How to run 100 miles and succeed at anything

Ultrarunner Dean Karnazes tells a story in which a friend asked him how anyone could possibly ever run 100 miles. I don’t have the exact phrasing here in front of me, but Dean’s answer was essentially this: “Start putting one foot in front of the other, and don’t stop until you’ve gone 100 miles.”

Go Dean. Because that’s how you do anything.

I know a lot of people who are very successful in something or other. Some are amazing athletes, some are accomplished businesspeople, some have great discipline or are laudably early risers, some are great parents or spouses, and some are extraordinary simply by living their lives without excuses.

I also do a lot of crazy stuff myself. I’ve got the business and the accompanying “results not typical” rapid success story, I’m currently functioning on a lot less sleep than many of you reading this, and I’m training for a marathon in Cleveland, in winter, in my “barefoot shoes.”

So sometimes, people ask me how to do the big things that they’d like to see in their own lives. The tone of these requests is often frustrated, or defeated, or angry. A lot of people feel that they can’t do it despite trying and trying, and it sucks.

So sometimes, I’ll give people my own humble two cents when they ask for it. I’ll give them a suggestion. Something to do, to try.

Or, in the absence of a nugget of my own wisdom or that of anyone else, plenty of people still know what to do but just can’t make it work. Examples of this kind of Zeitgeist advice are: To lose weight, eat better foods in moderate amounts and exercise. Or: To have better relationships with your kids, spend more time with your kids.

A lot of people out there know what to do. They may not see the whole path from fatass to ripped cover model, and they may not know the mechanics along the entire journey from pauper to billionaire, but they know the basics. Most of the principles in life that cause improvement are very, very simple: Eat less. Work harder. Spend less. Don’t smoke. Exercise discipline. We know these things. Everyone knows these things.

People have the knowledge. Whether it comes from “out there in the world” as obvious wisdom or whether it comes from a paid coach or consultant, the truth is that people who aren’t getting what they want actually do know what to do, at least at a basic, good-enough, get-started level.

The problem isn’t knowing what to do. The problem is that almost nobody ever does it.

If 5% of people get results, it’s not magic. It’s because that 5% has made a decision to do whatever it takes to get those results.

The problem, as you adequately put it, is choice.

Sometimes, a lack of results is due to circumstances beyond a person’s control. For instance, a man who is five foot, seven inches tall couldn’t realistically win the NBA slam dunk contest (although I guess Spud Webb did it in 1986), and a guy without arms and legs couldn’t be a cage fighter (although come to think of it, Kyle Maynard does it), but usually the lack of satisfying outcomes in a person’s life is due to choice.

Yeah. I know how that sounds. But hold those tomatoes you’re about to throw while you ponder this:

Ask yourself, if you moved off on your own, away from family and friends, and if you got rid of your TV and books and video games and anything remotely fun, interesting or distracting, and if you slept as little as humanly possible, and if you spent 100% of your time honing and perfecting a marketable skill — if you pored over material for months and years to learn exactly who would buy this thing and how to reach them; if you experimented and adjusted and tried and failed for as long as it took to find a way — do you think you could make some money, or make a business successful, or whatever? Do you think you could manage something if sleeping and eating and working was quite literally all you ever did?

Yeah?

Well, the fact that it could be done means that you’re not allowed to say “I can’t.” It means that if it’s not happening for you right now, it’s a choice that you’re making: A choice to do more fun stuff with your time. A choice to sleep more. A choice to spend time with your family, or to have a day job so that you can live in a decent house.

And no, I’m not faulting those choices. I like to have fun, sleep, spend time with my family, and own a home. But regardless of their rightness or wrongness (I don’t think they can be right or wrong, but that’s another discussion), they are still choices.

Most choices are less extreme: The choice to sleep a bit more. The choice to watch CSI. The choice to have a higher standard of living.

Look. It’s time that something is said: The stuff that you want requires hard work. Nobody really accepts that. We like to kid ourselves that there’s an easy way to get any good thing, but it’s a lie. Everything requires some kind of a trade-off. Everything requires some level of sacrifice.

