I ACTUALLY did this. I ACTUALLY made it all the way through 365 consecutive days of parkour training without stopping. It wasn’t always very >good< training, and I definitely feel I phoned some days in when things got dire, but I DID do it. Guys, I’m genuinely astonished by this. I know I keep bringing it up, but I’m not sure any of you really realize how dramatically unprecedented all of this is for me. It had literally never crossed my mind to do something like this before. Ever. In the whole 34 years of my life leading up to my decision to do this last year, it never once occurred to me that I might be capable of intentionally, and relentlessly practicing one thing every day for an entire year. Especially not something athletic.
But wait! There’s more! I’M DOING IT AGAIN!
I finished one set of 365 days and then got up the very next day and started the counter over again. I didn’t even give myself a whole 24 hours to let the first set sink in. I just got up and started over as if this were now the most self-evident thing in the world. I guess it’s become a lifestyle now, or something. To the date of this post, I’m 69 days into a second year of American Parkour’s 365 challenge.
Let me be real honest with you, though. This is really hard. It isn’t supposed to be easy, though, and it isn’t always going to be fun. It wouldn’t be a challenge if it were, would it? But most of the time it is fun, if you choose to let it be, and sometimes it’s just what I need in a day. Sometimes it’s the only thing that holds me upright. But I think the first thing you need to understand about doing something like this if you’ve never done one before, is truly that it’s going to be hard. Probably a lot harder than you think. But here’s the thing – it IS possible.
I pushed myself to do this last year through sickness, extreme stress, exhaustion, debilitating depression (sometimes this challenge was the only thing I managed to not fail to do in a day except get out of bed and eat), a wildly fluctuating schedule, really odd environments, and a handful of injuries. I badly broke a toe during a wall run ten days in last year and sat down on our couch afterwards and cried because I thought I was done, and because I was angry with myself. I couldn’t see how I was supposed to continue if I couldn’t even walk properly. But the moderators encouraged me to expand my thinking and hang in there. They gave me some ideas and that’s what I worked with until I was gradually able to ease back into higher-impact things. That taught me a lot. Possibly more than the entire rest of the year. If I could find a way to keep training through what seemed like a critical injury, what – realistically – could possibly keep me from making it through whatever else the year had in store? Nothing. After that, I knew nothing was going to stop me. And it didn’t.
The rest of the year took me on a winding road through adventure, whimsy, success, failure, joy, and frustration. It put me into much closer contact with myself, and also with a whole lot of other people and my surroundings. I met friendly dogs, curious passersby, intrigued children, and fascinated adults. I got a middle aged man from our previous apartment building to do a safety vault, even though he didn’t think he could, bonded with a neighborhood kid over pop vaults (which I swear he thought was magic), and spent an hour helping three young girls get a feel for rail walking. Sometimes strangers cheered me on, too. I once had a small audience rooting for me while I worked up the courage to make a big jump, and on another occasion, received respect and encouragement from a random jogger.
“We believe in you! You can do it!” said the audience before I leapt from a low roof.
“That’s a pretty impressive jump!” Said the jogger, after I’d gone from the edge of a landscaping box forwards and a little upwards to the edge of a bench. “Whatever you’re doing, keep going!”
Both of those moments of unexpected encouragement were really well-timed. I was pushing my limits on both counts.
Doing the APK365 last year also taught me a lot about my own capacity for creativity, resourcefulness, and discipline. I had to get real inventive some of the time, and a lot of the time I needed to put on some metaphorical spurs and give myself a harsh heel. I now have a dramatically better sense of my own learning process, too. I now know what works for me, and what doesn’t, and what I need in order to stay motivated through rough patches. I know more about where my mental and physical strengths lie, and what things I need to work on.
There have been mental and visible physical benefits as well. Even though I didn’t always push myself as much as I could have, I gained noticeable amounts of muscle. Particularly in my upper body, which feels really good for someone who’s never really had much upper body strength. I crossed paths with a guy last spring who struck up a friendly conversion with me over – of all things – a small fire he witnessed me putting out. I’d watched someone else throw a lit cigarette butt into a landscaping box full of wood chips and bury it. Rather than going out, the cigarette smoldered and the chips caught the flame and I happened to be there and had water. This guy stopped, I think, because of the smoke, but lingered and started to chat. I don’t remember what came before this, but after a while he looked at me and said “You look a woman who can take care of herself”. For someone who’s spent her whole life being underestimated, perceived as a target, and treated as if she’s made of glass, that’s a life-changing victory. It was easily one of the most meaningful compliments I’ve ever been given because it made it very clear that there’s been a distinct shift in how people perceive me, even when they know nothing about me, or my activities. That’s a shift I’ve been waiting my whole life to see happen. I’ve never perceived myself as being delicate, but it seems as though most of the rest of the world generally has, and now that’s finally changing. The image of myself I’ve always felt exists on the inside, but has been trapped behind a tangle of labels and scars is finally beginning to break through. Around the holidays, my mother commented that she thought I’d grown taller. At 35, that’s very unlikely to be true. But maybe it’s my spirit that’s grown taller. Maybe I hold my head up higher and face the world squarely rather than hunching and cowering slightly like a mistreated animal waiting to be whipped again.
