After an epic 10K time trial in mid-July, my mood plummeted with several dark days as I relived the loss of my mum a year ago. Throw in a sudden 2-week lockdown in August as well as the usual Covid-19 anxieties, winter wasn’t the best time for me. So it was almost with a sense of desperation that I looked forward to Spring which starts on the 1st September for many countries in Southern Africa. And that’s why I came up with the 9 x 9 Spring Challenge – run 9km a day for 9 consecutive days with a splash of colour to celebrate Spring. Initially, I was going to do this on my own but I decided to launch it as a public challenge on social media when I realised I’m probably not the only one needing some general motivation and upliftment.
There were about 15 participants (that I knew of) who participated in the Challenge. Most were from Botswana but we had some representatives from South Africa as well as the USA! We were off to a disappointing start with the first two days being unusually cold, blustery and cloudy. But by the third day, Botswana’s beautiful blue sky and gorgeous sun were out in their full glory. Runners went to great lengths to wear colourful gear and pose next to flowering plants and with each passing day their creativity grew as they hunted for signs of Spring.
What Did This Challenge Teach Us?
1/ Importance of Accountability. One of the biggest reasons for starting this blog was to keep myself accountable. It’s simple, when I put things out there, I feel the pressure to get them done! So as part of the Challenge, I asked that runners share a photo of each run on my social media. And for some runners, this was the trick they needed. Ngoni said, “Once I’d accepted the challenge publicly I just knew I had to go all the way” and Eunice said, “I actually give so many excuses not to run and talk myself out quickly. This challenge reminded me to just do it, don’t think about it.” This show of accountability was also demonstrated when three runners missed a day but remarkably made it up by doubling their mileage the following day or making it up in other ways. Sometimes no matter how good our intentions are, it’s not easy to hold ourselves accountable. That’s when social media, a running club or an accountability partner can really help to keep you running especially on those days when your mind is saying, “No!”
2/ Consistency Is Key. I’ve spoken about how important consistency is on several occasions. A training plan or running challenge really help to keep me consistent and I struggle when I don’t have that. After the Challenge, Ngoni reflected that, “For me the 9×9 Spring Challenge was the perfect reminder that consistency is key. Working from home, I lacked the motivation to leave my house for a run. I’d go days without running and focus on strength training instead because it was easier to do that at home. After 9 days of consistency, my mind and body have reset.” Ticha also discovered that “a bit of structure is not such a bad thing. I’ve tended to avoid challenges and training routines, but this is actually a good way to stay motivated and consistent.”
3/ Power Of The Mind. I can’t count the number of times I’ve felt like giving up during a race or long training run but then through sheer will power and chants of “You’ve got this” or “You’re stronger than you think”, I emerge victorious. Running shows us over and over again what can be achieved when you put your mind to it. This concept was echoed by many runners. Ngoni said she is typically a “lazy runner” and there is “always that apprehensive feeling at the thought of running 4.5km away from home and back”. But she successfully completed all nine days of the Challenge. Botsile surprised herself, “I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to complete the Challenge. But it turned out I had more stamina than I thought. It’s all in the mind. Every time I felt super exhausted, I just kept going till the end. Eventually the body caves in”.
4/ A Running Tribe. More than ever, this year has shown us the importance of a running community. All that I’ve accomplished this year is thanks to my amazing running tribe, online and in person. When asked what he enjoyed most about the Challenge, Gape said “Not doing it alone. The camaraderie on the [Facebook] post, the achievements, the encouragements”. Botsile also said “I was motivated by the other runners who were also doing the challenge. The encouragement from them to keep going and also seeing them push themselves had me wanting to finish what I started.” Eunice who is based in the USA echoed similar sentiments, “What I enjoyed was knowing I am not doing this alone. Even though I am miles and miles away, I still felt connected to the runners who joined the Challenge. I was motivated by seeing that almost everyone had completed the 9 km when I woke up and I knew there was no way of giving up.”
