What I Learned by Running Every Day for a Year

8 minute read

Full disclosure: I am not a runner, a fitness junkie, or an exercise-obsessed person by any measure. My preferred habits include scrolling through my Twitter feed, taking mid-day naps, and drinking wine. Truth be told, I enjoy most things more than I enjoy running—but I do it anyway. Here’s why.

When my 50th birthday was approaching, I made a lofty proclamation. I was going to do 50 new things in the upcoming year, in an attempt to be a more interesting person. Mostly it was just bravado—like decades of New Year’s resolutions that I made (and then promptly ignored). My 50 New Things List was made up of things like taking an improv class, trying a food that sounded objectionable (I’m looking at you, cricket bars), and vacationing somewhere out of the ordinary. My partner even went so far as to solicit ideas for my 50 New Things List, and organized them into a deck of cards that I could pull from. Some suggestions were great (I discovered that Cape Breton is gorgeous, single malt scotch is oddly satisfying, and throwing an axe in a dive bar is invigorating). Some suggestions were not so great (I will not be skydiving—ever).

Then, last summer, I was in South Carolina visiting my mom when my nephew, his wife, and their best friend Max came by to say hello. My niece put her friend on the spot, saying: “Max, tell Aunt Jill the most interesting thing about you”. I was intrigued—if someone put me on the spot with that question, it might result in a minor panic attack.

Max didn’t miss a beat, calmly stating that he runs at least 5k every day.

Since 2015. He has been running 5k every day for years.

Now that was interesting! I asked him a barrage of questions: How long does it take? What happens if you’re sick? Does it get boring? What if… what if you just don’t feel like running that day?

He answered each one, and told me about almost missing a run while attending a destination wedding. His fellow groomsmen were so invested in his streak that they found a way to stall things as he sprinted through his 5k, showered, and then slipped into the bridal photos right before someone was going to have to learn photoshop in a hurry.

The following Saturday, I went for a run. Afterward, I felt good, and I did something unusual for me: I went out again the next day. And the next.

I set a few rules: at least 3k a day, no self-judgment about my pace, no set end date. I didn’t tell anyone I was doing it. I just started. After four consecutive days (doubling my previous lifetime record!) I told my partner and my daughter that I was “doing a thing.” They were fantastic and supportive—my partner pitched in with more early-morning childcare, prepared more meals, and rearranged schedules so I could get my run in. My daughter sometimes hopped on her bike and rode beside me. On days when I didn’t want to run, she would gently say, “Today doesn’t feel like a good day to end your streak, Mom.” She was always right. I kept going.

On Easter Sunday, the heavens opened up and poured rain during my run, onto which I’d foolishly added a bike ride and swim. Don’t quit before the miracle, I thought, furiously pedaling through my very own, very wet triathlon. Then, a rainbow appeared.

Here are my observations after 365 days of running

Surprisingly, or perhaps naturally, they echo my observations about business. (Maybe there’s a reason it’s called “running” a business.)

Sweat:

Working up a sweat every day feels good. Knowing that you’ve done something to purge out the toxins and get your heart pumping is incredibly satisfying. It was worth all the (many, many) extra loads of laundry to feel like I was getting things out of my system and leaving them behind.

In business, it doesn’t matter what the weather is like or what your mood is. If you’re the boss, you lace up, show up, and put in the work. Every day. Stay in it—enjoy the adrenaline highs and work through all the messy, ugly, sweaty parts. It’s your business, you own all of it—run it like a boss.

Time for yourself:

There’s a lot of talk right now about me-time, down-time, and taking time to recharge. These things are all important, fabulous, and noble… but they felt vague to me—or like something you had to plan. Once I started this everyday ritual, I didn’t have to think about when I would get my “me time.” It became part of my day. Although I wanted to make excuses about being busy, needing to be there for my daughter, having deadlines, or needing to catch a flight, if I couldn’t make 20 minutes for myself each day, I needed to do a better job of managing my days.

This carries over to work. If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of your clients, employees, or business. Put on your own oxygen mask first.

Pride:

Hearing a woman say with confidence, “I’m proud of myself” with no disclaimers, qualifiers, or shame—well, it just doesn’t happen often enough. I am fortunate to have many successful business women, moms, entrepreneurs, and academics in my circle. I can’t recall the last time someone proclaimed that they were proud of what they’d achieved. Sure, we’re proud of our children, and if we get recognized at work we’re grateful to be acknowledged. But on the whole, women saying they feel proud of themselves, even just one piece of themselves, is all too rare.

