I’m sitting here partially overwhelmed and partially bewildered; I actually completed the half marathon challenge I set out to accomplish over two months ago, and now here I am, sharing my experience through this blog post. It’s taken me almost a month to write this after I finished, partially because I wanted to ensure I articulated my experience as true to the core as I possibly could, but also because life got pretty hectic once my half marathon challenge was completed. The time I allotted each day for the challenge was quickly eaten up by other commitments, mostly involving my start-up, Oneiric. But low and behold, here I am, finally sharing my experience with everyone who has supported, encouraged and followed me throughout this challenge. If this is your first time stumbling across my blog posts and half marathon challenge, then welcome, I am equally as excited to share my story with you as well!
Since finishing, I have done a lot of thinking and reflecting, and to my surprise, one of the hardest parts of the challenge was actually ending it. Committing 3–4 hours a day to this challenge certainly ate up a huge chunk of time, but felt like it was filled with purpose through the backing and support of my friends, family, the running community and even complete strangers had generously awarded me. You’re all the real MVPs. No, but seriously, it was an overwhelming and incredible gift that sincerely brought so much joy and excitement to my daily life.
I have always loved the feeling and adrenalin rush of running, whether that is finishing a marathon, half marathon or even a 10k race. I would get the same feeling whenever I would finish my runs, share and upload them through my Nike Running app, and then receive an influx of comments, likes and messages; it became routine, it was the dopamine fix I got used to.
Not to sound overly cliché (even though I know I’m going to), this challenge opened the floodgates for introspection, and I not only learned things about myself I didn’t know existed, but also discovered the importance of setting long and difficult goals. I had the opportunity to experiment with pre-workout and post-workout meals, recovery, mind games, audiobooks and several other tools and techniques that aided in my ability to complete this challenge, which I am excited to share with you all in a series of subsequent blog posts. After day 30, I settled into a good routine that gave me the confidence and knowingness that I would be able to complete the challenge.
The Motivation Behind #RUN70
The idea for the challenge stemmed from a book I read back in the fall of 2016, entitled The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau, which highlights several stories of incredible human beings in pursuit of their own quests, and the joy and purpose that encompassed said journeys. I was inspired to do a 10k/day running challenge during the month of January, 2017, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but I knew simply would be a stepping stone before I set my sights onto the next goal I wanted to accomplish. Months went by while my brain was working on overdrive; idea after idea after idea pooled my thoughts, and trying to steer my thought process onto just one idea seemed like a hopeless conquest. Upon brainstorming with my Co-Founder and best friend, Kayla Nezon, we finally came up with the idea to run 70 consecutive half marathons to break the current world record of 60 for a female. We decided that this challenge would be sponsored on behalf of my company, Oneiric, and we would raise money for a great cause that I hold dear to my heart, the Canadian Cancer Society. The economic reality was that although we wanted to give back to our community, being a start-up somewhat hindered our ability to do so. This challenge gave us the opportunity to not only raise funds, but also awareness, for the Canadian Cancer Society.
• Run 70 Consecutive Half Marathons (21.1 kilometers/13.1 miles);
• Raise $10,000 for the Canadian Cancer Society;
• Write 70 blog posts outlining my daily experience; and
• Take a photo on each run and post a brief recap to my social media platforms
• No walking allowed (but I can stop for a washroom break, a drink of water or to stretch as needed);
• The run must be continuous, meaning that I cannot break it up into two different runs (ie. 10k in the morning and 10k in the afternoon);
• Distances will be tracked with a Garmin running watch and Nike Running App to validate distance. The real measure is using Garmin’s GPS technology that does not allow runners to edit mileage once the run is complete; and
• Runs must be uploaded to GarminConnect to show my daily routes and pace.
Once I decided to undergo the challenge, there were a few prep steps I needed to complete before commencement. I applied for a world record through Guinness World Records, created a hashtag and developed a campaign photo to help spread the word. May 15th was the big day that we decided to announce the challenge to the world. It was real, it was happening — both the challenge and the fact that I felt an instant surge of ungodly pressure. What if I couldn’t finish the challenge? Not only did I feel accountable to myself to finish the 70 days, but I also felt accountable to my circle of friends, acquaintances, family, social followers and the Canadian Cancer Society. Long story short, the burden to complete this challenge was on my shoulders alone, and trust me, it was a pretty heavy (but exciting) burden to carry.
The First Week
The first day was pretty good physically, I didn’t feel sore and my body could handle the distance. Mentally, however, was a different story. I guess I didn’t realize just how mentally draining a half marathon actually is, along with the time commitment that accompanies it — I mean, the time seemed to move slow as molasses.
