Having been a runner for a number of years now, I am quite used to getting a wide spectrum of reactions from people when it comes to running. One of the most common reactions is ‘I do admire you, how can you love running so much when it’s so hard, I couldn’t make myself run across the road?’
The fact of the matter is, I’ve a lot of reasons why I love running, but if you have to ask, you will never understand it! Running is something only those can appreciate who practice it. At first, it will probably be a rather uncomfortable, painful, sweaty and jiggly experience for most people, and in fact it was very much like that for me, too, when I first started running. (Shock horror!) However, I can also say that running is one of those sports where the more you put into it, the more you get out of it – physically, mentally and spiritually speaking. Nothing has improved my fitness more than running outdoors, and I have certainly become a much healthier and stronger version of myself as a result. Running is also my therapy, it’s how I cope with and relieve stress. Running gives me a sound body and a sound mind. I run, therefore I am.
Running is much more to me than putting one foot in front of the other. The main reason I love running so much is the valuable life lessons it has taught me and how it has shaped me into the person I am today. The challenges, rewards and accomplishments I find in running often parallel my everyday life. Running is constantly shaping my outlook on life and most importantly, it allows me to realise how wonderful it is to be alive. And if you listen carefully, running can tell you about yourself in a way that few other things can.
In this blog post I would like to share 5 powerful life lessons that I have learnt through running.
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Tough times never last, tough people do
During every tough race or training session, I am faced with the choice of either dealing with the discomfort, or playing it safe for fear, or quitting. It is when you face the discomfort, the fatigue and the fear that you grow stronger and develop true grit. Mental toughness is when you can find fuel in an empty tank to keep going – be it a long run or a challenging time of your life. I have definitely been able to develop a resilient mindset and have gained more confidence in all walks of life through running.
The only limits in life are the ones that we impose on ourselves
I often find that breakthroughs in life start with a change in belief in yourself. When I first started running in my mid-twenties, I never thought I would ever be capable of running a marathon. Growing up, I was used to being in ‘the bottom of the pack’ during PE classes and swimming lessons – even though I excelled academically, PE was my weakest subject and I dreaded each class. As I was gradually building up my distance in running and started to target longer races did I realise that I actually enjoyed exercising on my own terms, and I was not ‘weak’. I decided to lose the old ‘label’ by taking the negative memories from my childhood and turning them into a positive ‘can do’ mindset. This shift in mindset eventually led me to conquer my first marathon in my home country in 2012, after which a few more followed!
What defines us is how well we rise after falling
I have lost count of all the races I have completed since I got bitten by the running bug – as you can imagine, not all of these races have gone to plan! One race that went particularly pear-shaped was the Oxford half marathon in 2015 whereby I earnt my first (and so far only, touch wood!) ‘DNF’, due to developing ITB issues mid-race. I remember feeling really upset but I chose not to wallow in self-pity for too long which was certainly a very temping option. I decided to seek advice and professional help to recover, to find out what went wrong, and how I could avoid developing such injuries in the future. My recovery was a long game which tested my patience and usual positivity several times. This experience taught me a great deal about efficient running form, correct techniques and looking after my body. I realised that failure is not falling down, but refusing to get up! I became a better and stronger runner as a result of that experience and have learnt to apply the same learnings about failure in other areas of my life as well.
It’s OK to go at your own pace
Other people reaching key milestones earlier than me or faster progression at work used to bring up in me feelings of insecurity, and sometimes inferiority as well, especially when someone accomplished something I personally wanted and/or worried that I couldn’t or wouldn’t. Whilst comparing yourself to others can be a source of motivation and growth, it can also become an emotionally dangerous trap. It’s funny how racing has taught me to view life differently: we are all running towards the finish line, towards our goals, but we are moving at different paces; this is because we all come from different backgrounds with different natural abilities, fitness and health, support network, and opportunities to train. However, if you focus on putting one foot in front of the other, you will eventually reach the finish line, just like the faster runners do and will receive your medal.
If comparing yourself to others is how you evaluate your worth, you will always be losing and be unhappy. In this race of life you will never reach a point where you are better than others in every way. Part of what makes life awesome is learning from the talents of others! Racing has taught me that instead of trying to be as good as or better than others, I should focus my energy on being the very best version of myself.
You will grow the most when you are outside your comfort zone
My running adventures through thick mud, storms, darkness and rugged trails have taught me that it is through challenging myself and stretching my limits I can break down barriers and realise that I can achieve far more than I think. As the saying goes ‘a ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.’ We shouldn’t be afraid to face our fears, set out on a new adventure, or try something new or crazy. We often grow through what we go through – we are not designed to sit still. So this year I have plucked up the courage and signed up for my first ultramarathon with a friend. I have to admit that the prospect of running 33 miles on the rugged Coast of Cornwall makes me want to pee my pants but it also excites me a lot and I can’t wait to do it!
Ultimately, running can teach us many lessons about ourselves, our capabilities and how to handle life in general.
What big ‘lightbulb moments’ has running triggered for you?