Recently, after many years of not running, I completed a half-marathon. My time wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad, either. In fact, I finished the course a little faster than I hoped (and if I had only skipped that pee-break at kilometer 19, I would have shaved another three minutes off my time).
Typically, when I run a race, I fall prey to a kind of mental game, in which I overthink my actions. I start slow and then try to speed up at key points. Or, I set my sights on someone in front of me, and try to pick them off. Alternately, I give myself “permission” to go slow for a while, knowing that I’ll be able to push much harder at a later point—given the energy reserves I will have stored. (These approaches rarely work.)
This time I did nothing of the sort. Instead, I turned on my playlist of fun songs, and resolved to go on a nice steady run. At the starting point, I found a spot near the 2 hour pace bunny. From that point on, I simply worked to hold a ~5:30 pace. (Again, I’m not out to break any world records.)
As I neared the completion mark, I felt good, and had more to give—definitely more than if I would have tried anything more complicated. I finished in 1:58, and I reasoned that breaking 1:50 in a future run was completely viable. Next time, I’ll employ the same approach, but start closer to the 1:50 pace bunny.
I think a lot about simplicity these days, as I find the best approaches are often the simplest ones. My half-marathon experience yet again validated this belief for me. Instead of thinking too much, why not just choose a reasonable pace, and then stick to it?
When I look at those who’ve achieved success, the same sort of approach is often present: no complex strategy or heroics; instead, just a clear goal, followed by consistent effort. Although this approach doesn’t ensure success, it’s probably more sensible than following fleeting impulses.
Another aspect of pacing that I like, is that it’s cumulative. If you’re a writer, commit to writing a manageable number of words every day. If you’re a designer, perhaps set out to producing a project a week. If you’re working on a startup, you might pledge to on-board a new customer every day. Some days you’ll achieve more, and on others you’ll achieve less, but so long as you stay the course, those peaks and valleys should even out. (And within even six months, you’ll have created something significant.)
Knowing what lies ahead, and determining the best path to take, can be difficult for those who do creative work. In fact, answers to these sorts of questions are often elusive, leading you into a state of paralysis by analysis—or, feeling like you are spinning in circles.
So, the next time you’re contemplating some divergent strategy/course, instead consider the following. Set a recurring task for yourself, and stick to this production schedule for a few months. This length of time might seem daunting, but I assure you, it will pass in no time. My bet is that you’ll later look back with surprise at what you accomplished by just keeping a steady pace.
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