I was a bit past the turnaround point in what would become one of my longer runs in recent months when I suddenly felt that mental game all long-distance runners know well, nagging in the back of my head: shoot; are we really still running? I silenced it by quickly saying we could reevaluate when we hit a certain checkpoint on the course.
As I reached that checkpoint, I continued running and mentally made a new checkpoint. After this checkpoint, as I kept plodding along, I realized I could stop at any point and still have this be one of the longer runs. Having not yet started the formal training plan I will be following for an upcoming marathon, I wasn’t locked in to a certain mileage that day—I just wanted a long run—and where I was now certainly qualified as that.
Another checkpoint passed. This internal chatter went on with me convincing myself that if I could make it to one more checkpoint, it would be okay. And as I blew through checkpoints and finally saw my final ending spot, I was pleased to see I could still shut down those mental blocks.
I’ve been thinking about “checkpoints” since that day. It’s really tangible on an out-and-back run to have your markers. Just run until that bridge, that building, that tree. But what about the big projects that I write in my planner each week, only to cross them off on Sunday night and move wistfully to the incoming week’s pages?
They say it’s important to—when faced with a big task—break it down into smaller, more manageable goals. And while logically I know that makes sense, it can sometimes feel impossible in practice. It is easy enough to write “big Smile thing” in my planner. I know what I’m talking about and it only takes up a little space. But were I to break that down into all the components? Well now that’s overwhelming.
But what if I took it a step further? What if I broke those components into components? And down from there. What if I moved beyond the planner pages and into some sort of project management/organizational format that works better for this type of task? What if I did an honest check-in to make sure this was actually something I still needed to do?
As if it is, do I have the materials I need to complete this project? Do I have the time to commit to this goal? What is it going to take to succeed? Who else needs to be involved? What’s a realistic timeline? And, once I have the timeline, where are my checkpoints?
My final note: many years ago, I hit a really big milestone for The Smile Project… a checkpoint, if you will. I texted a few close friends about it, did a happy dance in my bedroom, and then went back to work. That’s when one of those friends responded and asked what I was doing to celebrate. I turned down my dance music and looked around—I was looking at it.
My friend reminded me of the importance of celebrating—of taking an intentional moment to honor and recognize the work that had been done—before diving into the work that was yet to be complete. That night we went out for ice cream.
In all of these brief, jumpy anecdotes, I find myself drawn back to the original running story and the three big reminders it leaves me with.
1. Pace yourself.
2. Build in your checkpoints.
3. Celebrate those wins… preferably with ice cream.