The Million Meter Challenge

Posted 2014-09-23

On January 1st 2014, I decided to take another stab at running. Since then, I have been running every single day. Here’s how I set the right goal for myself.

I’d been running on and off for years now, sometimes even taking part in smaller races without any real achievement. I had ran my first 10K in 2011 without any preparation. It was a near-death experience with an average heartbeat of 194 during the one hour and ten minutes long run. My personal best was from November 2012, an unbelievably fast time of 55 minutes I reached after three months of hard training. At the yearly business race event “Firmenlauf” in Leipzig, I’d usually be the slowest of the company.


The thing is: I can easily motivate myself to try to achieve any kind of comprehensible goal. But getting fit, slimming down that belly—those kinds of fuzzy objectives had been completely out of reach for me.

Being the leader and manager of 40-something software engineers I knew motivation is an ever-intristic thing and cannot be imposed upon somebody but merely be activated at best. I knew that this activation can only happen using SMART goals—but somehow, I never thought of applying those criteria to personal projects, let alone, my body.

Trying to find some goal that would ‘trick’ me into getting fit, I came up with something very easy to grasp: to run 1,000,000 meters during the year 2014. Simple as that.

Let’s check the SMART criteria:

  • The challenge is SPECIFIC: There’s no messing around with copious goals that might be cool to achieve but aren’t really easy to explain to your weaker self; like having a sixpack again, or feeling better, or going to gym more often. It’s just running. A specific number of meters. Perfect.
  • It is MEASURABLE: Again, one million meters. Not “more often” or something. It doesn’t matter how, if it is a million in the end.
  • It is ACHIEVABLE: At least, that’s what I thought at that time. Anybody can run 2.74 km per day, right?
  • It is RELEVANT: Well, here’s the trick part: Running 1000 km actually is not relevant at all. But in the context of trying to live a fitter, healthier life, running often enough to reach that goal is pretty much the most relevant thing I can think of: If everything else fails, but I’d still be running, I wouldn’t need to worry about my health.
  • It is TIME-BOUND: Even today I still don’t now, what will happen in 2015. When thinking about the challenge, I tried not to force me to be running for the rest of my life—I just hoped, I’d be addicted by the end of the year.

After a few days of running, I noticed a fear coming up: What if I was getting ill and needed to recover a few days? And what if I didn’t really feel well enough to start running again for a long time? I’d run up ‘meter debts’ and would need to try and run longer distances to get debt-free again. This in turn would increase my risk of injury or getting sick …

The answer was clear: I would just run every single day. Regardless of the country I happen to be in that day, or if my wife would be delivering our baby. It doesn’t matter how I’d feel, as long as I was able to run, I’d just give my best and tweet the results. This was my secret strategy to fight my weaker self and my tactic to reach the goal.


Turns out, all this self trickery worked pretty well: Today, 100 days early, I crossed the finish line. Until now, I burned 71,717 calories during more than 108 hours spent running 1,003 kilometers—and I can’t think about stopping anytime soon.

I’ll write another post about how I measure my progress and my ultimate goal—fitness—to make sure the challenge is, in fact, relevant.

For the time being, make sure to check out my running log on twitter (I also have a real account) or discuss this post on reddit.