What I Learnt From Running 5km Every Day for 100 Days

As I laced up for my first 5km run under the warm South African sun, I couldn't help but feel daunted by the prospect of 99 more runs over the next 99 days. The challenge, introduced by Ben, our CEO and Founder at BX, was not just a physical test for me but a journey into the unknown.

The Why

Despite never being a natural runner—my school athletic achievements lay in high jump and karate—I was compelled to prove I could at least complete it. My early memories of struggling with cross-country runs in primary school in South Africa were stark reminders of my discomfort with running. Yet, here I was, signing up for a challenge that seemed antithetical to my natural inclinations. It was precisely because I was terrible at it that I felt compelled to try. According to Huberman, engaging in activities that push our boundaries is crucial for developing toughness and resilience. So, in a sense, I embarked on this journey to confront one of my insecurities head-on.

Stanford Neuroscientist, Andrew Huberman  has discussed the concept of doing difficult or uncomfortable tasks as a way to build resilience. He emphasizes the value of discipline and engaging in activities that require strength and toughness, even if they are not pleasurable. By deliberately experiencing discomfort, such as taking cold showers or pushing through challenging workouts, we can develop greater resilience

Who Cares What the Staircase Looks Like

In life and business, I find the most successful people have a bias to action whereas most people fail because they don't even start. I didn't think too much about whether I'd have enough time to do this challenge. Taking the first step without knowing where the path would lead was the key - it would have been easy to find a thousand reasons not to do it. For one thing, the challenge stretched from November to February, through the brunt of London's winter. "You don't need to see the entire staircase to take the first step," has become a mantra for me, not just in running but in life and business.

Key Learnings

The question I get asked the most is, "How much weight did you lose?" Yes, I did shed some weight and saw my body fat percentage drop a few percent to 17%. However, almost paradoxically, the physical transformation was minimal compared to the mental and emotional metamorphosis I felt. This endeavor proved to be 99% a journey of mental fortitude and self-discovery, and only 1% about weight loss or fitness.

Initial Inertia: The Most Powerful (Negative) Force

What I learned from this experience was profound. For the first time in my life, I truly began to pay attention to my own thoughts, and what struck me was their overwhelmingly negative nature. Each day, before I set out for my run, a barrage of pessimistic thoughts would assail me: "It's too cold outside," "You might as well give up on this pointless challenge," "You should be focusing on weight training instead." It was a litany of excuses, a testament to how my mind, in those moments before a run, turned into a master of procrastination, always seeking a way out of starting. This phase, I realized, is the toughest hurdle—akin to the initial steps of starting a business. Getting past the front door and onto the road or treadmill marked a significant victory over this inertia. That initial resistance was a formidable adversary, and overcoming it was my first and most crucial battle with my own psyche.

Meet "Negative Nancy"

As I would settle into a run, I noticed my mental barriers becoming more apparent, especially during faster runs where the fear of injury or pushing myself too hard loomed large. This persistent, negative inner dialogue, which I dubbed "Negative Nancy," constantly urged me to stop or slow down. Recognizing this voice as a mere distraction, I learned, over many runs, to dismiss it by shutting the door firmly on this intruding Nancy, allowing me to push beyond my perceived limits. This experience truly made me undertstand the concept of the "monkey mind," as described in Hindu philosophy which I'd heard many times as a child from family and mentors - but never really understood until now.

Least Surprising: Alcohol Crushes Your Body Like You Would Never Imagine

The most challenging runs coincided with periods of indulgence, like the morning after Christmas, when the effects of heavy eating and drinking took their toll. In stark contrast, my runs in January, a month I abstained from alcohol, were markedly smoother and cramp-free, showcasing faster recovery times. The presence of alcohol seemed to exacerbate my physical discomfort, giving a sensation akin to uric acid building up in my legs, threatening cramps at any stride.

Yet, the discipline of daily runs fostered a holistic approach to well-being, forcing me to pay attention to my nutrition, sleep, and mental health.

Mental Health Effects

Throughout the 100-day challenge, I noticed a significant decrease in frustration and anger. The daily runs instilled in me a sense of resilience, teaching me that I could handle any challenge, much like the way I tackled each 5km run—one step at a time. This mindset shift allowed me to approach problems with calmness and confidence, always believing in my ability to find a solution.

The endorphins released post-run became a daily reward, offering a sense of vibrancy, even on the toughest days. I learnt that it's really hard to feel "down" when you're buzzing on endorphins after a sweaty run!

My favourite 2-loop 5km run on the Isle of Dogs. You can follow my Strava here.

Final Thoughts

By the end of the challenge, not only had I vastly improve my running ability, but I had also demolished mental barriers. From struggling to complete a 5km in less than 40 minutes, towards the end of the challenge I clocked a PB of under 27 minutes (I know this is slow for many people, but I'm only competing with myself here!). My VO2 max also went from "poor" to "fair" for the first time ever on my Garmin. More importantly, I felt I had a deeper understanding of my own resilience, self-awareness, and mind.

To summarise, here are the 3 key takeaways that applies not just to running but to life and tech startups:

  • Take the Leap: Don't wait for the perfect moment or to have all the answers. Start your journey now, not tomorrow. The first step is often the hardest but also the most crucial.
  • Combat the Inner Critic: Expect resistance from your own mind in the form of doubts and fears. Recognize this as a natural response to stepping out of your comfort zone. Learn to silence these negative thoughts, understanding that they are not commands but merely suggestions you can choose to ignore.
  • Share Your Commitment: By sharing my daily runs on social media, I not only documented my journey but also built a community of accountability. Letting others in on your goals WILL bolster your determination to see them through.
Are you ready to take on the #100x5kmChallenge? If so, tag me in your journey/running photos with @naidoonotes on X or Instagram (use the #100x5kmChallenge) .
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