined to our mission.

  1. Large scale performance requires small scale behaviour changes.

If we want to achieve extraordinary feats, be prepared to be faced with extraordinary challenges; the success over which can largely be influenced by how much care and attention we pay towards ourselves. Achieving repeated success each month at a race was possible because I habituated a series of small changes in my life which allowed my vehicle, my mind and body, to excel on the days in which they were stressed to their maximum. Ensuring I allowed myself 7-8 hours of sleep each night, eating good healthy meals (with some cheat days in between to keep the motivation up!), training with regular cadence and then equally as important going for sports massages and physiotherapy sessions to let the body repair appropriately. Performance is therefore a multifaceted dependency which through small behaviour changes in our lives can lead to overwhelming transformations and success.

  1. Wonder at the world each day through a fresh set of eyes.

My son is almost two and every evening when I take him to the garden he runs to a spot to collect stones. He never tires of picking up a handful of them and then playing with them for a while. Seeing him grow up I have understood the meaning of the phrase ‘child-like wonder’. How tainted our life and world has become, as tasks (especially routine ones) have lost all their charm and we go about living our lives as a series of “to-dos” having lost the enjoyment of doing so. I faced this so often during my journey and had to keep reminding myself to pause and remember the wonder in what I was experiencing. The break of dawn over the amazing Mumbai coastline, the cheering crowds on race day egging each of us runners on, throwing my hands up as I crossed the finish line and allowing myself a moment of catharsis (and a tear if necessary) for the pain that accompanied each medal. This challenge has reminded me of the importance to live each day as if I were seeing it for the first time. To remember to appreciate the wonder in the moment because when it’s all over, it is the memories which I had created over those 1 million steps which I will look back on and cherish the most.

  1. The journey of well-being begins with an experiment.

What began as an experiment into my own well-being, taught me so much more than the physical challenge of completing these five races. As I mentioned earlier, well-being is a very personal journey for each of us and one which ends up transcending the original intent so quickly. This challenge has reinforced the word ‘journey’ as part of its definition for me. The point I am making is that I have come to realise that we never finally “arrive” at well-being, but instead we end up making a series of zig-zags (some on purpose, and others completely by chance) in our life that will hopefully get us in the vicinity of where we want to be, assuming we keep heading in the correct overall direction. Life’s greatest journey in many ways could therefore become the constant experimentation we create around what our sense of well-being means to us.

Five races in five months and literally a million plus steps later, it’s time for me to finally put my feet up and not have to worry about the constant blistering, dead toe nails, haematomas, muscle strains and sprains, setting of alarm clocks and ensuring that there are always bananas in the fruit bowl at home! My medals hang proudly in my cupboard and I have created so many amazing memories of this journey. But now friends an even bigger conundrum awaits me. What challenge should I set myself on my next birthday?! #WhatNext

Keep thriving readers!

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