Between June and December of 2020, I spent 54 hours running 277 rock-and-root-filled miles with an elevation gain of 56,427 feet. Add this to the list of sentences my friends and family would never have expected to hear from me. Ever.

Rewind to midsummer, I talked myself into joining a running club with co-workers. This all started as a personal dare to step out of my comfort zone. Despite many fond years of playing baseball, I was a diehard hater of running.

A mile and a half was my max at first and, let’s be honest, it was a cycle of jogging, becoming winded, walking, then jogging again. Genetically, I have an athletic build and keep active but computer work crushed whatever cardio endurance I previously had.

Competition is a powerful motivator, though. After running daily for two weeks, I was hitting 4 miles and glued to work’s “Fitness” channel in Slack. My quads were sore but growing quickly and I was borderline euphoric at the end of long runs. That’s when my heart raised a demoralizing caution flag with worrisome pains in my chest.

I called my doctor, ordered a stress test, and was sternly told not to push past 115bpm until results came back. That was a long week waiting, tossing between guilt over neglecting health and being flat-out pissed off. I finally got the good news that the hospital couldn’t find anything wrong but I would need to ease into running at a smarter pace.

Shortly before all this, I finished helping my buddy Kale with a logo for his new fitness company. I asked if I could quiz him on my health questions during a hike and that snowballed into weekly workouts together. For those who don’t know already, Kale is one of the most down-to-earth people you’ll meet. His modesty and welcoming approach to healthy fun almost makes you forget his wildly impressive track record—like finishing two DECA Ironman races.

When someone invests their time and energy into you, there’s added incentive to not let them down. After weeks of continued work, my heart and lungs started catching up to the demand. On my longest 8-mile run, I remember the distinct feeling of breaking through a barrier.

Then came the next challenges: How fast can I run the descent? If I wear a headlamp, can I squeeze a couple extra night miles in? How long can I wear shorts into winter? I started seeking new challenges, right down to little tests like standing directly in the cold water when the shower is first turned on. Without fail, every surpassed obstacle caused me to look for more.

Fitness bled confidence into all other aspects of my life. Every time I laced up my shoes when I didn’t want to—when it was cold outside, still dark, or freezing rain—it ended with a sense of achievement. Every morning win set up the rest of my day for success.

Start the new year off right and choose to do the hard things.