Dealing with Setbacks

At the end of December, I started the couch-to-5K program, a regimen that helps people with little experience get into running. Through the program, you slowly build up the amount you run each week, with the goal (as the name implies) of being able to run a 5K at the end.

woman tying running shoe
A good practice in discipline and determination.

Now, I’ve started this program a few times in the past but have always given up part-way through. I’ve either gotten to a point where I felt I couldn’t do it anymore or my schedule just got too crazy. This time, though, I was determined to see it through.

During the first week, you run/jog for 60 seconds, walk for 90 seconds and do six sets of that. Week 2, you move up to 90 seconds running, alternating with 2 minutes walking. And so on. You complete three sessions each week.

I started out strong. Week 1 was a breeze. Even Week 2 felt pretty manageable. For me, Week 3 was the first test of my endurance. During this week, you jog for 90 seconds, walk for 90 seconds, and then jog for 3 minutes, walk for 3 minutes, doing all of that twice.

Something about moving from 90 seconds to 3 minutes seemed daunting. And the first session of that week was definitely tough, but I got through it. The second session felt a lot easier. But then, before I could complete the final session of Week 3 … life got in the way.

I had to go out of town for my grandmother’s funeral. And then, when I returned, it was raining non-stop. I had already gotten sick from running in really cold whether; I wasn’t going to chance it by running in the rain.

Once the weather got nice again, I was back at it. Now, I probably should have gone back and started at the beginning of Week 3 again, since it had been almost two weeks since I did any running. But I’m someone who hates to backtrack, so I decided to just do that final Week 3 session and move on.

Yesterday, I started Week 4. If Week 3 was daunting, Week 4 seemed terrifying. The regimen during this week is 3 minutes running, 90 seconds walking, and then 5 minutes running, 2.5 minutes walking, completing all of that twice.

Going into that session, I already had my doubts. 5 minutes just seemed insurmountable. That’s longer than most of my running songs! But I knew I at least needed to try.

The session started out well. Getting through that first 3 minutes was surprisingly easy — I didn’t look down at the timer once. I steeled myself for the first 5-minute jog, found a long song with a good beat and took it easy. I did pretty well. I only looked down at the timer once and powered through to the end.

But by that halfway point, I was feeling pretty tired. The second 3-minute run came up, and it took everything I had to get through it. I was winded and thirsty and hot. Right before the last 5-minute jog segment came up, I paused the workout to try to collect myself. I continued on, but I could only run for about a minute before I had to stop.

I was devastated and discouraged. All that work, and I had hit a hurdle I couldn’t get over. Negative thoughts flooded my brain:

“See, this is why you’ll never be a runner.”

“This is probably where you quit last time.”

“All that work down the drain.”

But then, a friend brought up a good point — “where you are today… could you have done this like 3 weeks ago?” Of course, the answer was “no”. I had built up to that point. Those weeks prior had led to significant progress. I had simply hit a bump in the road.

I tell this story because I think it will be a good perspective to have during my sabbatical and career exploration. I will inevitably hit a point where something doesn’t go to plan or something doesn’t work out the way I thought it would. I’ll probably hit that point many times!

But instead of looking at what I couldn’t do, what I didn’t accomplished, I need to focus on what I have done and how much progress I have made. And it’s ok if I have to go back and do something over again, or if it takes just a little longer than I expected to get where I want to go.

And you know what? I’m going to go back and repeat Week 3. I’m going to build up that endurance again. I’m going to get myself to a point where I am better prepared to tackle Week 4. And I am not going to give up.

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