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15 Things Running Teaches Us about Life and Ourselves

I’ve been a runner all my life. I ran late, ran after buses and cabs, ran out of money and patience, ran with the wrong crowd…well, come to think of it, maybe that is not the kind of running that earns you any medals. However, I did discover competitive or race running when I hit my 30’s, and it did lead to many significant and very rewarding changes in my body, my mind, and my life, as well as in my perspective on things that happen in it.

So as we pass the Start marker on yet another Monday, here are some things running taught me both about life and about myself – and hopefully they resonate with you as you race on with your week!

  1. If you are running, that makes you a runner. Just like if you are awake and breathing, that makes you alive. It doesn’t matter what your body looks like, what outfit you’re wearing and how expensive your shoes were. You are moving forward, and that is the only thing that matters. Don’t buy into maintaining certain images and worrying about labels.
  2. The more you practice, the better you will be. If you stick with practicing and devote time to your skill, you will go further, you will be faster, and you will grow stronger. Every day.
  3. But only if you practice doing the right things, the right way. If you start off on the wrong foot, literally, and insist on repeating the same mistakes during your course, you will end up getting hurt and will find yourself being left far behind and not anywhere close to your goals.
  4. Know your course. If you have the luxury of knowing the specifics of your route, always use that opportunity to plan. If you don’t, take every opportunity to get the details. Ask others, research, get familiar with it. It will help minimize any unexpected setbacks along the way – and the knowledge is almost always there and yours for the taking. This will help greatly with the next lesson!
  5. Be prepared. Once you learn about the course ahead of you, plan your run as much as possible. What is the terrain like? Mostly flat or will there be hills? How is traffic around the course, do you need to be extra vigilant? Will the weather cooperate? How far in between water stops? What if there are no water stops? Where are the mile markers? How will you measure your progress if there aren’t clear markers? How will you stay in touch with others on your run and those waiting for you up ahead? Have a very clear idea of what you’d like to happen during your run – the time to plan and prepare is before, not when you’re in the middle of a race, exhausted and fighting to breathe through.  Just as in life’s challenges – being prepared and having a plan, and several backup plans will help you go further, faster, last longer and minimize setbacks while in the “full speed ahead” mode.
  6. But not too prepared. The unexpected happens in running and in life. The course changes, the bad weather looms, start times get postponed, and even our bodies sometimes give out on us and disappoint us. Remember that these things do and will happen. Don’t be so inflexible that you can’t chart a quick course correction or come up with a plan B. And, sometimes, it means modifying this particular race (or even exiting altogether!) and knowing you’ve learned something to be ready for the next one.
  7. Love your running mates and crew. Running can seem like a solitary sport – as can our life’s journey. After all, we are on the road with just ourselves and what we brought to the race. But that is far from the truth. We have other runners that completed this course before, we have other runners that will conquer it in the future – and we have other runners running alongside us right now. We also have those who helped us prepare, those who cheer us on, and those who are waiting for us at the finish line – just because they are not physically running the course with us, doesn’t mean they are not with us in their thoughts and best wishes.

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    So it is with our challenges in life – even though it may seem like we are all alone in dealing with our burdens and problems, remember how many others are really on your crew and in your corner. Appreciate them and thank them every chance you get!It can also seem at times as if our ultimate goal was to “outrace” others who are running along with us. After all, they are there to compete with us and we may feel the need to slow them down so that we can get closer to getting that post-race glory all to ourselves. However, if we take that approach, then we misunderstood the object of the game completely. If we support and encourage others who run with us, we all win. Some of us are faster than others, and some of us are slower. What matters is beating your own previous best and moving forward, relentlessly.

  8. Sometimes there is a medal.  Sometimes there is something beautiful and shiny to show for our efforts and work. And sometimes there is not. What will always stay with us, however, is the feeling of accomplishing something great – even if there’s no physical prize.
  9. You have a fan club. Sometimes we have no idea how we impact others with our actions. It may seem like you’re doing the things you are doing for your benefit only – but so many others observe you and are inspired by the way you move forward.
  10. Stay hydrated and nourished. I’ve completed races my body was not prepared for. The result has always been a painful running experience followed by multiple days of recovery. Love yourself enough to take care of your body. Feed it good healthful things. Let it rest. Keep it hydrated. (That last one is not even a metaphor……just drink water. A lot. Life will instantly get better).
  11. You run with your mind. Your body is performing the physical motions of running but your mind is what really keeps you going. Remember that always. Your body will do the things you need it to do – but our mind is in charge of deciding we are going to do them.
  12. Don’t look at your feet. If you look down and watch your feet all the time, you will hurt your neck and back and will run slower. But if you keep your gaze steady a couple of paces forward, you will advance faster. Sometimes we need to keep an eye on what’s ahead to keep going, otherwise, we’ll get bogged down by the here and the now.
  13. You can’t always see the finish line. Conversely, sometimes you cannot see or even mentally visualize the end goal. It seems so distant and utterly unreachable. Your mind starts telling you to stop, that it’s too much, that it’s too far. Words like “never” and “can’t” start floating around your head. During those times, focus on the present moment. One more step. Then another. One more. Just make the step. Before you know it, you will be passing the final marker and the cheering crowd.
  14. What race are you running? Is this a short sprint where speed matters? Is it a marathon where your endurance is tested? You will need a different strategy and a different execution for various goals. One size does not fit all here – nor does it in life.
  15. Celebrate, rest, repeat. Don’t be shy about praising yourself when you finish! You made it! You hit a goal! You deserve to feel accomplished. But now it’s time to prepare for the next challenge – life is a cycle, and we keep moving onward. We’ll see you at the finishers’ circle soon!

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Julia Hewitt, M.S. Psychology
Julia Hewitt, M.S. Psychology

Julia is passionate about helping others on their self-discovery path, be it with relationships, life's purpose, personal goals or simply coping skills. She believes in the power of words, thoughts and in the beauty of language. She holds a Masters in Psychology and a Masters in Organizational Leadership from the University of Phoenix as well as a Bachelors from Arizona State University, and volunteers on a teen crisis hotline.

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