Jess Mitchell

A New Kind of PR: Finding Running as a Remote Software Developer

October 25, 2020

This week I had a new PR. Not my regular kind of PR that you’d see in my Github stats, but the kind I’ve been having before I start work in the mornings: a Personal Record. I hit 500 kilometers since I started tracking my runs back in April. I also hit a new longest distance with 15km yesterday.

Running, it turns out, has become the trick I’ve been looking for to stay healthy as a remote employee. I’ve been working remotely since 2017 and, for the most part, I’ve loved it. Despite being much more productive working from home, I’ve never totally felt like I’ve figured out the balance of being remote. Any socializing I used to get from being in an office I now had to make time for in my schedule. Any physical activity I got from going to work I’d also have to find time for. Scheduling became much more intentional too; flex schedules are great but can lead to long work days if you don’t stay focused. Managing my anxiety also became a bigger challenge while spending so much time at home.

Finding this balance is likely what a lot of people have been thrown into unexpectedly this year: you need to get your work done, while also getting in some daily movement, while also having time to rest, while also not being crushed by the weight of 2020. (Shout out to parents who have way more on their plate than I do— I genuinely don’t know how you do it all.)

Previous to going remote, I just walked everywhere. It was the perfect solution for me because it gave me time to de-stress after work, to get in some movement, and to listen to audiobooks or podcasts (i.e. mental stimulation too). It also gave me the space to think and to solve coding problems I was stumped on at work. Walking was pretty much helped every aspect of my day.

Then I went remote and didn’t really need to walk further than a few meters from my bedroom to my desk. I tried going to a gym but it took up too much time and felt too body-focused. I also tried doing yoga every morning, which I still do pretty regularly, but I was definitely spending too much time inside already.

What I needed was an activity to burn off a lot of (mental and physical) energy, that I could do outside, didn’t take up too much time, something that you can do through the winter, and had some sense of community to it.

Enter running. 🏃‍♀️

Last January I decided to try out the Couch to 5k app. I was a little skeptical because the last time I tried to get into running 4-5 years ago I got migraines after almost every run. And 5 or so years before that I had done some running but it was back when I was using exercise to manage my weight. Honestly, I hated every minute of it back then because it always felt like punishment.

This time I’d have to approach it from a more balanced perspective. Knowing that I’m sensitive to migraines, I had to figure out why running had been triggering them for me in the past. (Turns out I was going to hard, too fast, with terrible pre- and post- hydration routines.) I also knew I had to approach running from an anti-diet perspective: it shouldn’t ever be in response to what I’ve eaten or to try to control my weight. It should literally just be to get out and run. To move, to get the mood boost, to challenge myself, and to have some space to think.

I decided to go slow and just follow the app’s schedule. (I’m someone who likes to dive into things so going slow can feel pretty frustrating.) By March I ran my first 5k without stopping and I felt great about it. It got me out of the house, only took about 30 minutes, and gave me the chance to discover new parts of my neighbourhood. I noticed how much it was improving my mood and I made sure to never go if I really didn’t want to to make sure it didn’t become another thing I had to do.

(Sidenote: Hopefully this goes without saying, but whenever I run it’s on a super quiet trail by my house with a mask in case I have to pass anyone.)

After completing the app, I had to decide what was next. A 10k? A half-marathon? Immediately I went from 1 to 100 in my head to see how far I could push myself. And then I stopped. This wasn’t supposed to be something that was super challenging that I would eventually start to resent. It was meant to be a regular practice to help me feel mentally and physically balanced.

And so the practice began.

Instead, I decided to stick with 5k. It’s not a big time commitment, it’s long enough to be a real work out, and it could be as relaxed or challenging as I made it.

I decided to give myself a monthly total distance goal to stay motivated and increased it just a bit each month. 50k, 60k… by August I had finished 100k total in one month (or 20 5k runs). After running 100k total I decided not to increase anymore. Running 5 days a week was more than I was looking for long term, so I’d need a new goal.

After running 5k so many times and noticing that my legs were feeling a lot stronger, I decided it would be fun to see if I could do a 10k. There was a virtual race here in Hamilton (the Run for Women fundraiser) at the end of September, so the timing was perfect and it’d be an opportunity to raise some money as well.

Throughout September, I kept a few 5k runs during the week and used my Saturday runs to build up the longer distance. 6k, 7k, 8, 9k, and eventually 10k five Saturdays in a row. It felt incredible.

Since running my first 10k I’ve relaxed my weekday running schedule a bit to increase my Saturday long run distances. Yesterday I ran 15k. My pace was slow, I’m pretty sure I don’t know how to breathe properly, and I avoided every hill I could. But I did it! And it felt great.

More than anything, running has represented one of my most important lessons— one that I seem to need to learn over and over again and one that has made me a better programmer, as well: it’s what we do a little over a long time (what we practice) that leads to real progress.

Now back to my regular PRs. 💻


Hi, I'm Jess. I write about software development, health, and how the two can relate. 🌿 Follow me on Twitter