In marathons, as in professional life, it helps to have a challenging goal - Generocity Philly


Jan. 14, 2020 8:33 am

In marathons, as in professional life, it helps to have a challenging goal

Feeling uninspired or unfulfilled at work? Perhaps it’s because you're not working towards a goal that pushes you out of your comfort zone, says columnist Valerie Johnson.

"Run a bit farther, run a bit faster, fight that internal voice a bit longer," columnist Valerie Johnson told herself as she trained to meet her goal.


I ran the Philadelphia Marathon in November.

It was a big deal for me. I wasn’t athletic growing up. When I was 3, I spent more time adjusting my leotard or falling down than I did dancing. I played tee ball when I was 8, and all I can say is thank God for the tee. I spent one misguided year running track at 13, which only taught me how much I hated sweating.

I spent my high school years as a cheerleader, which I excelled at because I didn’t like dropping people and I was quite strong for a very short person — two essentials for any base. In college, I discovered that I enjoy going to classes where instructors tell me what to do, because otherwise I lack the motivation needed to work up a good sweat. I spent most of my 20s going to various classes at various gyms across the city. I wasn’t super loyal to any one type of class, I went wherever I could find a good deal or a membership I could afford.

And then, in 2015, my gym closed. All of the other options in the city were well out of my price range. So I reasoned with myself that running was free: wake up, put on sneakers, go for a run. No costs involved. It took me a while to catch on that while running was cost free, it was incredibly challenging mentally.

Sure, my legs would hurt. My lungs would burn. But the hardest part was fighting that voice inside my head that wanted to stop. I spent the first year or so running two miles at a time, a couple days a week. Thanks to my brother’s not so gentle push of leaving me stranded while he ran away from me with the car keys (gotta love siblings, am I right?), I discovered that I didn’t have to stop at two miles. My brain wanted me to stop, but my body was fine with adding more.

That’s about when I started to love running. Because every time I got out there, I proved to myself that I was stronger than I thought I was. My brain (and by extension, the anxiety that I’ve been battling most of my adult life) could be silenced. I could push myself to go faster and farther than I thought I could. I started to set goals for myself — run a bit farther, run a bit faster, fight that internal voice a bit longer.

But running the same routes every day was boring. And holding myself accountable for running was still tough — I never regret getting out there once I’m done, but actually getting up and going is not always easy.

So, I joined a running group. I can never do anything halfway, so I’m now the team leader for Back on My Feet’s North Philly team. Seeing my teammates crushing their running goals is always inspiring, but watching so many of them cross the finish line at the marathon in 2018 after working so hard to get there was the push I needed.

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Thus, 2019 was the year of the marathon.

Training was not easy, and it seemed never ending. Not comparing myself to everyone else around me was a struggle. I’m not a fast runner, and I would see friends completing the same distance a half hour or even an hour faster than me, and fight the urge to throw in the towel altogether.

It took a while to get comfortable with the fact that everyone’s running their own race. You never know what inner voices or physical pain someone else is battling during their run. I may be slower, but I’m working just as hard as they are.

Anyone can run a marathon: write a training plan, adjust it as needed, and stick to it, and then cross that finish line with pride.

A month before the race I was still half convinced that I would drop from the full to the half marathon. Watching those miles go up every week was so, so intimidating. Even as I was running 18 miles I still couldn’t wrap my head around actually running 22, let alone 26.

But race day dawned in November, rainy and cold and windy, and there I was at the start line. And somehow, despite the weather — which unfairly included sleet and snow from miles 18 to 24 — I was happy as a clam for the entire race.

Sure, I was cold. Everything hurt by mile 13. But I was also motivated. Determined. Prepared. Positive. Committed. I was in this, and I knew I had it for every step of those 26.2 miles. I was going to finish, and I was going to finish strong. I ran my own race and it was, in a word, joyful.

Now here I am. January again. Not training for anything. Trying to get back into my routine.

I spent the entire fall looking forward to the day that I wasn’t training and could just do what I felt like, but now that I’m here I’m feeling uninspired and unmotivated. It’s been way too easy to talk myself out of getting up and going to the gym for the last six weeks, because what’s the point? I’m not training right now.

Well, friends, it may have taken me six weeks but I did finally put two and two together: not having a goal is the problem. Big goal, small goal, any goal really — doesn’t matter what it is. I’m feeling unmoored because I’m not working on any particular thing, I’m just hanging out here existing.

And that’s something that translates right into work life. When I’m feeling uninspired or unfulfilled at work, it’s because I’m not working towards a goal — or I’m working towards a goal that’s so easy to reach that I don’t need to try.

I thrive when I’m a little intimidated by what I’m working towards. I want to go after the big things that I know will be challenging, because the reward is so much greater. Doing the same old thing, just showing up and pushing papers, is just as boring as running the same route over and over. Getting out there and pushing myself is much more fulfilling, and it’s what gets me out of bed and into the office every day.

I’m using this month to reflect on what I want to accomplish this year, and really thinking about the scary goals that I am almost afraid to put on paper. If you had asked me three years ago if I would ever run a marathon, I would have used some very colorful language to tell you “no” as emphatically as I could. And yet here we are.

Now that I know I can do this, I’m spending a lot of time thinking about what other things I could do that I’ve been too scared or too shy to try. Anyone can run a marathon: write a training plan, adjust it as needed, and stick to it, and then cross that finish line with pride. With the proper plan and preparation, what other things could I do?

Now, it’s your turn! Are you taking some time this month to think about what you want to work on, personally or professionally, in 2020? Are your goals achievable or are they a bit of a stretch?

Don’t let others get in your way of going after what you want to — we’re all running our own race in life. Speak it into existence and the wheels will start to turn.


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