IT’S FUCKING HARD to get and stay in shape. IT’S FUCKING HARD to be a great mother or father. IT’S FUCKING HARD to climb a mountain. But society won’t tell you how incredibly hard most things are, because then outdoors shops can’t sell as much climbing gear and the “easy money online” people can’t sell their courses. Imagine if the slickest, most-SEO-optimized-for-”make-money-online” internet marketers started telling everyone how hard this is and that at least ninety percent of the people who buy their stuff won’t even make their money back. What if they made it a huge deal, like I’m doing right now?

I’m a business coach, right? Well, watch me alienate some clients:

IT’S FUCKING HARD to build a business. It takes work EVERY SINGLE DAY, and it can take MONTHS to see results, and YEARS to get to where you’re satisfied. You will FAIL along the way, and family and friends will think you’re STUPID for keeping on with it. You will have to STAY UP LATE OR GET UP EARLY, OR MAYBE BOTH, and you will have to TRY, TRY, AND TRY AGAIN. It will be FRUSTRATING and CONFUSING and GENERALLY PRETTY DAMN INCONVENIENT sometimes.

You will have to develop a thick skin and an iron resolve. You will have to have great patience. Oh, and get used to uncertainty, worry, and the occasional (or — perhaps, at the beginning — frequent) bout of panic.

If you want to build a business (and especially if you want to build one with my help), you’re making the choice to accept the above. Because that’s what it takes.

I’m not being harsh. I’m just being honest. People who enter into a venture without knowledge of the choice they are making are doomed to fail. People who understand and embrace the choice will do well, and those are the kind of people I want to work with because honestly, those are the only kind of people I can help.

Running 100 miles

Want to run 100 miles? Then just keep going. With a map (acuity, advice, coaching, research, whatever), with a kit to treat blisters (the right expectations, attitude, and yes… more knowledge and advice), and walking when you get tired (taking strategic breaks, having support), but the important thing is to just keep going until you get there.

If you buy a course, you’ll have to USE IT. I’ve tried, and none of them seem to generate results while sitting unopened on your bookshelf or hard drive.

If you hire a coach, you’ll have to TAKE THE ADVICE AND APPLY IT, and you’ll have to do that over, and over, and over, and over again… for weeks, months, or whatever it takes.

Oh, and the last thing? There’s no such thing as a “done for you” course or system. The person who figures out how to package success — and sell it as a literally effortless cure-all with 100% fidelity for any person who picks it up — will not only make all of the money that currently exists in the world, but will also spend his days hanging out with Santa and the Tooth Fairy at the Easter Bunny’s cold-fusion plant in Never Never Land.

Which means that in addition to all of that hard work you’re going to need to do — and the frustration and embarrassment and fatigue you’re going to have to face — you’re going to have to do it yourself. The course you bought or the coach you hired can only show you the metaphorical door, and you’re going to have to be the one to metaphorically walk through it.

To run 100 miles, start putting one foot in front of the other and don’t stop until you’ve gone 100 miles.

Eighty percent of success is just showing up.

When you’re going through hell, keep going.

All of these things are good advice, and all of them are true.

The magic pill

The diet industry is full of bullshit claims about some particular herbal or chemical formulation that will melt fat off your frame if you’ll just swallow it on a regular basis. These pills are hugely successful because (you know this part; sing along!) IT’S FUCKING HARD to lose weight. You have to stop eating foods that you’ve relied on to give you pleasure, and you have to start eating foods you probably think taste like crap. You have to move around some, and ideally make a concerted effort to exercise. And you have to do some degree of this FOREVER if you don’t want your ass to eventually grow over your chair the way an aggressive tree will grow right through a chain-link fence.

So, the thought of just taking a pill (which is pretty easy) to keep your ass in check is super-appealing. “Everybody want to go to Heaven but nobody want to die,” right? The thought of being able to change something without the FUCKING HARD WORK is so appealing that it overpowers the fact that everyone knows no pill has ever been able to do that and none ever will. People look at those pills and KNOW that they’re bogus, but they want to believe it so much that they talk themselves into it. And then the supplement companies rake it in.

