Habit Forming

Yesterday, I went on my first run after ten weeks of not doing so. Yep. Ten whole weeks.

About, eleven weeks ago, I went on my last long run of training for the Minneapolis Half Marathon. I set out for a two hour run and went 12.5 miles. It was a bit of a slog after I hit a wall at about mile nine. But, that was the same place I hit a wall in my first half-marathon so that was OK. I now know where that wall is. After I made it back home I was a bit sore but still felt like I had a bit more “left in the tank” and felt good about my overall time and pacing.

Then, after a few days of recovery my shins were still pretty sore. I began to get worried so I decided to go for a very short run to work out the kinks and see how I felt. Well, every step felt like my shins were on fire. I barely ran a mile like this and, at the point of tears from the pain, I walked home. I spent the next two days massaging with a couple of rollers, icing, modifying my nutrition, and just about every other tip I could find to see if I could fix it. The day before the marathon, I decided to try that same short run to see if I could make it. Same problem. I was certain it was shin splints. This is a common injury for those who have tried to increase their running distance too fast (as I had done). And, though I had paid the registration fee and picked up my race packet, I decided right then to bow out of the race. It was for the best.

I knew it would take a few weeks of babying my shins to heal. Resting, icing, massaging, stretching, etc. All of which I did. It was going to be a pain in the ass because I really had worked hard to form a routine — a habit — of running. I knew a couple of weeks off meant that I would spend every two to three days with the urge to go for a run. I also knew that, once I got back out there, I would need to take my time and be careful not to make the same mistake twice. All I would have to do is to fight that urge until I was well rested and healed. Then just give into it when the time came. It would still be there if I healed up soon enough. Which was the plan.

But then, two to three weeks became three to four. I always put it off to tomorrow. Then each tomorrow became just another tomorrow. And, each time I said tomorrow it became easier to say it again when tomorrow came. And, soon enough, I had formed a new habit…

A not-running habit. A tomorrow habit.

I had spent a good month or so when I started running coaxing myself to put on the shoes and get out the door. But, each time it required less and less coaxing. Until, eventually, I did it naturally because I had formed a running habit. Not running was not an option becuase I got a nagging feeling every time the time came to run.

Well, what I discovered is that one can form habits in the opposite direction as well. And, they work just like forming any other habit. The more you say no the easier it becomes to say it again.

This is true in other areas of our life too. That task on your list you keep putting off will become easier and easier to put off until, eventually, you form a “putting that particular task off” habit. That dream you keep talking about pursuing but never do, eventually becomes a “talking about it but never chasing the dream” habit. You get the idea.

The only way to break any habit is to eat that frog and replace it with a new one.

So, yesterday, I decided I needed to replace and rebuild my running habit. I refused to let it be just another tomorrow again. After so much time off, I would need to form the habit all over again. And the only way to start was to strap on my shoes, get out the door, and go.

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