When I limped across the finish line after my first 10K in 2010, I thought I’d never run another. In 2013, I proved myself wrong. I not only finished a 10K that year, but did so after biking 40 kilometers and swimming a mile in New York’s Hudson River.
Finishing an Olympic triathlon was one of the most liberating achievements of my life. I’ll never forget the feeling of invincibility upon crossing the finish line.
Just weeks after that race, I found a short message I’d written earlier that year:
One thing I’d like to do this year is run an Olympic distance triathlon. A few years ago, I would have thought this was impossible. If I achieve this, I will believe even greater things in my life are possible.
After proving to myself that I could finish the race, I used the same momentum to take on a new challenge—writing my first novel.
I completed the book during the first six months of 2014, crafting one chapter each week until it was complete. On top of a full-time job, finding time to write for a dozen hours each week was as tiring and time-consuming as training for the triathlon. Just like finishing the race, though, holding the finished book in my hands was exhilarating and hugely rewarding.
Lessons from Race Training Can Be Applied to Any Goal
- Work Backwards
Knowing the final distances for the course, I calculated backwards and knew training for the event in July would need to start in February. I started slow and built up. The key was to start early and do a little each week.
To release the first chapter in January, I began planning in November. I broke each task into monthly goals, weekly goals and daily goals. For example, sketching a logo was a daily goal that contributed to a weekly goal of creating a homepage which advanced the monthly goal of setting up a website.
- Allow No Interference
A rainy day? No excuse to skip a run. A friend’s late-night party? No reason to miss an early morning swim. Training always took priority and power came from that commitment.
In any major project, the ability to say no to the wrong things and yes to the right things is one sure way to meet success. In writing the book, I constantly chose not to accept every social invitation, not to watch TV, not to spend hours scanning social media. I spent at least four hours a day, four nights a week on the project. It is a big time investment, but it’s the only way to accomplish something of substance.
- Celebrate Success Along the Way
Crossing the finish line was the most triumphant moment of training. However it was the pile up of little successes that really kept me going. These included my first 8-minute mile and avoiding a panic attack during open water swim practice.
In writing the story, celebrating the small triumphs were just as important. When I got a paragraph just right or a reader sent me a line of appreciation, I paused to recognize these accomplishments.
- Dust Yourself Off
With just three weeks before my race, I had a really difficult running practice. We were only three miles in when I had to stop from fatigue. My spirits sank. This was a bad omen for race day. Rather than let the experience rattle me, I analyzed my nutrition and took the weather into account—New York City was a sauna that afternoon. Putting things in perspective helped me recalibrate and get back on track.
Mid-way through the book, I published a chapter that fell far below my standards. The feeling of disappointment hung in the air until I evaluated why it was lacking and doubled my efforts the next week. The following chapter was far better, made possible only through a rededication to the story and the audience.
- Listen to Your Coaches
My coach was the main reason I succeeded in the race. His coaxing during hill runs, his encouragement while on the bike, and the never-ending critique of my swimming technique were necessary to get me across the finish line.
When I gave the first chapter to five friends for feedback, I expected to hear glowing praise. Instead, I received hesitant approval with a barrage of feedback. I felt crushed because their response meant a complete rewrite. However, once I incorporated the edits, the chapters took on a richness that I never could have attained without the difficult-to-swallow criticism.
- Listen to Your Cheerleaders
Friends and family were my saving grace on race day. Two friends even ran half of the 10K with me, pushing me through the toughest hills with encouragement.
When I was discouraged that readership was down or the project seemed trivial, I reviewed messages sent with such kindness from my readers. These words lifted me up and helped me move forward.
- Listen to Yourself
With a mile left in the race, I was overheated and limping in soggy shoes from all the water I’d poured over my head to keep cool. That’s when I had to dig deep and pull out my last bit of effort. I reflected on all of the training and used these memories to push myself over the finish line.
When the creative juices weren’t flowing or the work seemed daunting, I thought back to the original inspiration for the novel. It came to me in a flash and just felt so right. I drew on that feeling again and again, knowing that the creative work added depth and meaning to my life I couldn’t get any other way.
Your Goal is Entirely Possible
I hope these ideas provide some inspiration whether you’re training for your own race, writing your first novel, making a movie, launching a blog or learning a new language.
As one of my story’s characters reflected:
The greatest building we can do is building up ourselves. The goal setting and the aspiring are not in vain if they help to grow the heart.Click to tweet
The most important step is the first. What masterpiece will you begin today?