What I Learned About Hustle While Training For a 15k

I’d like to think I learned a lot about hustling from The Roots and Jon Acuff (in different ways). I've been reading Jon Acuff’s blogs since Stuff Christians Like, and I recommend Quitter as my favorite (non-idealistic) guide for moving on to your next big thing (which may not be quitting your day job). I also want to stay on his good side in case I need an endorsement for a future book. That being said, I hadn't really internalized the hustle until I signed up for my first 15k.

Here’s a quick summary of me before signing up for my first 15k which I finished last weekend (at the beginning of February):

  • I had just started working out again in July after 15 years of steadily putting on weight.
  • I mostly lifted weights and did “fun” cross-training like jogging with a ruck and boxing on a heavy bag.
  • I was not a runner, and I did not enjoy running.
  • I normally maxed out at 5 miles without stopping.
  • I averaged a 12:00 min/mi pace (not great).
  • I was obviously overly optimistic if I thought I could run more than 6 miles, much less the 9.3 miles required.

Despite all of this, I saw people signing up for the Hot Chocolate 5k/15k and thought (1) I should challenge myself and (2) I could already run 5k, so it was not challenging enough. So, I signed up in November, kept working out like normal, and, in January, started a real training program. I cut out non-essential cross-training and ran four days a week. I never skipped a run. I woke up even earlier. I monitored my diet before every long run to learn what worked and what didn't. I ran extra-long on Saturdays. Basically, I had to hustle every day to meet my goal.

I realized by the end of January that I had been working hard before, but I had not been hustling with a goal to hit. Hustling meant setting a goal where I would be judged on how much I had worked up to that point. It meant temporarily giving up the fun, productive things like boxing and cross-training so that I could carve out more time to train for my real goal. It meant going to bed early, so I could wake up even earlier with energy to run. It meant running when everyone else was asleep or relaxing with friends and family. It meant never skipping a scheduled run (even when that meant running trails at a bed and breakfast during vacation). It meant measuring my results week-by-week by keeping track of my times, and it meant pushing myself extra hard to run 10 miles on Saturday mornings. It meant I finally internalized the hustle.

What I learned applies to any area where I have to hustle to be successful (running a race, starting a business, growing a business, etc), and these are my takeaways (in no particular order):

  • I need to hustle towards a goal. I don’t believe in exercising for the sake of exercising. That doesn't motivate me to try harder. I believe in training. Training has a final goal, and it’s something that I can get closer to through my own efforts. My goal was to finish a 15k in under 1:45:00 (I finished in 1:30:12). In business, my goal has been to bring in more qualified clients and grow so that I can help more people grow (which I'm doing, but I still have some open slots available for new clients).
  • I need to track my progress. I'm hustling towards a goal, but that goal might be a ways out and I can’t just blindly train or work hard without knowing if I'm doing the right things to make progress. I tracked my average pace on every run, and I quickly adjusted variables (normally my diet or water intake) when I saw the numbers go in the wrong direction. If my goal is to land fifteen new clients by the end of the year, I need to be aware enough to change things up if I only have two new clients in July.
  • I need to have a clear idea of what I can control and what I can’t. I learned about Stoicism while studying at the Air Force Academy, and this always stuck with me. I can’t control how well other people run or the fact that many of them have not gotten out of shape since college, but I can be responsible for how often I run and what I eat. I still can’t change other people’s budgets or priorities, but I can control how well I present myself and appeal to their needs. I can’t hustle my way around all the factors that affect the outcome, but I can take complete ownership of everything within my control.
  • I may have to sacrifice (some normally good) things to hustle. I had to give up sleeping in and eating fatty foods, but I also had to give up training that didn’t help my running and seeing a lot of friends that were on “normal” schedules.
  • The focused hustle is not a permanent state of being. I hope I always work hard. I think I always have. This sort of hustling, though, needs to be a very focused period with a beginning and an end (when I reach my goal). I'm giving up some good things to get a little further. I'm also burning away with less recovery. All of that is okay, though, because I know that I'll reach my goal. Then, I can recover and start thinking about the next goal (like a GORUCK Challenge, which means changing my routine and hustling again).
  • I need to be judged at the end. Just like I know I need a goal, I know I need some skin in the game and I need to be ready to be judged based on how well I hustled up to that point. I might be judged pass/fail like completing a GORUCK challenge or making enough money to go independent with a side-project, or I might be judged by how fast I was or how many new clients I brought in. Whatever it is, I have to have the opportunity to fail at the end, or I won’t work my tail off to do better.

So, that’s it. I ran my first road race in over 15 years. More importantly, I learned how to internalize the hustle for my personal and professional pursuits and tried to share what I learned here. As always, hit me up on Twitter or in email if you have any questions or feedback. If you want to work with me to grow your own business or ministry (and watch me hustle), fill out my handy contact form.

Final cautionary note: After basic online research, I am now aware that almost everyone recommends spending more than four weeks preparing for your first 15k (possibly more like 16 weeks). Obviously, that is helpful information that I did not have in January of this year when I started training, but I thought I should pass it on in case you get inspired and don’t want to injure yourself.