But only stupid people do that, right?

Well, a lot of supposedly intelligent people use education and advice as a magic pill. They want to consume information and then watch everything get better overnight. They get an itch to do something, and they want it scratched, and so they buy a pill, and they take it and wait for it to work. I’ve seen it time and time again. Hell, I’ve DONE it time and time again. You see some Carleton Sheets infomercial about trading real estate and you think, “Hell, I could do that.” So you buy the course, and it comes in the mail, and you look through it. And then, with the itch scratched, you put it on the shelf and go about your business.

Or you ask someone for advice, someone who you believe can help you. And, after getting the advice, with the itch scratched, you return to life as normal. In the weightlifting world, “Squats and milk” is a well known cliche. Want to get big? Drink a lot of milk and do a lot of heavy-ass squats. Want to get lean? Less Twinkies, more salmon, more metabolic work (i.e. stuff that will make you want to puke). People solicit this advice from every big or lean person out there, but nobody who asks ever takes the advice, because doing so is really difficult and requires a large, long-term commitment.

A lot of the late-night infomercial courses would produce results… IF YOU USED THEM FULLY.

A lot of great training or fitness advice (even some of the trendy, cheesy courses with infomercials of their own) would get you results… IF YOU FOLLOWED IT AND KEPT DOING SO.

But that’s really hard, so we consume the information, feel the itch diminish, and then wait for the magic pill to work.

All of this is totally cool

… if you admit that it’s what you’re doing.

Check out my past few posts. See a trend? This time of year, I get all worked up and frothy over people who decide that they’re going to make a change in their life, and then do nothing besides get worked up and resolutiony. Or they’ll take a few small actions, and then quit.

Getting what you want involves trade-offs and choices. It’s nobody’s business but yours how you make those choices, but at least have the decency to admit that’s what’s happening.

EX: “I don’t have time to work out.”

Yes you do. All of us get 24 hours every day, and you’re simply choosing to spend your 24 doing other things besides working out. If you wanted, you could get an hour less sleep, or spend an hour less at work and take the pay hit, or you could give the kids to a sitter for a while. Your choices may involve lifestyle elements, money, career, family, or whatever — but they are still choices.

EX: “No matter how hard I try, I can’t make any money on the side.”

Yes you can. You just want too much too fast, or you aren’t doing the work, or you aren’t truly taking and applying advice, or you’re making incompatible time choices (see above), or you don’t believe your own worth, or any number of other reasons. Anyone can make money on the side, but most people try something and then give up. Or they expect a mentor or a course to do it all for them, rather than seeing advice and education as a rudder and recognizing themselves as the engine. How long are you willing to try, adjust, try, adjust, try, fail, learn, adjust? Because it can take a long time, and as Woody Allen said, 80% of success truly is just showing up.

I’m training to run a marathon right now. The official date is May 15th, in Cleveland (and if anyone wants to join me, that’d be fab; just let me know), but I could do it right now. I could do that marathon today, despite the fact that the farthest I’ve ever run before is 13 miles. I could also do an ultramarathon of 100 miles today. It would take me a very long time to do either — but I could do both, because all I have to do is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. All I have to do is decide to not stop until I get there.

Please, for the love of God, don’t tell me you can’t do something.

If you want something, then show up for it. Make the choice day in and day out to do the work. Put one foot in front of the other. Get advice, and actually use it. Use it over and over. Adjust your approach if needed. Try things. But keep showing up. Keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Based on my extremely unscientific observations, I’d guess that 5% of the population will do that. That’s the 5% that gets results. It’s not due to luck or connections or faeries. The people who do the work every day for as long as it takes are the people who get what they want.

Starting a journey of 100 miles is great, but everyone does that. Either choose to keep going until you cross the finish line or do not. Whether you go the distance or not is your choice, but either way, be sure to admit the truth… that it is a choice.

