If you are a runner, you no doubt have experienced all the one-liners in the non-runner’s book.
“I only run if someone is chasing me.”
“I ran from the couch to the refrigerator today; does that count?”
“I don’t even think I drove that far today!”
and the all too common, “Why?!”
We runners kindly smirk at their sarcasm, pretending we’ve never heard that one before, knowing they are secretly just jealous of our ability and desire to run for pleasure. We’ve long since given up trying to explain the satisfaction that comes from the mix of sore muscles and sunrises, blisters and big breakfasts, and miles and miles of doing nothing but putting one foot in front of the other.
I didn’t always identify as a runner. It wasn’t really until the last decade or so when I gave in to the fact that I was, indeed, a runner. I craved my time on the roads. I planned annual marathons, organized teams for 200-mile relay races, and got depressed when injuries planted me on the sidelines. I spent my disposable income on training and massages, new shoes and $15 socks (yep, for one pair), and found sheer thrills in completing a 20-mile training run. There was no denying it anymore … I was a runner, complete with all the crazy idiosyncrasies … and comfortable in that skin.
Despite my contentment and confidence as a runner, I began to ask my own ‘Why?’ over the past couple of years. A dismal end at a marathon was the beginning of two years of constant discomfort and not only when I was running. My jaunts down the road were infrequent as I struggled to understand and peel back the layers of the injury. I couldn’t sit for any length of time; my friends learned that we needed to pick restaurants with high-top tables so I could stand for dinner and drinks. I stood for hours during the workday and dreaded long car rides. I spent countless dollars on experts and solutions to my pain.
Even I wondered why I would continue this journey just to … run.
I’ll be honest, there were plenty of days when I wanted to give up. But running has always provided me such a respite from life, an opportunity to sort through painful places or discover creative solutions, that I wasn’t quite ready to throw that all away. I decided instead to try and answer my ‘Why?’ … to try and come to an understanding of how running kept me grounded. What I found in the process was that running was really a mirror for how we all travel (and often battle) through life …
1. Running Hurts
Especially at the beginning and the end. That first mile of any run is hard. It involves plenty of self-talk and on most days, some serious willpower, to make it to mile two when you begin to settle in to a rhythm. Like so many of life’s beginnings, there are growing pains and fear, and we question whether we can actually take on the challenge. And then we settle in. We run for miles and miles, seeing progress, enjoying the journey. But as we approach the end, sometimes we are a little broken, limping through the pain, experiencing emotions that range from bittersweet to anger to sadness. Our heads can appreciate the highs along the way, the memories and experiences we grasp tightly, but our hearts can’t always escape the painful endings.
2. You need a team
Amen to this. I know, you are thinking, ‘running is an individual sport,’ but I’m here to tell you it absolutely is not. Yes, similar to how we must move forward in life, I’m responsible for actually taking that next step. No one can do it for me. But, without my crew, those steps would be nearly impossible. For every marathon I have run, I’ve had a team of people supporting me along the course. The makeup of “my people” looked different every time, but each of them cared about me enough to help me achieve my goals. They handed me water and Gu, took (horrendous) photos of me, and even stumbled the final mile with me. My team isn’t just there on race day … they hugged me through my tears when the injury felt too great. They checked in after every single long run … perhaps to make sure I was still alive, but also to celebrate or commiserate with me. Doing life requires a team. We need people who push us when we don’t think we can go any further. We need friends who remind us to slow down, shift our focus, or even turn around and run as fast as we can in the other direction! I can’t run without my team, and I can’t do life without people who share the journey.
3. It isn’t always the finish that matters
The typical post-race question is… ‘So, how did you finish?’ And we offer up our times and places, typically accompanied with reasoning behind the numbers … weather extremities, stomach calamities, sleep issues, too many hills, not enough hills, cramps, etc. But lately when I finish a race, I find I’m rarely reflecting on the last few hours. I’m thinking about the months of training, the hours in the gym, the (far too many) dry needling (look it up) appointments, the last minute massages, the support from friends … that actually made the finish possible. It is more about the journey, the lessons along the way, than the final outcome. Sometimes the outcome in life is NOT what I want or expect it to be, but the sum of its experiences has made me who I am. If I only judged the finish, I’d miss out on the progress I made along the way.
4. The elements impact your performance
During some recent travels, I had the opportunity to (notice I did not say pleasure of!) run in Asheville, NC. Finally feeling like a pretty healthy runner, I was a little excited about taking on the challenge of an extremely hilly run … until I started up that first climb that took my breath away. My pace slowed despite my best efforts, and I grimaced as I realized I still couldn’t quite see the top of this hill. How often is life like that? We find ourselves in the middle of a massive mountain, a challenge that doesn’t seem to have an end point, or at least not one within our range of visibility. And our pace slows. We want to give up because we don’t feel we are showing our best selves. One step forward is sometimes accompanied by a couple of steps back as we struggle to stay upright. And then, when we are about to throw in the towel, we see some light up ahead. Our hard work is beginning to pay off. We reach the peak … and hopefully, hopefully, pause to see just how far we have come before we tackle that next hill.
5. Running requires thoughtful, consistent training
This statement might have the most truth of any so far. It is amazing how quickly my capabilities as a runner decline with just a brief hiatus from my training … and not just a pause in my regular running routine, but a break from my strength and mobility work, or my oh-so-important deep tissue massages … all the pieces of the puzzle that make me a better runner. The most significant takeaway from my time on the runner’s injury reserve was the realization that actual running was only one aspect of my necessary training. These other parts significantly impact my performance. In life I can get so focused on that “one thing,” that I stop being consistent with all elements that keep me healthy and creative and loving to those around me. I might get caught up in making my business successful, but while I go all in on client work, I stop reading, or writing, or building in space to let my mind wander. Ultimately, my business suffers, I suffer, my friends and family suffer … because I stopped being thoughtful and consistent about the aspects of my life that work together for my good.
6. Pace is important
I like to run at my own pace. I don’t run with other people in part because running is my alone time, but also because I don’t want the stress of staying on pace with someone else. As if we don’t live in a world of comparison already, I certainly don’t need to judge myself based on how well I kept up with (or lagged behind) a running partner. Some days I need to go at a slower pace … I might be tired or life’s burdens might feel heavy and I just can’t operate at the level I’d like to. Other days I might want speed … to clear my head or challenge my body or because I feel my creative genius kicking in on a nagging project. The reality is, we can’t operate at the same pace every day. And we don’t need to operate on someone else’s pace. Maybe we can realize that our pace in today’s moments was exactly what it was supposed to be, nothing more, nothing less.
7. Winning looks different to everyone
Let’s be honest, the vast majority of people who run marathons aren’t trying to win. (I sort of hate the people who are …) Yet when you watch people cross the finish line of a race, there is such a sense of accomplishment and celebration, it is almost as if each person was victorious. And the reality is, they all were. We give each of them a medal … congrats on finishing your first race, setting a personal best, qualifying for Boston, completing the race with all 10 toenails attached … winning looks different to each of us. In the marathon of life, my goals, passions, definition of success, are completely unlike yours. The uniqueness makes us all spectacularly wonderful in our very own ways. Every day I get to rise and run my own race. I get to win the day however I want to. We all are blessed with that gift.
In summary, I hope you choose to run the race of life today. Watch out for the hills, but stay the course when you hit them. Keep an eye on your pace and realize it is ok to slow down when you need to. Be consistent even when it hurts and don’t forget to lean on your team. It’s always about the journey, not the finish.