3 Lessons Running Has Taught Me

Every runner’s personal experience with running is different, and we can see it in all the ways we choose to run. When we choose to run: think of the early bird runners who are up before us all, while the rest of us prefer to run later in the day. Where we choose to run: moving tactfully through the trails or hitting our familiar everyday paved routes. Who we choose to run with: running in groups and having the support of a running community, in contrast to those of us who find solace in running solitary. 

It’s clear there are many ways to be a runner. 

But what are the things that are common despite those differences? Other than the fact that we all, you know… run. 

While each of our experiences’ with running may be different, I think there are a few things that we learn along the way that tie us together. Whether you’re new to running or have been at it for years, I’m certain that most runners have learned the same 3 lessons (albeit in different ways) through their own running journeys.

Here are the 3 lessons running has taught me:

Patience

One of the biggest lessons I think running can teach is patience. We learn patience in our training – taking it day by day, week by week until you’ve built up the endurance to meet your distance goals. We learn patience when dealing with our everyday expectations. Not all runs are good ones. Sometimes our tracker’s inexplicably turn off, sometimes we eat it and slip and fall on icy patches during our winter runs, sometimes we straight up just feel like crap and can’t fathom going farther. But being patient with ourselves and knowing that your sad run is only a small part of what is needed to reach your long-term running goals is what ultimately keeps us going – and that requires a high degree of patience. 

Another (unfortunate) way we learn patience is through injury – dealing with the inability to meet the goals of your training program, or to simply get out there and run as far and as fast as you’re used to can really wear you down mentally. 

For myself, acquiring a higher degree of patience has been especially difficult. I can confirm that knee meniscus tears are no fun. As runners I think we assume pain is sort of normal. “If you can run on it, you’re fine”. This was a huge miscalculation for me, as it got to a point where the pain and swelling would keep at it for a couple days after a long run. I struggled with normal everyday things like walking, going up the stairs, and even found myself bracing to stand up and sit down at my work desk. Inevitably, the pain got worse and I had to accommodate my training plan to ensure I wasn’t overextending myself and worsening my injury. Now I’m actively trying to take care of my knee injury. But I’ve had to learn patience by adjusting my expectations. I might not be as fast or able to go as far, but going to PT and not pushing past boundaries I’ve set for myself is what will allow me to get to where I used to be before. Patience is key. 

Humility

This was a difficult lesson for me to learn. I grew up running. I did cross country and track and usually did pretty well. For me running used to be about competition with others. It wasn’t till I graduated from highschool that I realized that the only person I was really competing with was myself. There wasn’t anyone racing me anymore, the only person I was running against was me, and the reasons why I ran began to change. 

Like it does for so many other runners, running would offer a sense of clarity to the stress that undergrad would bring. I still cared about how fast I was going, but I didn’t have anyone to compare myself to. It became more about that sense of calm running had to offer, and less about the weird sense of competition I felt like I had to prove to others – when in reality no one cared about this but me. 

I think my irrational wall of competitiveness finally came crashing down when I signed up for my first race, and realized that I’m just one of hundreds of people that call themselves runners. Standing at the starting line in a crowd of people who are all at different parts of their running journeys made me feel like an idiot for even trying to compare myself to others to begin with. Watching people blow by you when you pass them in the first 5km will 100% humble you if it hasn’t already. To run with humility is to run without the weight of arrogance and pride weighing you down. 

Courage

I think that sometimes we undervalue the courage it takes to sign up for a race that finishes at a distance you’ve never even attempted before. From 5ks to ultras (not that I’ve ever ran an ultra), that feeling you get when you sign up for a race you’ve never ran before is still the same. Being equal parts excited and worried are the emotions that usually fill me up when I get that confirmation email from Race Roster. 


Can I even do this? Why am I doing this? Who the hell do I think I am for even trying to attempt this? What have I done?” – are all typical things I say to myself after I sign up for a race. These are still things that I say to myself even when I sign up for races I’ve completed in the past. But once those feelings subside, actually executing on a training program for months before race day, and then driving yourself to your race, standing in your heat in anticipation for the start, and then actually running the thing and finishing it all by yourself are all courageous acts. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first 3k race, or your 100th marathon – you put yourself out there and ended up exactly where you never thought you’d be and I think that’s a big deal. If people tell you it’s not, they’re wrong. The running experience is full of small and big, brave wins

The Importance of “Finding Your Why”

Like most runners, running for me has primarily been used as an outlet – time where I can dedicate my thoughts to just putting one foot in front of the other, or as an escape from having to confront everyday stuff I’d really just prefer not to.

My personal running journey is one I’m sure many kid athletes can relate to. It really started when my grade school’s cross country coach said I’d be a great addition to the school’s team. Clearly this was a big life moment for me. I was excited because it meant I could be more like my uncle – an avid runner whose marathon photos and feats were well celebrated in my family. 