5/ External Support. Encouragement doesn’t just come from other runners. Sometimes it comes from the people around you, be they friends or strangers. During the Challenge, my dad and sister pushed our dinner date to a later time so I could get my run done. My kids were also such great cheerleaders. Many of my photos were taken by them and a few outfits were selected by my daughter. Tshireletso also highlighted that one of the reasons she survived was “The support I got from everyone I came across within the estates! Starting with security guards who made me feel I was running in a very safe hood! Funny how I was so encouraged when I remembered the puppies that came out from their homes to take me a hundred metres everyday! The excitement I saw on my kids’ faces when they saw me leaving the house to run!”
6/ Exploring New Places. Something that always motivates me to run is the idea of exploring new places. This comes in very handy to break the monotony when doing a running streak. I found two new routes, one from Sanitas to the Gaborone Dam and the other from the Main Mall via a gorgeous Hindu Temple and then through Block 6 and 7 nicely avoiding the roadworks on the A1. Botsile said she “liked the CBD vibe and got to discover the new offices that have moved there”. Tshireletso had fun exploring a building site on the run and Ticha also said he “enjoyed trying to come up with different routes to avoid boredom.”
7/ Pushing Boundaries. A challenge usually involves some level of discomfort or even fear. But pushing through this discomfort so often leads to growth and a real sense of achievement. Ticha said he is not usually a target-driven runner “but this time I wanted to finish what I started and that kept me going.” Botsile discovered that, “The more I run the more I realise that’s how I can keep extending the distances I run because I would like to be able to run a Half Marathon one day soon”. Gape admitted that he relishes challenges and is continuing this running streak until the end of the month! Elisa found, “My legs were strong throughout the challenge, much to my surprise. I found that, it was not completing the mileage that was the challenging part, it was finding the time to fit the runs into my busy schedule that I found more of a challenge”. But somehow she was able to get all runs done. Eunice surprised herself by doing an 18km run the day after missing a run because she was sick. My greatest discomfort was actually making the Challenge public! What if no one joins? What if no one gets it? But people got it in a huge way!
8/ Keeping Things Fun. A challenge, no matter how tough, is usually easier to get through if it’s fun. So what I loved is that most runners found it fun. Gape and Ditiro said they loved the creativity around the Challenge and Botsile enjoyed “putting together colourful outfits and taking pictures next to beautiful blooms”. Similarly, Elisa loved dressing up and hunting for clothes in her wardrobe, “It was fun searching the closet for colourful gear then finding a colourful backdrop for the post-run picture to share with the group.” She also found the experience of completing a 9-day running streak exhilarating. And Eunice was happy to find she is not the only one who has fun taking jumping pictures, “It is a runners thing!”
9/ Always Look For Colour. I loved seeing how everyone looked for signs of Spring and so many runners commented that they were motivated by the whole concept of spring and colours. Gape shared that, “There was a point my km split ended up being over 9 minutes because I was trying to take a selfie for the Challenge. Pausing in the middle of a run is something I never do, but this time I was happy to do so and enjoy the signs of spring around us”. Ngoni was initially worried about the colour theme as she has mostly greys and browns in her wardrobe but she had fun “trying to get a selfie whenever I came across a blooming plant. Those awkward looks from homeowners when you’re posing for a picture in front of their yards!” She also loved the timing of the challenge, “Cold, gloomy weather giving way to sunny, bright warm weather. September, spring, flowers in bloom makes me so happy”. Taffy also said, “I really enjoyed the fact that one could really see the season changing as the leaves turned from brown to green, and the bright pops of colour as the flowers started to bloom. It really put a spring in my step!”
The 9 x 9 Spring Challenge was so much more than running 9km a day for 9 consecutive days. More than anything this Challenge was about looking for colour, finding joy in the small signs of Spring and having a more positive outlook on life in general. I’m so proud of everyone who participated in this Challenge and who found Spring in various ways – a flowering plant, crazy headgear, colourful running clothes, bright shoes and beautiful buildings. It was really such a positive and uplifting experience. And for me, the most important lesson of all is:
“In times of darkness, always look for COLOUR” – The Gaborone Runner
I’m joining Kooky Runner and Zenaida on their link up, Tuesday Topics. I’m also joining the Runner’s Roundup with Mile By Mile, Coach Debbie Runs, Confessions of a Mother Runner, Runs with Pugs, and Laura Norris Running! Be sure to read their blogs and catch up with other runners from around the world.