After completing the first few runs, I felt pretty good, but the first week was filled to the brim with fluctuating emotions. This included feelings of excitement, anxiety, self-doubt, and pure fear, which definitely isn’t the perfect recipe for a good night sleep. Even when I experienced just a sliver of easement, those butterflies in the stomach would act up again, giving me a gentle nudge to say “Hello? You should be shitting yourself right now — get back to it”. And so I did. These were just some of the reoccurring thoughts that went through my mind:
“What if my watch battery dies on my run and I need to start all over again?”;
“What if there are no bathrooms on the trail?”;
“What if it starts thundering and lightening and I’m stuck in the woods?” (This fear by the way, was present during the entirety of the challenge);
“What if I get injured today and can’t complete the rest of the challenge?”; and
“What if I get really sick?” (which, to my dismay, actually happened…awesome).
Almost every day before and even after my run, I found myself anxious and worried about the strangest things. The self-doubt was overwhelming, but as I progressed through the challenge, my confidence started to supersede those feelings of anxiety. Especially after tackling very difficult runs.
Fast forward to the record-breaking day. When I started this challenge, I definitely did not predict that I would be in Portland, Oregon the day that I broke the world record, let alone be running with some incredible individuals who were also attending the World Domination Summit hosted and founded by Chris Guillebeau. By this time, my mentality had done a complete 180 from the first few weeks, and even the first month, of the challenge. I settled into a routine, a routine that I surprisingly enjoyed, and my mind felt strong and determined to finish. I was greeted at the finish line by a group of WDS organizers, my friend, girlfriend and Chris Guillebeau himself! There were several moments during this day where, as corny as it may sound, I had to pinch myself — I couldn’t believe the overwhelming support and encouragement I received from people I’ve never even met before. I was, and still am, beyond grateful for their support.
The Last Stretch
After Day 61, the last stretch of the challenge was the hardest. In a way, I thought of my challenge as somewhat synonymous with one of my favourite books, Paulo Choelho’s The Alchemist. The novel revolves around Santiago, a Shepard from Southern Spain who travelled to Egypt in his quest to uncover his hidden treasure, while simultaneously learning powerful life lessons along the way. After experiencing countless setbacks, he had one last hurdle to face before uncovering his treasure. I do love all novels and the metaphors they inspire, but The Alchemist rang true to my own experience. #RUN70 was full of ups and downs, highs and lows, but the setbacks became more prominent nearing the last days of my challenge; testing my limits and strength to prevail when the end was in sight.
One of the most difficult days I had endured was waking up at 2:30 a.m. to do my run in Gresham, Oregon, before catching an 8:00 a.m. flight back to Toronto. I caught a stomach bug on the way home leaving me completed drained of energy. I had throbbing pains in my stomach that felt like severe cramps, which was accompanied by an apathetic appetite. The bug lasted about two weeks overall, but I found myself trying to run through absolute pain during the remaining days. No exaggeration here, I mean pain.
When I began this quest, I started with the intent of it being a personal challenge, but as time progressed, I wanted to foster a sense of communal growth and prevalence, sharing my experience with others and inviting anyone who wanted to run with me to do so. On Day 70, I created an event and asked Toronto’s running community to join me on my last day of the challenge, followed by a celebratory cold one at Mill Street afterwards. The turnout was so unbelievably amazing. I had the opportunity to meet numerous people that had been following and supporting my journey. It was such an enigmatic feeling that it’s hard to articulate it into words, mostly because words simply cannot do it justice. Let’s just say I was soaking in that high all day, but there was a second feeling that was looming over me — what’s next? Is today really my last day or should I keep going?
Spoiler alert: the answer to my aforementioned questions was a hard yes. After Day 70, I was so close to hitting the financial goal of $10,000 that I decided to continue my runs indefinitely. The days leading up to my final run left me with a feeling of ambivalence: now what? How would I fill that incredible sense of purpose, fulfillment and daily accomplishment that this challenge instilled in me everyday? After Day 70, I decided that I would at least continue to run until I hit the $10,000 goal. On Day 71, we surpassed our goal by $600 (still in disbelief that we did it). Although Oneiric’s goal had been met, I was not ready to finish just yet, and I decided that perhaps I would end my challenge on a clean, even note; say Day 75 or Day 80. All in all, that did not happen — I actually ended on Day 74. Things with Oneiric started picking up and I needed to redirect all my time and attention into the company. Although it was a difficult decision to make, I could no longer sacrifice the energy into the challenge that I felt should rightfully be allocated to Oneiric and more importantly, my relationships.
