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Effort: Why the last 16 1/2% is the most important part

Photo of a boy running

mrlins / Flickr

I’ve started running recently, and — wait, back up. I should preface this by saying one thing: I suck at running.

How does that happen? How does one become bad at moving faster than what would medically be referred to as “resting”?

I’ve just never been able to run. As a kid, my favorite sport was baseball, which pretty much only required me to occasionally sprint short distances, and even when I played soccer, I was a goalie. I spent three years of high school and college smoking, which didn’t help anything. I made a few attempts over the years to start running, but I didn’t really know what the hell I was doing.

The thing is, I always wanted to be able to run.

A few weeks ago, my wife recommended I try an iPhone app called Get Running, which aims to help you slowly build up to a respectable run time (I think 30 minutes or so). I’ve since worked my way up to being able to run for at least five minutes continuously, which is monumental for me. (UPDATE: Since writing this, I’m up to eight.)

The other day, Get Running challenged me to run for three separate intervals of five minutes, with walking breaks in between. That struck me as a good workout, and not insurmountable.

I finished up my first two runs and was about halfway through my third when I felt myself start to hit that invisible wall. As usual, thoughts like, “Well, you’ve already run quite a lot today, and it’s probably OK to stop,” started creeping into my head.

But here’s what kept me going: Those last 2 1/2 minutes were the 2 1/2 that were going to take my body to the next level. I already knew I could run for five minutes straight. I knew I could run for five minutes, walk a bit and then run another five. It was in the tail end of those last five minutes where I ran into uncharted territory; where I went from pushing myself as far as I could to pushing just a bit farther.

That is growth.

The first 83 1/2 percent of my running time for the day was important, and it was more than I’d ever done just weeks before. But since I’d already achieved it, it had become maintenance. It was expected. That other 16 1/2 percent — that last little bit — was where I stood to gain something new.

It’s easy to stop and look back on what you’ve accomplished before you’ve finished what you set out to do. But it’s important to remember the reason you put all that vastness behind you in the first place was so you could get to the end of that last stretch in front of you.

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