In the spirit of inclusivity, I am not writing this to convince everyone they should take up running. There are many who don’t like it one bit, or whose bodies preclude them from doing it, or both, and I appreciate this. Our world would be so boring if everyone shared the same hobby! In writing my perspective on running, I hope it’s my pursuit of a non-work, lifelong passion, and the meaning it gives me, that may resonate with everyone. For those who are curious about running more regularly, I hope my humble sharing might also encourage you to look into it more and not lose heart.
Running and I have a strong, time-tested relationship. It’s one that has been built over many years, and in my journey there have been plenty of highs and falls (literal and figurative). Doing something now that in the past I thought I could never do, and then proving over and again that in fact I can do it, is probably the #2 reason I have been running marathons over the past decade. My #1 reason for running actually fluctuates with the day, depending on where I am in my training, or if I’m even training for a next race at all.
“Don’t you get bored? I would be so bored!”
I don’t know if I’m allowed to share this secret from the runner community, but I’ll go ahead: we do get bored! I let myself get bored and generally feel all sorts of unpleasant things before, during, and after long runs. Endurance runners are not immune to boredom, nor is running all magic and rainbows for us. It’s the trials, misery and growth that actually make running so compelling and so rewarding. I’m reminded of a quote from the movie “A League of Their Own,” where the protagonist Dottie, played by the lovely Geena Davis, complains about baseball being too hard, to which her coach, played by the fabulous Tom Hanks, responds: “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard then everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.” I’ll acknowledge again that running is not for everyone for the very valid reasons I call out above. Just as importantly, everyone I’ve talked with agrees that the school grades they feel the most proud of earning were the ones they worked for the hardest.
Not Just Physical Fitness
Running has become a way of life for me. It goes beyond building stamina, maintaining fitness, and relieving stress. What we continue to learn on how running impacts the human body is fascinating. I enjoy perusing such articles, but I’m in running for more than the physical benefits. There are so many other good things that can come from running that so seldom get talked about, but really should. Running allows me to reset from a terrible few days I’ve had, one on top of the other, whereas nothing else I’ve tried has. I have been forced to reconcile with unpleasant memories that have done nothing to serve me other than make me feel regret and shame. When you’re running for hours on end, listening to the same 50 songs and running the same path you’ve done dozens of times, your mind is inevitably going to wander. Yes you change things up, but there’s still limits. Inevitably, you will think about things beyond how far you’ve ran, how much you have left to go, when you can have your next Gu gel or handful of dates, and any other thoughts anyone trying to survive a 15-mile-long run will have.
I don’t typically promote multitasking, but running has lent itself as the activity that I and many others have designated for meditation, life planning, and life celebrating. There’s all kinds of learning on the runner’s path, too. To start with the obvious, yes, you will learn more about how your body responds to exertion and how to run better in various conditions. If you make it a point, you can also learn cities through-and-through in a way you wouldn’t through other modes of travel. Want to know the best way to cut through the Garden District during a Mardi Gras parade? How about you’re in South Boston and are desperate to use a public restroom? What’s an underrated section of the South Platte River to just hang out by? Getting around on foot has made me much more aware of popular spots and even upcoming community events, because I literally run into them by accident. But you’ll also learn unequivocally what your own tendencies are for how you handle all goals and setbacks you face. What do you find most motivating and how do you shut off negative self-doubt? What you accomplish with pushing yourself to faster paces or longer distances you can take with you in all other goals.
Tricks of the Trade
For every race I set the same goals: enjoy where I am, finish, and learn from others. During the race, all participants are family. It’s hardly a competitive race unless you’re a professional athlete in the first wave, and even then you see great stories unfold. We are all cheering for and looking out for one another. Distance running is the most team-based-feeling individual sport I can think of. This is another reason I run. My first race I was in over my head, as most first-timers are. You study, train, and plan, but come race day you still have no idea what to expect. I am eternally grateful to the woman who shared her ibuprofen with me on mile 18. I now always bring my own ibuprofen, acetaminophen and Band-Aids on the course, and I keep a keen eye out for others in need. When I finally got to pay the favor forward for a first-timer, years later, it was that full-circle moment I had hoped for, and it was soul-filling and perfect. Here’s my other humble lessons learned:
- Find your why. Maybe it’s establishing running as habit that is itself the goal for you. If so, make this habit specific and not nebulous like I first did. Perhaps you already run regularly but you want something newer and greater. If organized races don’t excite you, devise your own thing. Maybe you want to do something that sounds borderline impossible to you, like running around City Park five times within a certain pace, or without any walking, or just without wanting to die. The key is your goal must excite and inspire you.
- Talk to other runners. People who have qualified for (and ran) the Boston Marathon, or who routinely do ultras, or have done entire races pushing family members on (approved) vehicles have been some of the most gracious human beings I have ever met. Generally speaking, runners love talking shop and we’re always happy to help!
- Have your fan base or support group (they themselves do not have to run, necessarily). Even if you train entirely as a lone wolf, you’re going to need people to cheer you on and remind you of how far you’ve come and what a big deal it is when you hit a milestone that you might otherwise diminish. My friend Marina laughed hard when I said for the upcoming weekend I “only had to run eight miles.” It’s a vivid memory and dear friendship I hold close.
- Be as open-minded and experimental with your approach as possible. What food/drink/gear/course/time of day works for your pal may not work for you. What worked splendidly last weekend might not work tomorrow. Running can be fickle.
- Power songs. Find as many as you can and use them strategically. I place mine an hour apart on my race playlists and I have a separate playlist for just the power songs to play on demand. I do think music keeps up my morale and pace better than audiobooks or podcasts, but to each their own. For those going without or who are hearing impaired, prioritize the path with the best views or fun downhills, or a show or movie to watch from a treadmill that will keep you engaged. By the way, there are also programs with guides for runners who are blind and plenty of races allow for duo racing or handcycling. If you have the will, you can find a way.
- Be a little superstitious. Seriously. I’ve used my same dying earbuds for the last nine marathons (they began malfunctioning let’s say four years ago) because I’ve managed to finish all races, even the Lake Sonoma 50 (my first and last trail run). When my earbuds do finally die on me, I intend to get the same brand and color, although I might finally join our modern civilization and get truly wireless ones.
- Embrace that you will have setbacks. Thankfully, you will also build great new levels of fortitude and self-esteem. Especially once you meet your first big self-inspiring goal, these setbacks won’t feel so big. After years of running, you basically expect setbacks and feel all the more accomplished for continuing anyway.
- Plan your course thoroughly and have a plan for when you get lost. It’ll be frustrating and maybe scary, but often when I’ve gotten lost I’ve found cool new places and have been able to add distance that I didn’t think I’d be able to do!
- Be stubborn but flexible about your running schedule. Life pulls us in multiple, sometimes opposing, directions. Honor your designated long run days. Do not overextend yourself the day and night before. Be okay with turning down invitations to go hiking, attend music fests, and other outings that you know will tempt fate too much.
- Take time off. Cross-train. I took all of 2020 off, as many did, and instead did virtual samba dance classes. It was awesome.
Resources I Love
For this year’s Global Running Day (June 1), just get out and do the non-work thing you love. If your hobby does all the things for you that running does for me (maybe even more?), awesome! If you haven’t found the thing yet, keep looking. If you want to run but you’re feeling a little scared, run scared! There’s never a perfect time to begin something new (unless it’s training for a race, in which case you may need just the right number of weeks to begin).
If you’re unsure before starting any exercise program, please talk to your doctor.