Now, the sad part? Out of every 100 people who read this and get inspired to knuckle down and do the work, only maybe 5 will actually do what it takes, long-term, to get the results they want. The other 95 won’t, and worse… they’ll say they tried and that they can’t do it instead of telling the truth — that they are making a choice.

Getting what you want isn’t complicated, but most people decide against getting what they want without even realizing what they’re doing.

The odds are stacked against you. Against me, against all of us.

But if it helps at all, the good news is that you control those odds with your decisions.


Now that you've read this post, go here:
WHAT DEFINES YOU?

Comments

  1. The jornery is an long one..but the motivated people are the ones who will go far and beyond Johnny..

    BTW Johnny..Can you can contact me on my contact page..Its very important..I need your help.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  2. Messiahs pointed to the door, but no one had the guts to leave the temple.

    It’s hard and scary and I’m way too tired and discouraged. Sigh…

    Maybe I’ll decide to do just one more step.

  3. Johnny says:

    That’s a reference to something, but I’m way too uncultured to know what it is. :)

  4. Kev Kaye says:

    Every episode of fear, doubt and distractions essentially takes one decision to overcome. Just like the decision to put one foot in front of the other, making one decisive decision to do what’s “right” is all it takes. Sometimes we make it seem harder than it really is. Its the persistence and discipline to make those decisions over and over again regardless of doubt, fear, and the opinions of others.

    I have to admit I have been guilty of scratching the itch, but I don’t make decisions harder than they have to be. There is a lot of value in this post Johnny, Thanks for sharing!

    -Kev

  5. Amazing just how few truly lazy people are successful … oh wait, not shocking in the least. We all mistake “making it look easy” for “lazy as Tom Sawyer getting a fence painted.” Good “slap in the face” post, Johnny. We all need it from time to time.

  6. Shane Arthur says:

    Johnny, with all that running, how do you find time to paint?
    #ObscureReference#2

    Seriously, you said what needs said. I used to be a computer instructor. Students would say, “I wish,” or, “I hope I can learn,” etc, etc, blah, blah. They had what it took; they just needed to bleepin’ find the courage and do it.

  7. Farnoosh says:

    Johnny, you speak my own language, my dear, and in my exact words. And there is not much else we can do besides saying it as it is and then being the true living and breathing example of what we preach. Perhaps that goes to show people it is not about luck or being “blessed” or fortunate. It is about what we do with the exact cards we were dealt in life. Bravo for the courage to put this out!

  8. “Messiahs pointed to the door, but no one had the guts to leave the temple.”

    The Who – “I’m Free”, 1969
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I%27m_Free_%28The_Who_song%29

    Sorry. I forgot I’m old.

  9. Logan says:

    In the words of a wise Jedi master, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

    Great post dude!

  10. Erica says:

    I’ve trained myself never, ever to say “I can’t” (or at least not with a significant disclaimer attached). Every time I let it creep in by mistake, it simply becomes my duty to actually do whatever thing I’ve said I can’t do. Can’t get up early this morning? That extra five minutes just got chopped off the options list….it’s time to get out of bed. Funny how fast your brain realizes that “I can’t” is a really crappy excuse when using it automatically means you get to prove yourself wrong…

    On the other hand, I’m also learning that “I can’t” should very often be replaced with “I won’t.” Pushing too hard for a goal is sometimes the best way to end up injured, otherwise damaged, or just plain burned out. So yeah, it’s all about the choice, and having the wisdom to make the choice.

    Good luck with your marathon! I’m currently “wishing” I could join you…maybe in a year or two (there are a lot of steps between here and there for me).

    • Johnny says:

      Yeah, exactly… especially after working on the Badass Project, I simply refuse to say I can’t do something.

  11. kaarib says:

    I think this is exactly the reason why your clients hire you.

    A few years back I crewed for my brother-in-law and watched as he crossed the finish line of the Western States 100 miler, that was a big lesson in perseverance. He could barely shuffle by the time he got to the track, but he made it in time to get the silver belt buckle. (Under 24 hours gets silver, under 30 gets brass. Over 30 gets swept off the course.)