In 74 days, here’s a recap of what was accomplished:
• Distance Ran: 1,629.97 kilometers / 1,1012 miles = 38.62 marathons/ 77 half marathons
• Time: 363.91 hours = 15 full days
• Calories Burned: 112,208 = 37.4 lbs of fat
• Total Money Raised for the Canadian Cancer Society: $10,600
• Blog posts: 70
• Social Posts: 74
As I mentioned before, this challenge unveiled a lot of personal insight, so I’d love to share with you the main lessons that I learned along the way.
Major Lessons Learned
1. It’s all mental
This is the biggest and most important takeaway that I wanted to share with you.
At the beginning of the challenge, I had so many people message me and warn me about how hard this challenge would be on my body, that my knees would literally be gonezo, and that I would physically not be able to complete it. For the first week, these warnings continuously fluttered alongside the butterflies I experienced, which in turn got to my head and I couldn’t help but acknowledge how sore I felt on my runs. For the first 10 days, I found myself limping a bit from the soreness after each half marathon, which seriously freaked me out.
I realized that I needed to shift my mentality and remind myself to take it day-by-day, 1 kilometer at a time. Although that does sound daunting when you’re running 21.1 kilometers a day, there was a sort of sanity to my method; it was a reminder that I could go at my own pace, this isn’t a race. If I wanted to stop and stretch, then I could. If I needed to pace myself slower one day, then I could.
2. Share goals and major milestones with the public
The downside of sharing the challenge publicly is that it put tremendous pressure on myself as I was no longer doing this run alone, it was being shared with the community. The silver-lining to this publicity was that I was able to open myself up to a plethora of encouragement and support, I was able to meet new people, and I had the opportunity to inspire others along the way to push themselves, both physically and mentally, which was equal parts rewarding for them as it was for me. This made the challenge that much more meaningful. We had become a community; we were all there to support, motivate and raise one another up, even on the hardest days when I considered throwing in the towel.
3. There are unexpected and incredible surprises along the way
After we announced the challenge, I e-mailed Chris Guillebeau to let him know that his book had inspired a new quest. Excited by my story, Chris wrote about #RUN70 on his personal website, shared it with his massive online following, donated to the campaign and invited me to the World Domination Summit in Portland July, 2017. Coincidently, the kick-off to WDS weekend (on the Friday) happened to be Day 61 — the world record-breaking day. Several people also reached out to me and wanted to join in on the challenge. On some days, I ran with strangers that became new friends. Along with that I received a ton of comments, supportive and encouraging messages, and was told by many that I inspired them to push themselves to their limits and get out the door. I was so humbled and amazed with the impact #RUN70 had as well as garnering such an incredible sense of community.
4. You can’t do it alone
This undertaking would not be possible if I had to do it alone. With that, I want to personally thank the people who were there throughout the challenge to help. I have to give a special shout out to my girlfiend, Alicia, whose love, support and motivation pushed me to complete this challenge. For the first few weeks, Alicia would run the first 5k with me, or she would bike beside me with running fuel (water and bananas). Alicia also completed an entire 21.1k with me, and continued to run with me on several of the harder days closer to the end of the challenge. I say this with the utmost sincerity and gratitude; you were the undercover backbone of my challenge, and without you, this challenge would have not been the same.
5. Planning a comedown after a major challenge is VERY important.
I cannot even count the amount of hours I thought about what I was going to do when the challenge ended. I admittedly have a hard time relaxing and enjoying my accomplishments. My mind is like clockwork in that fashion: the consistent “what’s next on the goal agenda” had become routine. After completing the Boston Marathon this past April (after three years of trying to get there), I didn’t really give myself time to soak in the sense of accomplishment that encompassed the Marathon. Instead, I decided to plan for #RUN70 almost immediately afterwards. At the time, the word “break” was not in my vocabulary, so I turned to my wise-beyond-her-years cousin, Sara. After speaking with her a few times, she reminded me that I need to re-focus my energy into the really important aspects of my life, most importantly, my relationships. I will admit that I sacrificed a lot of time with friends and family to do this challenge, and it was important for me to redirect my attention onto those I love and care about most. I decided that after finishing #RUN70, I would move to another challenge that allowed me to balance my work and personal life more evenly: writing a book to relive my experience of #RUN70, which I’m in the process of doing now.
Now that #RUN70 is over, I feel like it has changed my life forever. I have so much gratitude for the amazing moments that happened over the course of the challenge, which instilled a new perspective on the way I view various aspects of life. I have gained a new sense of confidence, which has given me the motivation to approach difficult and overwhelming tasks in a new light. I have briefly mentioned some of the major takeaways, but there were so may more that I’ve yet to discuss and share. I’m going to be writing and publishing a series of takeaways from the #RUN70 challenge that you might find interesting or applicable to your life as well.
As for what’s next? Stay tuned…
I also posted this blog on Medium.com.