5 Lessons Running Taught Me About Life

I hate running. Plenty (most ????) of the time my relationship with running is much like that of a child and their nagging mother during the early morning hours before school. I know I should listen, but it takes a serious amount of coercion to get me moving. What keeps me coming back to the starting line, time after time is the feeling I get as I cross the finish line. Out on the pavement, I’ve picked up a few lessons that are directly applicable to life and its many peaks and valleys.

PATIENCE.

It’s a concept that’s inspired countless adages, mantras and idioms and they all sound good. Because who doesn’t want to master patience? Running gives me a controlled environment to put my patience to the test. Many find running difficult because they already feel like they’re not great runners. As soon as their feet touch the road, they come out the gate feeling like they have something to prove–mostly to themselves. I’ve been there and I actually go there, frequently. But who better to be patient with than yourself?

Sometimes I’ll take a break from running and when I get back into it, I’ll notice my pacing has fallen off, or my energy feels a lot lower … and I’ve had to learn how to honor that– to be patient with myself and run at the level I’m at today, if I want to be any better tomorrow.

A #cheatcode I’ve picked up on along the way is to start out slow– so slow that you’re almost annoyed that you’re not going any faster. The body needs to warm itself up into understanding that it’s transitioning from a sedentary state to a running state. Give yourself time.

How many times have you picked up a new hobby or a new position at work and been frustrated because you weren’t immediately freakishly good at the task? With running, as soon as I am able to let go of impatience enough to make room for patience– the run gets easier. How simple or difficult a task seems to be is all your perception. If you’re beating yourself up for not performing at some self-imposed status quo then, of course, the task is going to suck! Extend yourself some grace and give yourself a break!

DONE IS BETTER THAN PERFECT.

How do you measure greatness in running? Speed, right?

Wrong.

There are plenty of metrics of success when you’re assessing a run and sometimes the only metric worth anything is that the run is complete. There are going to be some days that you don’t want to run, that you don’t feel your fastest, or your most energetic– but the win is in the fact that you got out there and you did it. I don’t know how many times I’ve woken up and not felt up to heading into work. I might have felt like crap, shown up late (coffee in hand because that’s mandatory) but the success is in even making it out of the bed and sometimes that’s enough for me! Take it easy with yourself from time to time.

Find the small wins in all things to set yourself up for the big win later. Gratitude and grace lend themselves to a healthy mental state. Sometimes you need to adjust your methods to meet your goals. And sometimes that means changing your perspective on the metric of success. The road to success is a bumpy one: take the peaks as they come, even if they look more like small hills.

MINDFULNESS.

If you’ve ever taken a dance class, practiced yoga or played a sport, you’ve probably experienced the clarity that a connection with your body can yield. Running gives me an outlet to experience, in real time, the drastic impact my thoughts can have for better or worse. Having agency over my thoughts during a run only emboldens and empowers me in other scenarios where I may feel like I have no control. That loss is voided out by gaining control over my thoughts and perception, and I don’t mean by lying to myself by saying, “This is great,” when it’s not. I mean, by noticing where the tension or stress is and letting it go, or tuning it out.

When a run gets tough, I know that is when I need to be more present and more specific than ever. It’s not enough to check in with my thoughts by saying: “I’m running. This sucks, but I’m going to run .10 more miles.” I have to be literally present within the second. My thoughts go from, “This sucks, .10 more mi,” to “Left foot. Right foot. Left foot. Right foot.” I zero into my breathing and the sound of my feet hitting the pavement and I tune everything else out, even if it means I’m running at a snail’s pace–I’m getting it done. Running gives me a direct outlet to gain control whenever my control is lost to stress, or self-doubt or even depression. My thoughts are no longer the cyclical broken record of worry– they are as simple as “Left foot. Right foot,” and the rest is white noise.

I practice the same sort of mindfulness in the workplace or whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed by a seemingly never-ending to-do list. I refocus on being present for one task at a time until I reach completion to move on to the next. The saying is … the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time … well, the way to complete a run is one step at a time. Productivity is no different.

PURPOSEFULNESS.

Every run has a purpose. There’s the speed run, recovery run, interval run, base run, progression run, long run, tempo run, hill run, and plenty more, I’m sure, but you get my point. When I first started running, the goal was simple: weight loss. I knew that I needed to incorporate cardio into my workout for at least 30 minutes a day to shed some pounds. As time went on the goal evolved and so did my methods. Understanding the purpose behind the task gives you a sense of ownership and buy-in that directly feeds into your will to achieve.

In running, I’ve found that if I set a macro level goal like “300 miles in one year,” and break that goal up into actionable goals over a set course of time, I am more likely to follow through because I understand the purpose behind the methods. In business, a lot of people refer to this as having your “why.” You have to understand your purpose in order to fully commit to the desired outcome.

DEDICATION OVER MOTIVATION.

No matter the day. No matter the occasion. No matter the weather. No matter the time of year. I can always find a reason to not run. But given those same premises, I could also always find a reason to run. The difference doesn’t come down to whether I feel like it or not– it squarely falls flat on how committed and dedicated I am to accomplishing the goal.

Some seasons (literally and figuratively) I am more dedicated than others and that’s fine too. When I get to feeling like maybe I’ve accomplished one goal or my goal has gone stale, I create a new one to keep me coming back to that starting line over and over again because the truth is … I love running.

If you want to join my #RunWithDanica community and enter to win a running waist belt to hold your keys, wallet and phone on your next run add me on Nike RunClub: DanicaMichelle and follow me on Instagram: @DanicaExplainsItAll. Make sure to post one of your runs to IG and use the hashtag for double entry!

  1. Farod Morman

    November 30th, 2018 at 3:38 pm

    This is truly motivational. I used to hate running. As I got older I gained a love for it. However, since becoming a teacher a few years back, I feel like my enthusiasm for fitness has gone down. Your list of reasons is everything I feel like I’ve been missing. I think I’ll go on a run this weekend. Thank you so much.

  2. Danica Michelle

    November 30th, 2018 at 6:03 pm

    @Farod, I’m glad it got you motivated! Getting caught up in the day-to-day happens easily. That guilt of time spent away from running and fitness can be suffocating. It’s worth pushing past it! I’ve entered you in to win that running belt. Good luck! Thanks for leaving a comment. I appreciate the feedback 🙂

  3. Jazz

    November 30th, 2018 at 6:30 pm

    Wow. Although i don’t feel confident in any aspects or forms of athleticism within myself, I have never thoroughly divulged into my reasoning. This opened my eyes and mind completely to not only my thoughts, insecurities, and excuses, but also, as you stated how running truly can relate to so many other aspects in life. Thank you!

  4. Danica Michelle

    November 30th, 2018 at 7:02 pm

    ???? Thank you, Meena! It really has been a life changer physically and mentally. I just want everyone to feel like they can do it too!

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