Seasonal systems, scoping, and incremental improvement

I’ve tried “becoming” a runner for years. The main reason isn’t because I like running. I despise every stride. Exercise, however, feels good and is tremendously beneficial. Not just that, but the hardest thing to get past for me are usually passive barriers. What workout should I do today? Tomorrow? Do I have that equipment? Do I have to drive to the gym? Where are my shorts?

Laying out my shoes and shorts, having a known distance, and a planned route to run makes the easiest and cheapest possible solution to those passive barriers. It’s the easiest workout routine to sort of do. There’s a lot of good wisdom in that for overcoming obstacles and picking say — a market.

Last year a friend of mine challenged me to an actual running goal. A sub-20:00 5k race time. I had an unofficial 19:06 on a semi-accurate flat course in Manhattan in 2008. It was the best overall shape I was ever in and I was surrounded by other people also running that I could mentally compete against. 20:00 was about 9 minutes faster than I could have run the distance when he mentioned it. It was going to take months to prepare and I’d need a real plan to get there. No more random runs on any given day. I needed to lock in to get there.

I found 5k running plans and 10k running plans. I planned 5-6 months of running and pace targets in a spreadsheet and tracked runs 4-6 days a week as I ramped up. I ran sprints, intervals, hills, mountains, trails, and road miles. I ran a 21:40 5k time with severe knee soreness. That was my best time in years and it was the most serious I had ever been about improving my running in my life, but I failed the goal.

I couldn’t run for 4-6 weeks after the race because I had trained running uphill too hard and developed some significant tendonitis in my right knee. It took me 4-5 months to get serious about running again, but I continued doing other workouts.

My next adventure in running started about six months ago and I think this season has come to an end. I’m looking forward to other goals, workouts, and activities. I’ve been learning to snowboard the past two winters and it makes my preferred style of vertical targeted trail running too hard on the knees.

In the past I would’ve felt like this was a failure, but this time around I was running 5k distances easily. I was putting in 20-25 miles a week with 8-10 mile long runs. I was in much better running shape than the season before and with less stress on my knees until snowboarding ramped up.

This is the crux of the seasonal system. It’s okay (it’s great actually) to do something for 6-16 weeks, bank some real improvement and return to it when you’re stoked to do so.

Doing everything whole hog all the time is exhausting and wastes a lot more motion without the return. I feel the same way about budgeting and financial habits. You can budget hard for shorter periods and bank improvement without tracking everything all the time. Hey, if tracking everything all the time is fun and easy for you then it’s great, but if you feel guilt ridden and like a failure for falling off that wagon — just make it a seasonal system plan. Do a 10 week budget sprint.

Another thing you can do is scope the system. Running is a specific activity goal like snowboarding. Those get naturally scoped for me by how much wear and tear I can put on my knees. Scoping budgeting can also be done. You can explicitly manage only discretionary spending categories like shopping, movies, dates, drinks, or restaurants. Most budget templates or budget calculators can help you get started and scoping to maximum efficiency. It’s a lot less work to only track those receipts, and any system you can stick to is better than nothing. Zero based budgeting everything is the granddaddy of the process, but it might be more efficient for you to focus your efforts on your worst financial habits.

Try on some scoped or seasonal systems this year. I bet you wake up next year just a little bit improved.


“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” — Hemingway

One thought on “Seasonal systems, scoping, and incremental improvement”

  1. This is a good perspective, Robert. I often find myself paralyzed by thinking about the whole project, but when I break it down into small parts, I get unstuck and start moving forward.

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