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:
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.
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.
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