I’m quitting my job this month to fully focus on running. My life suddenly changes completely. Looking back though, I see that the road to this moment was paved by many small changes. Small steps joined together to prepare for one big leap.
In the 4 years I’ve been running, I’ve learned a lot about small and big changes. Running was my tutor, but the lessons have transferred to a broader range of habits, as well as attitudes in various facets of life.
Running sparked a growth process for me. The distance of that initial 2,5k run grew almost hundredfold into a longest run of 246k, and my self-confidence grew in lockstep. Just like the distance, the range of terrains and conditions also extended: forests, mountains, night, navigation… In similar ways that self-confidence set foot on different terrains, including work, writing, prioritizing, friendships. It’s a blessing to see this process unfold, and to subsequently be able to leverage it. Wonderful how running initiated a process of change like a rising tide that lifts all boats, enabling growth over a cross section of life. I’ve come to cherish change. Here are three of the many faces of change that play an important part in my personal process.
Big changes can be broken down into small pieces. You can then handle one piece at a time. Maybe there’s something big that intimidates you, that you’re afraid of, that feels like a big obstacle. To me, trying a first ultra trail sounded cool. But I signed up with no decent experience concerning elevation or any terrain that doesn’t keep your shoes clean, and I was the only one in our group of seasoned trail runners. To dismantle my fears one by one, I suggested Björn to come running for an hour in the local forest… after stepping hip-deep into the brownish water of a canal. I survived the run. It doesn’t get much wetter in a race and I felt no need to be afraid of this aspect anymore. That day we battled one separate obstacle, and the fear for that one frightening aspect of my future challenge got replaced by the courage to overcome it. Breaking down this challenge into smaller pieces resulted in a new, lasting tool in the toolkit that would always be of help in future situations.
How to prepare for your first ultra trail
Change transfers to attitude
Changing one small habit can cause you to view other situations through the lens of that change. This way, small changes can influence your attitude towards other processes: how you do anything is how you do everything. After you decide to always clean up your stuff before leaving home, it starts to feel normal to leave a clean and tidy workplace too when leaving the office. When I learned which nutrition boosts recovery after intense workouts, I also started wondering how to support a healthy body when not training. I read about the influence of food on the immune system and microbiome, and made small adjustments in my regular eating habits. The new habit of ‘supporting recovery’ became a lens of ‘supporting overall health’. Consciously changing one small habit is powerful, as it can transfer into a change of attitude.
“Gradually, then suddenly”
In hindsight, big changes often evolved in ways matching the words of Hemingway: gradually, then suddenly. I love this quote. It makes you think of water that rises slowly and without notice, until the dam breaks with far-reaching consequences. Magma silently building up pressure, until suddenly the volcano erupts and the whole area becomes unrecognizable.
In retrospect, my first long ultra is exemplary. I ran on a regular basis and had slowly built up to marathons, and then further towards ultras of up to 6 hours. On one particular day with a tough personal setback I saw a local 100 miler, thought ‘well, fuck it anyway’ and spontaneously registered. So far the growth had been gradual, but suddenly it completely changed what running meant to me: my longest distance grew from 75k to 160k and unlocked a year containing my first 12-hour, 100k and 24-hour, ultimately culminating in the 246k Spartathlon. A gradual process of small steps suddenly changed my perspective and a year of my life.
4 years of changes
33 hours of small steps
1 run to Sparta.
The images of the volcano and the dam give the quote a passive feel, like a process that just happens to you, beyond your control. But the phrase becomes even more beautiful when you realize there’s another option. We can harness its power proactively, by turning it around: if I want to make a big change possible, what are small steps I can take that pave the way? Starting with one small step and then stacking another tiny change on top of it is the way we can influence the gradual part of the quote.
Multiple mini-changes stacked on top of each other may then enable you to grasp an opportunity that before was out of reach. Small steps usually feel like nothing more than small steps. But 1 + 1 often adds up to more than 2, and small can prepare for big. Reading about money and adjusting a few financial habits. Regular journaling and theme-oriented writing. Slightly improving nutrition and sleep habits. Learning about time management and digital skills, daily exposure to audio about mindset. Those are all small changes from my personal life of the past years. None of them shocking. But unnoticedly those small changes gradually created a framework of circumstances that allowed for that enormous change to quit my job and fully focus on something that brings me joy. To find out where running can take me if I go all in and leave nothing on the table. A very big change, made possible only by small steps. Looking back, this unfolded exactly like big changes often do: gradually, then suddenly.
The pain of change
‘Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change’. I wrote about this quote in the first blog here, a year ago. There is power in that phrase and I ponder the words often. But the negative words always bothered me: it can’t be that change is only possible in the presence of pain. Negative fuel is not sustainable. I kept looking for its positive counterpart… without finding it. But my personal transformation journey as described on this blog wasn’t fuelled by negative motivation. It’s not a reaction to pain. Maybe the answer lies not in words, positive and beautifully picked, but in a process. The answer is in the search, not written by pen but with two feet.
We as humans often find changing hard. But I’ve come to know change in very different ways during those last years. Is change accompanied by incertitude? Often so. Should this always scare us? No, maybe change is our friend. I feel grateful for the many small changes that have been on my path. They make me excited about that big change that’s now possible. Small steps can grow into a big leap. I embrace the insecurity, ready for the leap.
Came across this question during last month’s 24hour trail. I guess we have to ask ourselves every now and then: ‘What am I doing here?’
-‘Gradually, then suddenly’
From The sun also rises by Ernest Hemingway
-‘Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change’
I learned this concept from one of Rich Roll’s podcasts, but the quote often gets attributed to Tony Robbins.
-Spartathlon picture by the Sparta Photography Club
-Sign with deep questions about life found at the Heilig Landstichting