Couch to 5K for Cellists, Week 5: Non-Linear Progress

By Miranda Wilson

After last week’s emotional meltdown when Week 4 of C25K brought up some unpleasant memories that I’d rather forget, it was time to have a serious conversation with myself about whether I was going to keep doing this. Was I enjoying myself yet? No. Was I better at running yet? No.

So if you’re not having fun and you’re not getting good (and, to be scrupulously honest, you’re the kind of overachiever who only enjoys things they’re good at), why keep on keeping on?

The short answer is that I couldn’t stop thinking about the two things strangers in airports say to me when they see my cello. (1) “I used to play an instrument. I was actually kind of good. I wish I hadn’t quit.” (2) “I’m so unmusical. I’m tone deaf, couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket!”

To the first, I say “It’s not too late to start again.” To the second: “How long did you keep trying?”

The second of these statements is rarely true. If you can enjoy listening to music, you’re musical enough. True tone deafness, clinical amusia, is very unusual. The truth of the matter is that way too many people of perfectly normal musicality are shamed into thinking they’re unmusical and bad singers in childhood, and never sing again. I wrote about this in the first post in my Couch to 5K for Cellists series, “P. E. Trauma and Music Trauma.”


In other words, I didn’t think I had given running enough of a chance to decide whether I liked or was good at it.


One of the most frustrating things for highly driven, workaholic people like me to acknowledge is that sometimes working hard at something doesn’t make you better. We’re told that “practice makes perfect,” and then feel positively betrayed if we aren’t perfect. Then we’re told that “practice doesn’t make perfect: perfect practices makes perfect,” which is a total disincentive to experimentation and doesn’t allow the chance to learn from failures.

I know this. I’ve read all the peer-reviewed research about this. I’ve ranted about this on the internet.

(Read “Eyes Off the Prize: Why Dreaming Small Makes Practice Better.”

Read “Cello Thought for the Day: The Best Practice.”)


So I kept going.


“Couch to 5K Week 5 Day 1: brisk 5-minute warm-up walk, then 5 minutes running, 3 minutes walking, 5 minutes running, 3 minutes walking, 5 minutes running.”

For scheduling reasons, I began this week’s running at 8:30 on Thursday night instead of my usual early morning time. It was a warm evening, and as I left the house I noticed how fragrant the air was. It smelled like pine trees and damp earth and lilac blossom. The sun hadn’t yet set, but looked as if it might be thinking about it. As I began my warm-up walk, I noticed some wonderful colours in the sky. I decided I was going to stop thinking about how useless I was at running and just admire the cloud patterns in the sun’s fading light.

An interesting thing happened. I was still slow and bad and out of breath, but I could actually get through the three five-minute runs without wanting to cry or thinking about all the people who had wronged me or being mad at the entire world. I wasn’t assuming that the other people on the track were laughing at me or about to tell me I wasn’t allowed to be there or that I was doing something terrible and reprehensible. They were just there, and I was just running. Running, breathing, and looking at the sun setting pink and orange over the mountains and the towering pine trees. It was OK. It actually was.


Then, at the end of it, I looked at my stats and realized to my annoyance that I hadn’t actually covered any more distance or burned any more calories than last time, even though the running time was longer than before. My initial reaction was are you kidding me? All this work and I actually ran less than before?

And then I had one of those chagrining “teacher, teach thyself” moments. How many times have I reassured cello students with these words of Maria Montessori: “Progress is not linear”? How many times have I told them not to expect that their improvements from one day will have “stuck” the next day? That it’s regularity of habits that creates long-term progress, not day-to-day things?

This whole learning-a-new-skill thing is really humbling sometimes.

Read Couch to 5K for Cellists Week 1 – P. E. Trauma and Music Trauma

Read Couch to 5K for Cellists Week 2 – Permission to Be Bad

Read Couch to 5K for Cellists Week 3 — Slow-Fast-Slow-Fast

Read Couch to 5K for Cellists Week 4 — Belonging

© Miranda Wilson, 2021. No part of this blog post may be reproduced without permission of the author.


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