At the beginning of 2017, I moved to California with the intention of building and launching my internet startup, Aech. I knew I would soon be spending far too much time hunched over a computer and aimed to balance this out by taking on a physical challenge of equal magnitude: running 1,000 miles in a year. While this distance is laughable to most serious runners, I spent most of 2016 backpacking across Southeast Asia and the US, committing grave health sins in the process, and was in no shape to be running more than a mile or two at a time.
Starting out running a few miles miles once or twice a week, I eventually worked my way up to finishing the 26.2 mile San Francisco Marathon in July, checking off a bucket list item I’ve had for a while. Dropping mileage but generally maintaining momentum in the second half of the year, I spent an hour over Christmas break running nostalgically through the quaint streets of the small Florida beach town I grew up in to finally push me over the 1,000 mile mark.
Strava tells me that I laced up my shoes 164 times and spent ~178 hours putting one foot in front of another to hit this goal, with my average run being just over six miles. If you asked me before to spend that long performing a boring and uncomfortable task like running on a daily basis, my expletive-laced response would likely be far different from the tune I sing today.
Boom. 1,000 miles in 2017...✓ pic.twitter.com/btlQ5wEXDh— Brett Lindenberg 💫 (@balindenberg) December 28, 2017
Amongst other obvious benefits, I’ve found that I enjoy distance running because of the mental clarity and calmness that it brings. It’s one of the only periods of the day where I’m not looking at a screen or working on multiple things at once, and therefore is the time that I make the most intellectual progress on whatever has been troubling me in business, relationships, or any other area of life. Regardless of the problem, I know that I’ll be closer to a solution after an hour of watching the outside world slowly roll towards me and feeling my body find efficiency in movement.
Going fully from zero to one with Aech during this time has challenged me in new ways creatively, professionally, and personally. Consequently, many of these miles have been spent meditating on how to effectively achieve the goals we set out for ourselves and drawing parallels between the simple act of running and the complex process of creation. Keeping in mind that I don’t actually claim to know anything about anything and that most advice given is actually intended for one’s own self, here are a few of the simple truths common to both activities that are most obvious to me today:
Starting is the hardest part...
The most difficult part of a run is usually lacing up my shoes on and getting outside. My mind will work hard all day to come up with excuses as to why I can’t or shouldn't run that day: I’m too tired, I need to work more, it’s too cold, etc. Once I get out the door and start moving, my pride usually kicks in and I have no problem completing the run, even if I told myself I could quit after a mile if I really wanted to.
With creating, the song is the same. It’s easy to engage in some classic mental masturbation when beginning a new project, brainstorming variations of the smallest details and getting excited about all the possibilities, but you haven’t crossed the starting line you take a concrete step forward. I’ve spent countless hours geeking out ideas that I just _knew_ would change the world, but ultimately ended up as nothing but another Trello card because I didn’t take a single concrete step forward before the enthusiasm wore off.
Most people spend too much time planning the entire lifecycle of their project before starting, not realizing that the landscape will change the second they start to actually work, rendering most of their planning useless.
...the next hardest part is not stopping.
The goal of distance running is… bear with me here… to not stop! You can run 100 miles if you can maintain the mental and physical strength to not fall victim to the idea of simply quitting. Since most training runs are not outside of one’s physical ability, it all boils down to having the mental fortitude to keep on keeping on. When I’m in a bad place on a run, I use some shoddy recursive logic to get me through the task incrementally: no matter how tired I am, I know I can always run one more mile...so therefore I can simply do that as many times as needed to reach my target.
Courtland Allen of Indie Hackers recently said something in a YC interview that struck me as both interesting and true: as a startup founder, your entire goal is to not quit. Amongst the many aspirations you might have for your project or company, the unsexy goal of continuing to work on the problem each day should be at the forefront and influence your decisions on a daily basis. Like most people, of the ideas I’ve actually taken concrete steps towards realizing, I’ve usually quit before giving myself a viable chance at success. Another nugget from that interview: Pick any idea, work on it for 10 years, and you will succeed.
Momentum is everything.
The logical step after basic functionality is optimization. Fighting the starting and not stopping battle continuously is exhausting, but can be made more tolerable by creating and using momentum to your advantage.
Most running coaches advise against taking two days off in a row, knowing that your body will lose a small bit of fitness and make it that much harder to start back up again. When I skip a run, I’m exponentially more likely to skip the next one...and will continue to do so until I’ve suddenly been a potato for two weeks. Getting started after any significant break is extremely difficult and can drive you away from the task completely, as happens with so many side projects after losing interest for a few days.
Ran today for the first time in 3+ weeks and hoooo boy did I realize how hard I've been getting crushed by a cloud of anxiety lately— Brett Lindenberg 💫 (@balindenberg) June 8, 2017
Keeping momentum in creative pursuits is equally critical to success in my experience. Simply doing one thing each day towards your goal, no matter how small, will keep the internal engine running and help you overcome the lack of inspiration or interest that will inevitably happen at some point.
Running and working today makes running and working easier tomorrow.
Pace yourself, or die.
Running is an honest sport that you play against yourself. If you go too slow, you’ll become bored and become frustrated with your progress. If you go too fast, you’ll pay for it in due time when your body starts to sound the alarms.
Knowing when to push forward and when to fall back will be one of your greatest skills as an entrepreneur or creative. I used to be one of those guys that thought he could out hustle his peers by staying up all night and drinking coffee until his kidneys hurt. Now, I subscribe to the religion of getting plenty of sleep and try to eat with the intention of fueling my body and brain. I might temporarily get ahead by staying up until 3 am to fix a bug, but in the long run, it only slows me down.
My 2018 quantitative resolutions:— Brett Lindenberg 💫 (@balindenberg) January 14, 2018
💃 Run 1,000 more miles
📚 Read 25 books
💭 Publish 12 pieces of public writing
💸 Hit $10K MRR for @aechdotco's upcoming b2b product
Overall, running 1,000 miles has been an extremely positive experience and I’ve resolved to do it again this year. Another one of my resolutions for 2018 is to publish one piece of writing each month, and this has been the first installment in that experiment.
I’m hoping that regular writing will help morph my naturally long-winded and verbose writing style into one that’s more succinct and direct. If you’ve made it this far, I’m grateful for your time and would love to hear from you if you have any thoughts or feedback for me ❤️