After feeling pretty left out and loner-ish through school, I found being a part of the cross country team as a thing to look forward to. The next year I came in 11th place out of like 75 girls in my event. Which was cool, because I knew I liked running, but I wasn’t sure if I was good at it.

But it’s only really in the last 5 years that I started running longer distances – increasing my comfortable 5k to 10k, and then eventually working up to training for a half marathon. 

My first amateur race (one I signed up on my own accord) was the Toronto Waterfront 10k in 2017. I ran a 49:49, which wasn’t too shabby. 2 years ago my goal was to run a half marathon in under two hours – which I did at the Scotiabank Half Marathon in October. I would have cried from this succession – except I froze after the race because I didn’t plan in accordance with the weather conditions and did not think to have brought any additional warm clothing to throw on after. 

Am I a professional athlete? Not in the slightest. I’m amateur 100% – if there was a term below that like lazy amateur runner, I’d be more comfortable conforming to that term. As much as I love running, I am a lazy person. I don’t always adhere to the guidelines that are well advised on in Runner’s World (I enjoy reading their articles though – don’t get me wrong). I do what works for me while balancing what I know I need to do to get better and reach my personal goals. If I told you I only ate for fuel I would be lying. I’ve hit the treadmill to run a 10k after a casual beer. Also I used to run a foodstagram where I pretty much just eat cheesy meat pasta and potatoes for the world to see.

If you’re reading this blog because you want to get into running but you’re not really sure how to do it the right way – I think you might be better off getting advice from a proper trainer, or by taking the first step and joining a local running crew. Full Transparency, and as stated previously I’m by no means a professional. But as an average person who considers themselves to be a regular runner, I think the most important thing for getting into running and signing up for races is figuring out your why. Finding your why essentially means finding your purpose. A Lot of people will tell you to find your why for running and for other things in life. I used to think that finding your purpose was unnecessary, but I’ve come to understand that you have to ask yourself why so you can measure growth. 

I started to figure out my why by asking myself a bunch of questions: Why are you going to put your body through this? Is it because you love the way you feel after a run? Is it because you feel like you need to get fit somehow – and running seems like a good way to do it? 

Whatever your why is, it’s gotta be good enough to keep you motivated to push a little bit more every time. 

If you find that you’re dwindling and you’re not running as much or adhering to your training schedule – that’s totally cool. I get it – life gets in the way sometimes and I am a firm believer that progress is not linear. But a good why is what gets you back out there putting one step in front of the other.

2018 was a really rough time for me. Traumatic experiences are a natural part of the human experience. Getting past them honestly feels like finishing a race you’ve been working up to for months – sometimes even years. For a while I was running to not have to listen to my own thoughts. I’d run farther by pushing myself further because I felt like the aches in my legs were a better way to distract myself from recurring negative thoughts. I pretty much turned doing something I loved into something I did to avoid confronting some deep-seated issues in my life at the time. I lost my why – and I really needed to reconsider what I was doing because I took something I loved and turned it into a way to punish myself. 

While I was running farther than I ever had in my life, I pushed myself to the point of unnecessary injury. I experienced intense muscle pain and spasms in my right foot, and my knees righteously did not want to cooperate with how far I was pushing myself. Having to deal with plantar fasciitis and runner’s knee were the result. Not uncommon injuries for runners, but I didn’t try to address them properly as a well intentioned runner should. To me it felt like I deserved what I was experiencing and to some extent these injuries were just a normal part of the process. 

Ultimately, I really needed to re-calibrate my why because I completely lost focus of it in the course of simultaneously blaming myself when I was not running, and running to avoid those feelings of guilt.

How did I do this? Counselling helped to establish and confront some of the negative things I was feeling, but honestly I had to take a step back and look at why I started when it came to running. 

Now, my why is no longer negative – sure I still run to not have to wash the dishes, or clean my apartment, or not respond to emails – but I run because it’s time I have to myself again. It’s time in my day that I can reclaim as truly my own. My why is learning to love myself – in my daily routine, and through running.

I run now because I’m thankful my body is capable of pushing physical and mental boundaries I never thought it could.

Learning to love yourself mentally and physically means pausing when you’re tired, taking time to think about how your body is feeling, and not pushing yourself more than you think your body can take. I’m currently building back to where I was in terms of distance, but I feel much stronger emotionally now than I’ve ever been before.

I intended to end this year by running the full Scotiabank marathon as opposed to my usual half. But understandably so, COVID-19 has put a hold on things in the race community for the time being. I think in the meantime I’ll just stick to casually running and take this time as a much needed break. Eventually, when things are “back to normal” I’ll ramp up the training. But ultimately, when I do begin again the biggest difference from where I am now to where I was 2 years ago will be in mindset. I’ll accomplish future running goals with complete awareness of my why.