Running a Marathon and DesignReading 4 minutes

A man with a hat and no shirt jogging along the a state road surrounded by desert and some hills in the distance.

Micro Progressions and the 10% Rule

If you’re reading this article, you’re probably curious to know what running a marathon and design have to do with each other. In reality, they don’t have anything in common. However, I would argue that the way you should approach training and learning each subject is the same. It’s never about the ending destination, it’s about the journey along the way. The Japanese have a word for this. It’s called Kaizen. Constant improvement, everyday, to become better than you were yesterday.

Mindset is a powerful tool and it can either help you or hinder you.

Most people think of running 26.2 miles (marathon distance) and think to themselves, “I could never do that, I can’t even run one mile.” If that is their mindset, then they’ve already decided that it’s an impossible achievement. Mindset is a powerful tool and it can either help you or hinder you.

Running one mile without training is hard. Adding 25 more to that is even harder. However, marathon runners don’t just wake up one day with the capability to run that extreme distance. It requires consistent training and slow increments of intensity and mileage every week for a number of months. This progression usually follows a steady incline of 10%. Building up from short distance training runs and capping out around 20 miles at the peak of the training schedule. This is what’s known as the 10% rule. This slow graduation is how it is possible for someone who has never ran a mile in their life, to gain the ability to run 26 miles for four hours straight.

Applying This Concept to Everyday Life

What if you don’t have plans to ever run a marathon, and in fact, you hate running? No problem, you can still apply this same principle to your life. Most of us have some sort of skill, hobby, or craft that we’re actively engaged and trying to improve on. This is where the concept of Kaizen comes into play. In the Western world, we call it “micro progressions”.

I personally learned this concept from listening to a Polish bodybuilding trainer speak on his methods of training individuals with extreme physical handicaps.He told the story of a couple who reached out to him that were the parents of a grown man who was born with a disease that left his bones brittle and his muscles weak.The son was physically incapable of feeding and bathing himself. Realizing their own mortality, the parents asked the trainer to see if he could help their son become independent. The trainer began working with the feeble son and the first month of training was spent solely on functional movement alone. Once the son was able to move freely and walk on his own, the trainer then progressed him to olympic-style lifts with a broomstick. Next came a heavier object, then another, and the progression continued until he could finally lift a barbell. Over the course of a few years, the son went from complete dependence on his parents to complete independence. He was able to fully function on his own, achieving his parents’ wishes. The son worked everyday at a movement, becoming more mobile and stronger in each session. These efforts compounded over time to become something great. Micro progressions changed this young man’s life.

How the Best Become the Best

When a person is world-class at the thing they do, how do you believe they got there? Some may say that the person was born with unnatural talent in their chosen subject. Others will say that the person is just lucky. In reality, people who reach the level of mastery in their craft have simply put in the work. They were willing to work harder than others around them in order to excel. These people employ extreme focus, dedication, and the theory of micro progressions every day, relentlessly. These small efforts compound over time and neural pathways develop that allow these individuals to become more effective and efficient in their chosen craft. To sum it up, if you want to be great, you have to put in the time and effort. So the next time you see an endurance athlete finish a long race, know that they have put in hundreds of miles and countless hours of effort to reach the finish line.

Moving the Needle Forward

Mastering your craft is a long journey that begins with one small step. This holds true whether you’re training to run great distances or your aim is to become the best designer you can be. The process is exactly the same. Ten thousand hours is an insurmountable amount of time but if you sit down every day and put in a few hours, the summit of the mountain gets closer than you would imagine.

I apply these methods to become 1% better than I was the day before.

I’ve personally used these concepts and methods to begin the journey of living the life I’ve always wanted. I completed my first marathon in October of 2020 and I’m currently training for more races in 2021. I now use micro progressions in almost every aspect of my life. From reading books, fitness, mental health, and design. I apply these methods to become 1% better than I was the day before. Further progressing the needle to mastery.

Crush Your Goals

As you can see this is a powerful method for not only progressing your craft but also simply getting things done. If you’ve made goals for yourself this year think about how you can break them down into quarterly, monthly, and daily segments. You’ll soon see the results of micro progressions as the days pass. I wish you the best of luck on whatever journey you’re currently on and if you’d ever like to chat about how I implement these strategies into my daily discipline, I’d be more than happy to!


I'd love to swap stories and learn other ideas.