Lessons Learned From Running

Lessons Learned from Running
by Christine Erickson

 “When the student is ready the teacher will appear.”

 I first heard this while taking a yoga class, but it has actually reflected my running experience.  As I mentioned in my first blog post, I’ve not always been a fan of running.  I used to slog through miles eagerly anticipating the end of the drudgery.  Running was no more than a means to an end for me until I fully opened myself to the whole experience.  I don’t remember a specific ‘aha!’ moment, but sometime in the last year and a half I became a ready and willing student of running, and it’s lessons have been seeping into the rest of my life.  These are some of the things I’ve learned so far.

It’s important to develop daily habits.  This may seem like a no-brainer for most folks, but I have gotten through most of my life flying by the seat of my pants with virtually nonexistent organizational skills.  I can rise to the occasion for something really important, but I usually regress into my non-planning/doing-things-at-the-last-minute mode.  In my career as an ER nurse I’m used to long, chaotic, and variable shifts, which I prefer to a 9-5 Monday through Friday gig; however, it is more difficult to plan things since I don’t have a regular schedule.  When I made room for running in my life, I quickly realized that consistency was key to building and sustaining the habit.  While the rest of my life may be chaotic, running needed to be my core routine.  If I didn’t want to go through the experience of starting at square one again I realized I needed to keep running and I committed to run every other day.

Speaking of commitment, this was also a key lesson learned.  I’ve said for years I’d like to run a marathon someday, but wishful thinking and the sporadic jog around the block wasn’t going to get me there.  I had to commit not just to running, but also to being a runner.  Running is great exercise but, from my experience, to view it as only that ignores all the other rewards (and lessons) it has to offer.  It’s a subtle but important difference.

I quickly realized that all successful runners have goals.  Running a marathon is a grand goal, but I need to meet many short-term goals in the meantime.  And it’s important that they are my goals.  PR and distance goals are valuable; however, I also need to make goals that focus on the running journey rather than just the destination.  One of my overriding goals is to enjoy running for the rest of my life, which means I am focused on remaining injury-free.  Although it is possible to run one’s first marathon within the first few months of running, most experts recommend establishing a solid running base and gradually increasing mileage.  I do still want to run a marathon (and more), but not at the expense of my future running life.

Forgiveness.  I don’t always meet my goals.  Sometimes there’s a good reason, sometimes not.  Whatever the reason (or excuse) I’ve learned not to flog myself or feel a failure.  I reevaluate and set new goals.  The ability to forgive myself has made me more empathetic and forgiving toward others.

I am a slow runner, so I have learned patience.  In the beginning I learned it was okay to walk.  Sometimes I need to remind myself of that lesson.  Running doesn’t get jealous if I walk once in a while.  In fact, it often rewards me with better performance.  Slowing down and taking time to be in the moment is very gratifying.  However, it’s also important to change up the pace once in a while. It’s not necessary, nor is it safe or healthy, to go full out all the time.  On the other hand, if I don’t push myself now and then I’ll never get better or know what I’m capable of.

I get out of running whatever I put into it.  If I’m bored with my running, it’s my fault.  I’m not saying every run has to be a thrill replete with revelations, but if it’s starting to feel like a slog it’s up to me to reframe it.  Sometimes it’s just a matter of resetting my mental state.  But it’s also important to change the route or try adding something new to the routine such as interval training.

As great as running makes me feel overall, it’s a give and take relationship.  Just like my interpersonal relationships, it’s important that I am contributing effort too and not just expecting running to constantly reward me with one endorphin high after another.  There will be hard times, but if I’m willing to stick it out, my relationship with running will grow stronger.

Other than illness or injury, there are very few valid reasons not to run.  The Moon Joggers who have kept running through the Polar Vortex have made this lesson loud and clear.  I’ve lost a few battles with the too warm bed too early in the morning.  Ultimately, no matter what excuse I may give for not running, the only person I’m kidding is myself.

I’ve learned to embrace hills rather than trying to avoid them.  Hills are the equivalent to the challenges in our lives.  We can try to run around them, but eventually we have to face them head on and give it our best shot.  This is a lot easier if we’ve had some practice.

It’s impossible for me to stay angry, stressed, or depressed while running.  Running demands all my energy and positively transforms it.  Running helps me focus on what really matters in life.  Has running made me a wiser, happier person or am I just high on endorphins?  Whatever the reason, I’m a better person for it and I look forward to each new lesson.  What has running taught you?

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