Personal Best

I was holding off saying anything about this until I was sure it wasn’t a fluke, but now I’ve been able to pull it off twice in a row, so I figure it’s safe to crow about it a little 🙂

Going to the gym two or three times a week has been part of my routine for many years now. It was never anything I took particularly seriously — I wasn’t out to win Mr. Universe, just to keep in check the general sluggishness and doughiness that are the occupational hazards of the computer programmer. And for the most part, I managed to do that, so I was happy.

About seven months ago, though, I got tired of my routine. It started to feel like a waste of time. After thinking about it for a while, I decided that the reason was because I didn’t have any particular goal — I had sets of exercises, but nothing I was really pushing myself to achieve. The result was that I felt like I was just going through the motions more than anything else, which is a serious drag on your motivation to make sure you make it to the gym at the end of the day.

So, I decided on a goal. I wasn’t particularly scientific about it. I just picked something that sounded like something I’d like to be able to do, and set out to get to the point where I could do it. The goal was to be able to run an eight-minute mile.

Now, anyone who knows me will recognize the… ahem… ambition inherent in my adoption of that goal. I’ve never been a particularly enthusiastic runner; my feet are somewhat misaligned (V-shaped “duck’s feet”, instead of straight), which makes running at speed more of a challenge for me than it is for most people. Plus, I’m a freaking computer programmer, for God’s sake! It’s not like I’m out getting bouts of intensive cardio on a regular basis. When I started out, I couldn’t even run an entire mile, at any speed, without having to slow to a walk to catch my breath.

I suppose, though, that it was that ambition that attracted me to the idea. I have always been most attracted to goals that are just close enough to impossible that half the people you ask think they’re daring and the other half think they’re ridiculous. It’s something about the nature of the Grand Project, the Impossible Dream, that stokes the fire in me like nothing else. And this Dream certainly seemed Impossible when I first dreamed it up, that’s for sure.

But, as in most things, persistence pays off. Over the last seven months, I’ve been gradually increasing my distances and speeds, working my way inch by inch towards the milestone I set so long ago. Along the way, there were periods of frantic progress, and periods of frustrating standstill; but I had that objective in mind, so I kept going back, hitting that treadmill three times a week, cranking the speed up another fraction, shaving another few seconds off my time — until last week, when I finally did it, I finally ran the mile in under eight minutes. (Just to see if I could keep it up, I kept going, and tacked on another half mile on top of that for just over 12 minutes 20 seconds.) And then, today, I did it again. So I can honestly say that I can do it, I can run an eight-minute mile. It hurts like hell, but I can do it.

So many things in life today are designed to pay off immediately. We demand instant gratification. Things that once took a day or an hour now take five minutes — and we wait impatiently, wondering why can’t they speed this up? Things that once required muscle and sweat now can be delivered to our air-conditioned doorstep with the click of a mouse, and we think, I have to click? Can’t they make this easier? I’m certainly as guilty of this as anyone else.

That’s why it’s been so weirdly satisfying to have a project where progress takes place over weeks and months; where improvement is measured in a second here and a second there; and where the only way forward is through the effort of bone and sinew. Plus, I lost a few pounds to boot, which ain’t bad either. So, all around an excellent exercise, well worth the effort.

Now I just gotta figure out what I’m going to do next time I go to the gym!



September 23, 2003
12:54 am

Congrats! That’s fantastic!
I just got to a weight I haven’t been at since college, though I’m afraid I’ve been much more slack on the gym front of late.
Now, keep that mantra about patience and delayed gratification in mind the next time you complain about the market. 😉
Seriously, though, that’s great to hear.

September 23, 2003
1:48 pm

Bravo Jason L

Congrats are in order for Jason L. who finally met his workout goal of running an 8 minute mile. which for the mathematically challenge…