Have there been any negative repercussions? A few, I suppose. The toe I broke didn’t heal properly and will probably never function normally again. There’s a very real chance I’ll eventually break it a second time. I’ve gained a handful of shin scars – the telltale mark of the traceur -, took a few sprains of varying severity, and experienced shin splints for the very first time in my life. Plus, of course, a whole lot of bruises, scrapes, minor strains, and tissue inflammation. But these are all relatively superficial things that anyone is likely to get doing almost any sport, and honestly, I’m kind of proud of those scars. They show that I’ve been willing to truly challenge myself and have not let those painful moments stop me.
This year, I’m working hard to make sure I’m really challenging myself and growing as much as possible. I really, really love that feeling of facing a challenge, either mental or physical, and then breaking it, so that’s what I want to reach for as much as I can this year. Last year, the my focus was on simply completing the challenge itself. I didn’t know if I was capable of producing a full 365 consecutive days of movement. Now that I know I can, it’s time to raise the bar, because that’s the philosophy parkour teaches. Mindfully feel out and test your limits, set your goal bars slightly beyond them, figure out what you need to strengthen, and then – when you obtain those goals – move the bar up. I feel I’m off to a pretty good start. Now that I’ve got a better foundation of strength and body awareness, I’m finally able to begin pushing my technical limits and expanding/strengthening my skills.
I’m also currently working on applying the mindsets and philosophy I’ve been learning through parkour to rapier fencing. I burned out of fencing really badly about a year and a half ago. I hit a major plateau and got so agitated and frustrated that I came very, very close to completely quitting. I really love rapier, though, and after five years of effort, I didn’t want to simply drop it and walk away, so I opted to take an extended break from it through almost all of last year. Thanks to that time off, and to this challenge, I’m now properly equipped with the tools and understanding I need to resume my rapier training and blow through that blockage.
A few people have asked for advice on how to stick a challenge like this out. Here are a few of my thoughts:
- Make sure the parameters of your challenge are very clear. If you’re not doing it as part of an organized group, take time to hash out – in detail – what will and will not count. Set the bar to something that’s a genuine challenge, but is still attainable. Then, relentlessly hold yourself to them. Understand that you might need to be a little harsh with yourself and will probably need to dig deep for reserves of resilience that you’ve possibly never needed before.
- Pace yourself. Remember that you don’t need to press the pedal to the mat every single day in order to make progress. Ask yourself ‘What do I most need for today? What level of energy am I capable of giving today? What can I do – today – that’s constructive?’ It’s a marathon, not a dead sprint. If you try to go 100% every day and refuse to allow yourself ‘rest days’, you’re very likely to burn out and/or do more damage than good.
- Figure out what your ‘bare minimum’ is for days when things are critically rough, either mentally, physically, or both. Do this before those days occur so that when they come, you can simply do them and not lose more energy trying to figure out what to do. And then, when it happens, accept that it’s happening and don’t attempt to fight it. Tell yourself ‘I just need to make it through >insert applicable time or task goal<. That’s all I need for today. Just that much’, and then be willing to accept that that’s all you can give that day. You can lean in harder again on another day, when you’ve got more gas in the tank.
- Be absolutely honest and clear with yourself about why you are doing what you’re doing, and why it’s worth this much work. You’ll need to know this when you begin to question your resolve and I promise, you will. Knowing exactly why you’re reaching for this, and what you’re hoping to get out of it will give you something solid to stand on. It will be the knot at the end of your rope.
- Be willing to flex and adapt. It’s unrealistic to think that you will be able to do the same thing at exactly the same time every single day for an entire year. Sometimes you’re going to need to adjust. Take advantage of whatever opportunity a day presents and know that you’re going to need to make the challenge a priority every day. You might need to accept that you’re going to need to let some other thing on your list go in order to make room for this. Planning ahead also really helps. If you know what your schedule for the following day is likely to look like, take a moment the night before to plan when you’ll complete your challenge.
- Consider the value of accountability. You don’t necessarily have to be really visible and public about it. You just need a friend who’s willing to hold you accountable and check in. Better still is if someone will do it with you, or do their own 365 along side you so that you can cheer each other on and share experiences.
- Try to keep your activity from becoming a repetitive chore. Add creative elements, look for new challenges, change the environment you’re doing it in, do something silly, make it fun and engaging. Make it a thing you want to do most of the time, rather than a thing you have to do. Alternately, find a way to make the activity meditative by doing it very mindfully. That might mean doing it slowly, or being very aware of your movements and the sensations they’re bringing you.
- If you start to feel overwhelmed, try setting specific goals for yourself within the larger challenge. Focus on building up, or achieving a particular thing, or set of things over the course of a week, or a month. Don’t think about the whole year all at once. Take it one day, or week, or month at a time, and look at how far you’ve come, rather than how far you still have to go.
If you’d like to follow this year’s APK365, look for the group “APK Parkour 365 2019” on Facebook, or watch the threads #apk365 and #apk3652019 on Facebook and Instagram.