I run a digital marketing agency. Every day I help companies tell their story. We need to tell our own stories more so our daughters can see successful women, hear what it’s like to make hard decisions, sweat things out, sometimes come up short, and keep celebrating our big and small successes.

No regrets:

I sometimes (often) dreaded going on my daily runs. But I never once regretted them afterward. It’s a good feeling to free yourself from self-judgment and shame about what could have been different or better.

I’ve built my business around a creative team of diverse people. We take risks, and they usually work out. But sometimes—for example, when you ignore red flags and bring on an employee or client that is not a good fit—it’s tempting to beat yourself up for making a costly mistake in judgment. Don’t do it. It will suck your energy. Find the lesson, learn from it, and keep moving forward.

One day at a time:

If I had started out with the goal of running more than 1500k, I doubt I would have ever started. Instead, I focused on trying to keep my streak alive, one day at a time.

In the early stages of big projects, my colleague Lisa often asks, “What’s the best way to eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” There’s a reason that proverb has been around so long.

I didn’t start my business with the goal of running a business. I started solving advertising and marketing problems for people who sought my help. Over time, it became a business. But it’s amazing what can happen when you keep your eyes open for opportunities and keep showing up.

Gratitude:

Running every day gave me time to do daily gratitude lists. There are numerous studies on how being grateful makes people mentally stronger, physically healthier, and more satisfied with their lives. I experienced all these things.

Double down on your gratitude even—and especially—when it’s the last thing you want to do. Every interaction that pushes you out of your comfort zone gives you the opportunity to get stronger. More importantly, appreciate the people that choose to work at your company. They’re giving you a large portion of their time, talent, and career. That’s a big deal. Don’t take it lightly.

Being interesting vs. being interested:

In the pursuit of becoming more interesting, I found that I became more interested in motivations, behaviors, people, and the world around me. Interested became something I enjoyed being, which is way more interesting than trying to be interesting. Clearing space in my day for unstructured curiosity helped me be more mindful, and it led me to become more engaged with those around me. I pondered many questions on my runs, and I followed up with the people I thought about afterward with phone calls, emails, texts and visits. I asked more questions and listened more thoughtfully to the answers.

As a leader, genuinely caring about your team members as whole and complete individuals opens the door for empathy. There are often things going on that have nothing to do with work. Be gentle and do everything you can to take obstacles out of their way. Knowing that there are people invested in your success changes everything.


What’s different?

Running every day changed me in ways I didn’t expect: from how I see myself, to how I run my business. I didn’t lose weight, find boundless energy, or become a running evangelist. I didn’t hit runner highs, nor did I get to the point where I enjoyed the actual act of running. But I did use the time to get clear. I have been able to make business decisions quicker than ever before. I put more thought into things during my runs and act faster. I reorganized my agency, moved two of our offices to spaces more suitable for our success, and made a more active effort to stay connected with friends. I also showed my daughter an example of what it looks like to work every day to get stronger, keep commitments, and show up for yourself.

For people who like the stats:

I ran every day from July 29, 2017 to July 29, 2018. My baseline was 3k. I did come up short on a few runs, but more often I went farther. There was never a day I didn’t work up a sweat. My pace isn’t fast— best 5k was 5:12 per km, but I have plodded along without shame some days at 7:50 per km. I went with how my body was feeling. I wasn’t doing this for speed or to report my time to anyone. I didn’t post about it daily. I was just out there for myself. I ran in three states, four provinces, and at every hour of the day—sometimes in the wee hours before early-morning flights or travel delays.

Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not.

A few months into my personal challenge, the organizers of The San Francisco Marathon called my agency looking for a new marketing partner. They were changing their name to Run365—which seemed too coincidental to believe. We won the account and created a great campaign for them, with the tagline #ThisIsHappening. So yes, on Saturday, July 28, I completed my 365th consecutive run. And on Sunday, July 29th, I laced up again and ran 21k in The San Francisco Marathon.

Was I out there on July 30? I was. No promises on how long this streak will last. But I can tell you this: I learned a ton, and I’m better for showing up.

Jill Tracy is the Founder, CEO and Chief Creative Officer at BSTRO, a digital marketing agency with offices in Vancouver, San Francisco, and New York. Most days she’s on Twitter as @jill_b_tracy, but today she’s in a hot bath with plenty of epsom salts.

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