Running really is a metaphor for life.
Oh, God! That sounds so cliché. Makes me wanna vom a little. But you know what? It’s true.
So much of running just sucks.
And I don’t mean to sound like too much of a pessimist or reveal any spoilers, but so much of life kinda sucks, too!
Most of us spend a majority of our time working for the sake of a paycheck to pay bills, student loans, rent, food –– merely to exist –– and not because we’re passionate about it. We do that for like four decades and THEN we’re free to actually live at a time in our lives when we’re probably not as healthy as we used to be.
Running is a lot like that. Except fortunately, the payoff doesn’t take four decades to get to.
So here are 6 life lessons I’ve learned since becoming a runner over a decade ago.
Hard work really does pay off
Most of us don’t actually like or enjoy the day-in-day-out grind of training. Sometimes we do and we get that orgasmic endorphin high. Other days, the last thing I want to do is put on my running shoes and run the same God-forsaken loop around my neighborhood like I’m a malfunctioning robot who doesn’t remember where home is.
But we do it all for the payoff of being able to accomplish things most people in the world physically cannot.
Very few people can just jump off a couch and run a marathon without any training. If you can do that, well, let me be the first to tell you that you’re a deeply hated person.
For most of us, if you increase your running slowly, do the strength training, the nutrition, and the recovery without skipping, then generally speaking, you will accomplish your goals.
None of that’s easy, but what in the hell is easy in life? Most of us have to work hard, go above and beyond to accomplish our goals. And you have to do a lot of shit you don’t really want to do to get there.
That’s running in a nutshell. But the feeling of accomplishing a running goal makes all of the monotonous training runs in between worthwhile. Just as we all have to do the little things in between to accomplish our big life goals.
Which leads nicely into my next point…
Patience is key
Like any muscle or athletic endeavor, running for the first time feels pretty miserable. It’s enough to convince most people to not do that thing ever again.
But if you keep at it, your body will adapt. That horrifying feeling you had after your first 10K will feel like a mere jaunt about town.
I remember the moment I crossed the finish line at the Cleveland Half Marathon, my first half marathon, and I thought to myself, “I can’t imagine going a fucking step further.”
Now, that distance isn’t scary at all. I regularly run 21 kilometers or more for training and it’s not a big deal. And now that I’ve run a couple of marathons, 42 kilometers isn’t so scary either, even though it used to be impossible for me to conceive of running for as long or longer than a Martin Scorcese film.
But it took a long time to get to this point. And whether it’s finding love or success in your career, the same applies. Ya gots to have patience –– a sentiment of which I’m constantly having to remind myself.
You need time off
You can’t run your hardest every single day for every training run without taking days off. You will burn out and injure yourself. The same with strength training. Muscles need time to rest so they can rebuild and get stronger.
And that’s true with just about anything else in life, especially work. If you don’t take time off of work to decompress, you’ll struggle to focus, to be creative, and you will invariably suck at your job. That’s why someone bragging about never taking a vacation day is as sad to me as one of those Sarah McLachlan dogs..
Honor the journey
This ties a bit back into patience. But patience, to me, is about knowing you’ll eventually get to where you want to be, so long as you do X, Y, and Z. (That’s Z, people. Not Zed. Zee.)
Honoring the journey is about taking a step back and finding enjoyment in where you are. I know I said I don’t enjoy every single run. I don’t! But when I’m out there doing yet another 75-minute zone two run, I am able to pause and reflect on the fact that I’m doing what I need to do to accomplish my goals.
I think air travel has kinda ruined our ability to honor the journey. We just want to get where we’re going as fast as possible. Air travel fed us this myth that you can be where you want to be in the blink of an eye. That’s why everyone turns into an absolute monster at the airport as soon as something goes wrong.
“What do you mean I have to sit apart from my husband for this two-hour flight!? If you don’t fix this, then you better make peace with your God. Because I will summon the fury of eternal damnation and make you wish that Beelzebub himself would bring you the sweet peach of death by the time I’m through with you!”
Or something like that.
But see, I prefer train travel. And on trains, you take your time and enjoy the journey. (Well, most of the time.)
So even though you might not be where you want to be in running or your career (I know I’m sure as shit not), at least know that you can get there –– as long as you’re actually doing something about it.
Bodies are fuckin’ weird, if you sit around and really think about it. Because of various atoms, electrical impulses, and other sciency stuff, I can move my limbs and coordinate them in a way to move myself around efficiently.
But not everyone can do that. And there’s another camp of folks who’ve taken that ability so for granted, that it’s impossible to appreciate it.
I’ll often pause during a run and just think how gnarly it is that I’m physically able to do these things. And then a sense of gratitude will wash over me. It’s a little bit like the legendary runner’s high, but you can feel it every time you go outside and move your body.
Similarly, although I might not be where I want to be in my professional life, I’m definitely not at rock bottom. Things could most definitely be worse and there’s still plenty to be grateful for.
Last but not least…
Running reveals who you really are
For most people who are able to watch this video on YouTube, life is infinitely better than at any other point in human history. Life itself used to be the challenge to overcome. And in many respects, it still is.
But many of us are able to take the path of least resistance and generally live comparatively cozy lives. Too hot? Turn on the AC. Too cold? Turn on the heater. Need to get somewhere? Get in a car where you can go from standstill to 80 miles per hour within a minute by simply flexing your foot.
Bonkers stuff! And a bit much, if you ask me.
We animal-brained humans need to be able to challenge ourselves or we’ll never grow. And that includes physically challenging ourselves.
Running allows you to push your body to the limit –– and that’s really when you find out what kind of person you are. You start to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. And that skill really comes in handy when the shit inevitably hits the fan in other aspects of your life.
And believe me… Like any morning after a cup of coffee, the most definitely will come.
Now enough about me! What about you? What have YOU learned from running or being active? Leave a comment and check out this playlist of some of my running escapades around the world.