Overcoming Obstacles-10% at a time

For reasons that are not clear to me, I learned to hate running as a child.  I ran a mile when I had to do so for gym class in school, but that ended in 10th grade.  Yet, I enjoyed many sports that involved running, including baseball, basketball, football and soccer.  So, my hatred of running was purely focused on running for the sake of running.

I have stayed physically active and fit my entire life, including biking and swimming, but for decades, I avoided running like the plague.  In my 40s, I played Ultimate Frisbee, which involved a tremendous amount of running with very few breaks.  Although exhausting, I was able to play competitively with much younger players often less than half my age. But, I still hated running for running’s sake.

Given that I am a strong bicyclist and swimmer, about 10 years ago, friends suggested that I compete in triathlons.  I consistently rejected these suggestions since I hated running.  But, as my advancing age made competing with teens & twenty-somethings in Ultimate Frisbee more challenging, it dawned on me that I could run if I put my mind to it.  Then I discovered the Sprint Triathlon, where the run portion is 5 kilometers (3.1 miles).  I decided it was time to get over my fear of running so I could compete in a triathlon.

Before my first run, I got in my car to measure a 5 kilometer route from my house.  Keeping in mind that I had never run more than 1 mile in my life, and had not run a mile since 10th grade gym class, my fears lingered.  But, off I went.  Sure enough, before I got to the end of the block, despite being in  very good physical shape, I was huffing and puffing and not sure I could run the whole distance.  I told myself that if I got too tired, I could always stop or walk, but fortunately another part of my brain told me not to give in so easily, and slowly, but surely, I was able to run the whole distance.  After a few months of training, I successfully completed a Sprint Triathlon on Father’s Day, 2007, just shy of 48 years old.  I proceeded to compete in a Sprint Triathlon in 2008 and 2009, and by that time friends suggested that I move up a level to compete in an Olympic Triathlon.

I knew I could easily bike 30 miles and swim 3/4 of a mile, but my fear of running stayed with me and I did not believe I was physically capable of doubling my running distance to 10k (6.2 miles).  Then, I found a book called, The Runner’s Body, which taught me the 10% rule.


The 10% rule is a way to increase your speed or distance without injuring yourself or taking on an impossible task.  It is quite simple.  In my case, since I was running 5k (3.1 miles), I simply increased it 10% at a time.  So, I increased from 3.1 miles to 3.4 miles, building to 3.7, then 4; 4.4; 4.8; 5.3; 5.8 and in 8 steps I was running 6.2 miles, the Olympic Triathlon distance.  I competed in Olympic Triathlons in 2010 and 2011, and since then have moved on to bike racing, now that I have effectively conquered my fear of running.

The 10% rule allowed me to overcome my fear of running and build my endurance in a safe and relatively easy manner.  Next week, I will discuss how the 10% rule can apply beyond physical activities when engaging in systems change.

For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems contact him through his web site: Systems Change Consulting.