James Clear and his Atomic Habits entered my life a year ago with some simple suggestions on small changes I could make to have a big impact on my life. I’ll admit I was a skeptic. That said, I love a good personal development book and something about this one stuck. By the time I finished reading the book and rang in the New Year, I was making simple, sustainable changes to my life.

A year in, I wondered if and when these small changes might equate to something on the race course. The internet is inundated with before and after photos of transformations and I’m game for a good “after” picture. I’m still waiting for that moment, but, in the meantime, I may have stumbled across something much greater.

Our pre-race warm-up was very serious.

This October, I lined up with some girlfriends to run a 10k along an old railroad bed. Over a decade ago, this was the same racecourse where I completed my first half-marathon. At that point, my goal was to not die and keep all of my toenails. I ended that race victorious. This time, my goal was a bit less dramatic.

Lining up, I knew without a doubt that I would finish. I was confident all ten of my toenails would as well. I also wanted to finish strong. To enjoy the journey and see if I could run with an intention of celebrating my body and the small but healthy habits I had put into action this past year versus crossing the finish line disappointed that I was once again finding myself in the back of the pack.

It was a brisk, northern Wisconsin day. Temps hovered in the 30s and by the time we were dropped off at the starting line, it was a solid snowfall. It’d eventually clear and warm up to a balmy 40 degrees. The Sisu in me didn’t care. I was on a mission to have fun and wowza did this race deliver.

Perhaps it was the incredible company I was with or a better understanding of my why, but everything about this day inspired me. There really was joy in the journey; everything from sipping my pre-race almond milk latte to watching an incredible badass woman set a new half-marathon record to sipping the post-race cocktails had tinges of joy to them.

The obligatory cold and sweaty finish line photo.

I crossed the finish line knowing I didn’t set a PR but I gained something even better. I recognized that my journey to a healthier version of me may not equate on the time clock but it certainly is felt in my heart. I crossed the finish line about 3-minutes faster than last year. I’m down double digits on the scale for the first time since COVID-19. More importantly, I’m not dieting, but rather approaching life and my eating habits with a mindset of what would a healthy version of myself do. Sometimes that equates to eating the cake and drinking the Teremana Tequila. More often, it means portion control and an uptick in greens.

Health indicators like my LDL is down while my HDL is trending up. I’m finding simple ways to manage stress while a very healthy dose of boundaries is providing me the time and energy to live my life more in alignment. I find myself asking does this really matter a lot and also that saying no is in fact quite liberating.

I’m a serious work in progress and none of these changes are happening overnight. That said, James Clear and his steps in Atomic Habits have made it nearly impossible for me to not create habits that are in alignment with who I want to be long-term. Slow and steady these mini habits are transforming my identity from the inside out.

Simon Sinek once said “No one likes to lose and most healthy people live their life to win. The only variation is the score we use. The metric is relative but the desire is the same.”

Best office mates ever!

By any extrinsic, measurable running metrics, I did not win my latest 10k. I didn’t even set a personal PR. But, by the metrics that matter most to me, I’m winning at a much bigger game. I’m doing it on my terms with habits that are sticking. While this doesn’t make for a great before and after photo, I’m ok with that. Progress might be slow but I’ll take progress over perfection any day.