    I am slow, but I don’t give up.

    • Johnny says:

      Wow, the Western States 100! I am duly impressed. I don’t know if I’ll ever actually do an ultra, but knowing me, I’ll almost certainly at LEAST do a 30 so that I can say I “did an ultra.”

  12. Sandi Amorim says:

    OMFG, I love this post! This is what I say to clients all the time and it takes balls to stand up against all the quick-fix industries that try to say otherwise. Hallelujah and thanks for saying it so fucking LOUD!

  13. Bridget says:

    I work at least 50 hours every week, sometimes more, and I’m a mom with close relationships with my kids and my partner.

    When clients whine at me about not having enough time, we talk about what’s causing their lack of motivation, because for the vast majority of them, it’s not about time. It’s about what stops them from staying focused long enough on their goal to reach it.

    What’s important is to put in supporting behaviors and systems and commitments to keep you focused when your attention starts to flag. I cook on the weekends to ensure I have easy-to-eat food during the week. I have a calendar that always has things in it to do, to move forward. I have 185 people on my list who daily read my soul note, so I’m getting up at 6:00 to send it out.

    If your mission doesn’t motivate you, find one that does.

  14. lara says:

    Preaching to the choir!

  15. Aki Wood says:

    This was great. I like your style Johnny. I’ve been writing about a lot of this same shit lately… In fact yesterday(the same day you wrote this) I did a post that had Spudd Webb as the poster child for it. What the hell are the odds of that?

    That, and so far you are the only other person I have ran into that is willing to put the word “Fuck” in their business blog.

    Rock on Johnny,

    -Aki

    • Johnny says:

      Woah, that is crazy. Mr. Webb is in the collective consciousness.

      And I’m guessing you don’t know Naomi from IttyBiz.com?

  16. Narah says:

    L-O-V-E! 100% agree!! Choices, focus, perseverance … People often ask me what makes me go and I always say that it is indeed hard work to go and go and go and go but that it’s no harder than not doing it and feeling like crap. I know what I want and I’m going to get it come hell or high water. :-) By the way, I’ve run a marathon … even beat my personal best. Miles 22-24 were tough but mind over matter, my friend!! It is COMPLETELY doable! Go get ‘em!!

  17. Bruce Lynn says:

    Here’s a great portrayal of your point…http://brucelynnblog.wordpress.com/2011/01/04/no-cinderellas.

  18. Jess C. says:

    Well, it took me nearly two days to get through the entire post, but I’m glad I kept at it. This is one of your best…

    In case I haven’t told you in the last five minutes, I’m so grateful to know you.

    Thanks for walkin’ the walk… :)

  19. Johnny says:

    Thanks to everyone who commented on, shared, tweeted, whatever this post… and thanks to everyone out there who doesn’t say “I can’t” unless it’s something like flying around the world without a spacecraft or wings or anything, or rocking harder than Quiet Riot.

  20. Mandie says:

    I love this! Thanks Johnny. This is now going to be new “keep going” reminder whenever I get to that hard part of the journey that requires me to really knuckle down and keep going despite it feeling so fucking hard! It’s that whole juggling act between pain and pleasure. So often we stop because it feels painful to continue…but oh, if only we continue, the pleasure we could experience would be so worth the effort!

    I have a wise, old, spiritual lady in my life who said “nothing worthwhile in life comes easy”. Thanks for echoing her sentiments in a way that completely brings in home for me.

    • Johnny says:

      Just remember: The message isn’t “keep going” so much as it’s “know what you’re really doing.” If people want to quit, I have no judgment about that… as long as they admit that’s what they’re doing.

      (I’m actually a big proponent of quitting things that you’ve decided aren’t worth the trade-off for you.)

