No straight lines

WARNING! This article contains the worst hand drawn images you will see this year.

Continuous effort — not strength or intelligence — is the key to unlocking our potential. 

Liane Cardes

When we strive to achieve something there’s always two constants; the starting point and the desired destination. Of course, these are subjective and usually defined the person about to embark on the journey. It can be a physical start, a place, and a likewise a destination of the same ilk.

Or it can be something else, like a skill, or collecting stuff or attainment of something, such as knowledge.

Nonetheless, we have where we are and where we wanna be. Start>destination. Let’s call the destination our goal. In our mind’s eye we often imagine the journey as being pretty linear. It can be vertical linear (like a promotion), horizontal linear (a sideways move, broadening experience) or diagonal linear (up and out).

In running you could use the usual things that people measure such as speed, weight, strength, elevation, time and so on to define the destination. It’s really down to you. Typically the reason for having goals and aims is to prompt improvement in some measure or another, even if that measure is a subjective sense of how we feel about ourselves.

When we start the process of identifying the goal we naturally start to knit the journey together in a straight line. And the problem with this is that it tends to oversimplify the reality. Which in turn can, in my experience, cause people to lose perspective when things go both really well, and really wrong.

We have linear, horizontal and diagonal progression. But the true and constant shape is spaghetti progression. Even my beautiful hand drawn image below is over simplified.

Spaghetti Progression

You see, when we plot a journey from A to Z it rarely happens in letter order and sometimes we have to repeat letters, or in some cases we manage to skip some. What really matters is we get from A to Z in the end. For example, my aim here was to write a meaningful analogy but in the end I only managed to go from C, to R, to A, to P.

What I often see is people perhaps have had a bad week of training, or even a single below par session, and if they are naturally pessimistic that permeates into a long range outlook and causes some negative thinking about something that is months away. They could have a block of great training behind them but that moment or short-window of effort becomes amplified and over emphasised.

The flip is the overly optimistic are all of sudden targeting sub 3 marathons the next month cause they managed to run a mile at 6:52 at last. They over accentuate the achievement and can lose sight of the work ahead and the reality of how that one moment translates into a bigger picture.

Both traits are powerful when used in the right context and destructive when used in the wrong context.

Perspective is so important and as a coach I try hard to bring that. I am also a natural optimist so have to check myself when I don’t stress about the moments enough, and I recognise that can unsettle those who are slightly less optimistic as it may seem I am being dismissive.

When we write race plans for ultras we will have pace per leg, food plans, gear changes, and all sorts of other things, but like the classic saying about everyone having a plan till you get punched in the mouth, in ultrarunning everyone has a plan until they need their first shit. And in that the most important thing is we adapt, trust in the process, build our resilience and decision making and stay strong to our intent.

In writing that, perhaps therein lies the big lesson for me. It’s not really about goal after goal after goal. It’s about intents. I intend to get faster. I intend to get fitter. I intend to get stronger. I intend to get better. And I accept that it will be easy some days and hard others. And I intend to embrace that.

I hope that you find this useful. I’d love to hear from you with any feedback or if you just want to drop me a wee message. I can be reached at or via social on Twitter @james_stewart13 or on Insta @jamesstewart13


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