Back in late February 2021, I was preparing to start the 27/27 Challenge for MIND. It involves running 27 miles in 27 days starting from March 1st to raise money for the 27% of students who report suffering from mental health issues at university. All very exciting and meaningful stuff! I was very excited to start, especially since I had organized it as part of my university sports club. Everyone was supporting each other, which was creating a really good environment.
March 1st rolled around. It was time to go.
Day 1- Mile 1/27
After setting out from my house in the early evening, I was raring to go. While it was true that running has never been my strong suit, surely it wouldn't be that bad! And either way, I had signed up for this challenge to make a difference. There was no going back now.
The first half of the run was fantastic! Running and walking in short bursts was allowing me to manage my energy and I was feeling good. Then I made it to the end of the park.
I made it about half a mile before crippling pain forced to walk the rest of the way. It really sucked. The one thing I did not want to happen was for childhood injuries to reveal themselves again. But it happened.
The Injury Problem
Long story short, I was born with polydactyly, meaning that I had 6 toes on each foot. Though I had surgery to fix this at a young age, my childhood and teenage years involved physio, conditioning, orthotics, anything to strengthen my feet into adulthood. I still require insoles to walk today, and probably will need them for the rest of my life.
I only discovered that my orthotics were damaged during the first run, rendering them unusable and running impossible even as I'm typing this at the end of the challenge, I have no replacements. I ended my first run in pain, feeling genuinely worried about whether I would even finish the challenge.
Honestly, the first few days after that run were really hard. My confidence was knocked, I was falling behind, and every single person in my club was ahead of me and keeping pace with the challenge. I wanted to run, but after calling every healthcare professional I could, it was seeming less and less likely that anything would be in place before the 27th. It really felt like I had let myself, my club, and the charity down. At one point I was 6 miles behind pace. I had to do something.
Miles 4-8 - Discovering Walking
I had tried walking part the challenge before for 2 miles, but it felt a bit like cheating. I'm only 20 with no chronic physical conditions, nothing should have been stopping me from running. It just didn't add up. But the further I fell from the pace, the more urgency I had to get out and walk. So I called a friend for a walk around campus, totalling 4 miles.
This was definitely the best thing I did for the challenge. Besides the social perks that obviously comes from walking with a friend, something else clicked inside my head. It is ok to go at your own pace, and it is more important to keep going in a different way than to just give up entirely using the conventional method. At this point, I was still 6 miles behind pace, but I believed in myself enough to know I would get it done.
Miles 9-13 - The Pace Problem
I thought I would make up the miles so much faster than I was. End of term assessments had been catching up to me, my friends had not been available to walk, and honestly, the weather had been quite grim. Not that any of these are a good excuse, but that was the reality of it. With one week left of the challenge, I was still 14 miles behind pace. However, I was not planning to let down anyone who sponsored me, or anyone who seeks mental health support at university. I needed to get it together. I filled the 9-13 mile gap with miscellaneous walks, not really with any events of note. Something needed to change, and fast.
Miles 14-22 - Bringing it Back on the Bike
If there is one thing I can say about York, it is a wonderfully flat city. There are plenty of cycle paths away from the traffic. If you want to live somewhere where you can get around on your own two feet (or pedals!) this is the place. So, as anyone would do, I put some air in my tires and creaked my bike out of the garage for the first time this year.
It was wonderful. 2.4 and 5.5-mile rides brought me back up to pace, meaning that 22 miles had indeed been covered in 22 days. Only 5 miles and 5 days to go.
Miles 22-27- Done in a Day!
Part of me feels like I should have paced myself. The other part of me really, really wanted to walk the city walls. I listened to the latter. It was another 5.5-mile walk, bringing me up to the acclaimed 27 miles.
My 27/27 challenge finished on the 23rd March 2021, four days ahead of pace. From being consistently 6-8 miles behind, everything ended up being done and dusted with time to spare. It was a pretty great feeling.
Reflections on Self-Leadership
I plan to be as brutal as I can be in reflections about my leadership during this challenge. Not because I should, not because 'it's what leaders should do', but because I need to learn how I deal in these kinds of situations in order to grow. There is no point in overcoming an obstacle if you don't look back at what you did!
One of the hardest parts of this challenge was coming to terms with my own physical obstacles. I started this process thinking that running a mile a day would cover it; in the end I did not run more than 2 miles total. However, this is definitely not a bad thing. It is common for leaders to get caught up in endlessly pushing themselves, which is something that applies more aptly to sports than you may think. If I had kept pushing myself to run, I would have suffered physical consequences similar to if you push yourself mentally through work. It's physical burnout, simple as that. There is no way that continuing to run would have benefit anyone in this process, so I am proud that I found ways to work around it with no shame as to my obstacles.
There is always another way. Can't run? Walk. Falling behind and need a change? Cycle. You need to listen to yourself and adjust as appropriate, just like in day-to-day leadership. If something isn't working out, it is perfectly ok to try another way as long as you reach your goal in the end. It is the same as asking someone for help with your work, or taking a mental health break in order to come back with a fresh mind. Just adapt accordingly and ask others to adapt to your new pace too (communication is your best friend), and you will be ok :)
I would be lying if I said that the motivation to do this challenge came entirely from within. I was extremely lucky to have my sports club and the 27/27 community around me, but most importantly, I had my friends. Walks with friends easily covered 14.5 out of the 27 miles, making this seem less like a daunting task and more like a social event. It is hard to determine whether I would have finished this challenge on my own, and I definitely have plenty of reflection to do on what motivates me if I choose to do things like this in the future (which is the current plan)!