  21. Laura Click says:

    Good stuff, Johnny. The hardest part of any endeavor is just getting out the door. I thought I could never run a half marathon, but last year I made the choice to do it and I made it happen. Now, I’m training for my third one. The hard part wasn’t the race itself, it was making the decision to get out the door and train…even when it rained, when it snowed, when I was tired, when I didn’t feel like it. The hard part wasn’t the running, it was making the commitment to do it and sticking to it no matter what.

    You’re right. We all have choices to make. The problem is, we often choose the easy route and wonder why we don’t get different results. Best of luck with your full marathon! How exciting!

    • Johnny says:

      Agreed 100%. The mechanics of running aren’t the hard part. The night before my long runs, I’ve learned to make a ritual out of plotting my route and laying out my clothes. It gets me mentally ready and interested in the run. Doing it then becomes pretty simple, especially since I do it first thing, before I get interested in other daily stuff.

  22. I’m floundering in a PhD program right now. I’m in my first year, and the courses are not getting me to where I want to be, because they are honestly not hard enough. My only job is to go to class like 15 hours a week and be reasonably prepared when I am there. You know what? At this rate, I am not going to be a great sociologist. If no one is going to push me, after reading this article, I am going to push myself. I am going to do the academic equivalent of a 100 mile run.

    I am on the right track right now – I just stayed up all night completing some readings I wanted to say “eff it” to. I found this article at the end of an eight-hour reading bender. Feels pretty good. Thank you for your words.

  23. Shawn says:

    I really like your outlook. I have been pretty into running for a little over a year now. The first time I ran a half marathon it felt like the hardest thing I had ever done. Upon finishing I tried to imagine turning around and running back to the start (running a full marathon). I couldn’t even begin to pretend that it was something I would be able to do, ever. Then I ran my first marathon. . At the time It was the hardest thing I had ever done, someone later asked me how much further I could have ran if I tried. My reply was “not another foot”. Then I ran my first 50k (~31 miles). Hardest thing I had ever done. Going any further seemed beyond comprehension. Then my first 50 miles, hardest thing I had ever done. It broke me down, I didn’t finish, I dropped out with 5 miles left. The funny thing is I still felt incredibly proud of my accomplishment. 45 miles is no joke. Then my first 50 mile finish, currently the hardest thing I have ever done. Upon completing it I told my friends I couldn’t convieve of going any more than another 10 miles max. But, someday I aspire to run 100. Life is about setting obsurd goals and then acheiving them. At one point I coudn’t imagine running beyond 13 miles, now I have run nearly four times that distance.

    Limits are like mirages, all you have to do is approach them and they begin to vanish.

    All that being said I think it’s a bit naive to say “I could run 100 miles tomorow”. Nearly anyone could acheve this goal but it takes some serious work. It’s similar to saying “I could be rich tomorow”. Unless you win the lottery it’s going to be a journey and take a lot of hard work coupled with the right mindset.

    • Johnny says:

      Love your story here and its message. When you approach your limits, it’s usually farther than you could have imagined.

      Re: your last paragraph, I think you’re taking me a bit too literally. When people “run” a marathon, it’s common to walk parts of it when they get tired… and so they’ll finish, but it will have taken 6 hours or so. What I’m saying is that if, today, I decided to run 100 miles, I’m sure I could do it… but I’d have to walk a whole lot, and it may take weeks. But the point is that it’s always possible to finish even the longest goals… if you’re not focused making it in good time, or at “race pace.”

Trackbacks

  1. [...] set a date – May 15, 2011. That day I’ll be running 26.2 miles in the Rockford Marathon [coincidently, the same day as Johnny]. Come that day, I will be covering the 26.2 miles whether I have to run, walk or crawl [...]

  2. [...] 1, 2011 by Samantha I recently read an excellent blog post by Johnny B. Truant titled “How to Run 100 Miles and Succeed at Anything”. Note: his post is not really about running and I think you should go read it or bookmark it. [...]

  3. [...] this one if you read nothing else this week: How to run 100 miles and succeed at anything “The problem isn’t knowing what to do. The problem is that almost nobody ever does it. If 5% [...]

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