One Thousand Miles by Heather Shea Gasser

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Heather Shea Gasser crunning13.1 heatherurrently works as the Assistant Director of a living learning community at Michigan State University called RISE (Residential Initiative for the Study of the Environment). She and her husband, Dr. Ray Gasser, just moved to Michigan with their two boys from Idaho, where she worked for over five years as the Director of the University of Idaho Women’s Center. In her free time, beyond running, Heather is extensively involved in ACPA – College Student Educators International, currently serving as the Program Chair for the 2014 ACPA convention in Indianapolis and as Director-Elect of Membership Development on the ACPA Governing Board.  She is currently in the process of completing her application materials for the Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education (HALE) Ph.D. program at Michigan State University.

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One Thousand Miles

I achieved a running milestone today when I completed my one-thousandth run on Nike+. I have been a runner since around 1999, so it is possible that I’ve more than doubled that number over the course of my running life, but since I started keeping track in 2008 (with the help of Nike Plus: www.nikeplus.nike.com), I’ve laced up my running shoes and hit the road (or treadmill) exactly 1000 times.

The significance of the number “one thousand” is not lost on me. One thousand is a millennium in years, a grand in dollars, and legend says that the person who folds 1000 paper cranes will be granted a wish. In other words, one thousand is a substantial amount of anything.

For me, the importance of the number one thousand also relates to my annual running goal. After running a several distance races (two marathons pre-kids in 2002 and 2003, and several half-marathons) I was a bit tired of the racing mind-set and routine. Training schedules had me ramping up running in the weeks or months before races, and then once the “big event” was over, I would inevitably feel burned out, tired, and ready for an complete break from running. But, for those of you who have taken extended breaks (either self-imposed or because of injury) you know how physically and psychologically painful the return to running can be.

In late 2009, I decided to reframe my perspective on running as a life long activity, not just a short term means to a race personal best. My initial goal was to commit to running more consistently. I very much disliked the way my body and mind felt after prolonged non-running periods. Each time I went through this process (whether it was after a few weeks or a few months of no or very little running), I promised myself to keep running only for the easy relatively pain-free state that I arrived at after consistently hitting the trail, track, or treadmill.

So, at the end of 2009, I set a goal to run one thousand miles in 2010. How does one run one thousand miles a year? (This is where the metaphor of running to life is clearly apparent). Running one thousand miles is only achieved by meeting shorter, smaller goals along the way. Breaking the larger goal down to smaller, easier to manage steps (by running approximately 20 miles a week or about 85 miles a month) is the only way one accomplishes a larger aspirational goal. Just as one may endeavor to complete a graduate program one 3-credit class at a time, finish the dissertation one chapter at a time, eventually, class by class, page by page, one will have the credits and pages to finally meet the larger goal.

 

Stretch Goals

I’ll admit, when I initially set this goal on January 1, 2010, I was scared. When I thought of the one thousand miles in those early weeks of the year, I got that sinking “butterfly” feeling in the pit of my stomach (what had I done?). I didn’t share the goal with anyone (beyond my immediate family, from whom I wanted some support). It wasn’t until right before I actually accomplished that first year’s one thousand mile goal that I started talking about it more publically at work or with friends. Here’s what I’ve learned about myself during that process. Stretching ourselves to accomplish a larger goal is indeed scary. But, sharing that you’ve set a tremendously exciting (and scary) goal with others makes it more real.

Stretch goals are a target beyond which one thinks he or she can reasonably accomplish with average effort. As student affairs professionals, stretching ourselves might mean starting a doctoral program or taking on a new work assignment in an area where we have less direct experience. Stretch goals require us to dig deep and build within our selves a previously untested or assured capacity. Those butterflies in my stomach that I felt when I started a new job last month or when I think about enrolling in a PhD program at Michigan State next fall help make it more real. Sure, this give me some pause… can I do it? Running and achieving a stretch goal of one thousand miles a year has given me confidence that extends beyond just lacing up my shoes. Ask yourself, what (either in running or in life) makes you a little scared? And, what would you try to do if you knew you could not fail?

 

In praise of long-term versus short-term goals

I struggle, as many do, with the cycle of perfectionism. External praise and positive validation of my decades-old practice of performing and perfecting mostly for external motivations have left me tired and ready to rid myself of a tendency toward perfectionism. When setting a goal to run a thousand miles, the last thing that I needed was another stressor and “number” by which I had to measure myself. I wasn’t interested in achieving faster “personal bests” in races.  And, as I gotten older, my goal in running has evolved away from getting faster. It is now, simply to get out and run regularly for the rest of my life.

A long-term goal of one thousand miles allows for imperfection. I’ve gotten sick and injured and couldn’t run for a week or longer. And, we know that when working in student affairs, frequent busy weeks, late nights, and student crises can derail our intentions of exercising regularly. Running, while stress reducing, may be less important at the moment then recouping lost hours of sleep. Here’s where the beauty of a long-term goal is even more apparent. A few weeks of less than 20 miles will not derail my efforts. I can pick up a few extra miles during less-busy weeks and easily make it up. I don’t have to be perfect and I can give my self a break when I need it.

 

Seeking Balanceheather 2

Running is only one type of exercise… and it’s definitely not for everyone. I get that. My point in writing this post isn’t to say that everyone should run or that every runner should set a goal of one thousand miles a year. Rather, I’d like readers to think about the goals they set and find a long-range goal that is a stretch. For me, this year, it’s been about seeking balance. Replicating the same goal for the past three years, has been rewarding, but once I accomplished it that first year in 2010, I knew I could do it again. And, running, while a great cardiovascular and lower body workout, isn’t perfect by any means. In late 2012, my ACPA friend Ed Cabellon and I chatted about broader fitness and health. A fan (this might be an understatement) of P90X, Ed provided the initial motivation I needed to consider a more balanced approach to overall health beyond just running. So, I added two to three days of resistance training (bands or weights, take your pick – as Tony Horton of P90X says) to my weekly workouts. The increased distance and endurance I have gained in running is far beyond what I would have imagined possible.

Balance also means recognizing when obsession is taking over. Too much of a good thing doesn’t result in greatness. I recognize this in my running and in my life as a student affairs professional. More hours in the office, longer meetings, more working in general doesn’t necessarily yield better results. Balance, for me, also means giving voice to the struggle and talking about it with people who are supportive of creating similar balance in their lives. In being vulnerable and making connections with others, together we can support better personal and organizational health. I’m grateful for the community of support through my professional association involvement, online social networks, work place, and family.

So, beyond hitting the 1000 run milestone, today I’m also thrilled to report that I’m 762 miles into my fourth year of running one thousand miles a year. I am hopeful that I can make this a ten-year (or ten thousand mile) goal (Wow, just writing that gave me butterflies!). I’ll be 45 at the end of 2019 and also hopefully finished with (or finishing) my PhD at Michigan State University.

 

One comment to One Thousand Miles by Heather Shea Gasser

  • Erica Thompson  says:

    Heather,

    Thank you so much for sharing this piece of your journey. Your story really resonates with me and your words were especially needed today. Best wishes on your journey to 10,000 miles and lots of growth along the way.

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