I can remember all too vividly being in the fifth grade and having to complete the Presidential Fitness Test during gym class. While the entire test was challenging for me, a nerdy kid who devoured novels and Hostess cakes and stayed far away from competitive sports, the one-mile run incited the most panic. I remember lying in bed the night before the test, terrified and feeling certain that I could not complete the run. I’d like to tell you that the reality disconfirmed my irrational fears, but indeed I could not finish. I hated running. And, in many ways, I hated myself.
Flash forward to 2010. I have now been running nearly daily for about three and a half years, slowly (sometimes very slowly) improving my stamina, speed, and, most importantly, confidence. I began running after meeting my husband and observing his dedication to something that I had always seen as, well, pointless (You’re running? Running from what??). I got curious, and maybe slightly competitive, and eventually started training for a marathon. As the story goes, I got hooked. Interestingly, I still find it difficult to consider myself a “real runner,” as if that is an identity I have yet to earn (haven’t totally abandoned my story here). I’m working on overcoming that hump, but in the meantime, I thought I would share with you some of the life lessons that running has taught me.
1. Map your course – but be flexible.
Being female, relatively petite, and borderline OCD, I find it imperative to map my running course prior to heading out. I want to feel secure in where I’m going and what I might run into. However, the best laid plans… Well, you know the rest. Inevitably, there are mornings when I come to find that the road has been blocked off due to construction or wildlife has overtaken my path (seriously, last week I was diverted by what had to be 500 geese…) This is where the gift of flexibility, something I have to work on daily, becomes essential. Last minute changes are a part of life – anyone who’s planned a wedding or has a child knows this well – and learning to accept and adapt is the only way to get out alive – and relatively sane.
2. You can often go further than you thought you could.
I’ve always been a person to hold myself to high standards, but running has allowed me to see just how far I can push myself in a totally new realm. There are so many days when the sun has barely hit the horizon, my alarm is screaming at me to get out of bed, my body aches from the day before, and I think to myself, “I just can’t do this today.” Despite my negative self-talk, I usually get myself up, splash some water on my face, and can get out the door. If I get that far, I can usually finish my run. It’s all about that first step. Then the next step. And the next. Putting one foot in front of the other, literally and figuratively, and I suddenly realize that I have gone so much farther than I had ever realized I could. For me, it helps to have landmarks (the next light post or the next mile marker) and to focus only on what’s in front of me in the moment. After all, this moment is all that we really have
3. Bringing a buddy along makes it so much better.
We all hopefully realize the importance of a strong social network, but the impact is so illuminated with running. Training for the Columbus Half-Marathon in 2007, I had a partner in crime, my good friend, Shannon. While we didn’t run together every day, when we did, it instantly became easier. Of course there was the benefit of juicy gossip and accountability, but more importantly, I believe, was the feeling of just not being alone. I knew that whatever happened, Shannon was beside me. I knew that as much pain as I was feeling crawling up that hill at mile eleven, she was feeling it too. Friends are vital. Nourish those relationships.
4. Take it all in.
As I was heading out on one recent morning, I realized to my dismay that my iPod was completely dead. I quite literally wanted to cry. How can I possibly run without Fergie singing me on, I panicked. But time was ticking and, not wanting to be late for work, I headed out sans tunes. What I learned on this particular run was that I’d been missing a whole lot by getting caught up in Madonna lyrics. When I started looking around, I discovered shops I had never noticed on Main Street, a nest with stunning cardinals resting, and encouraging smiles from strangers. I focused on taking in the brightness of the colors, the timbre of the sounds, the sensations in my body. It was an exercise in mindfulness, and I didn’t even have to sit still!
I’m not even going to try to connect this one to a deeper life lesson. It is direct, and it is important! DON’T FORGET TO HYDRATE! In the midst of the hottest summer that I can personally recall, getting enough water has been a big focus and sometimes challenge. Not drinking enough water (or G2, etc.) can lead to dizziness, lightheadedness, confusion, and ultimately even brain damage or death (not to be an alarmist…). Pay attention to your body and carry water with you everywhere you go. As they say, your body will thank you.
Don’t forget to become a fan on facebook!