There has been a question circulating on social media lately which I have been studiously avoiding. The question is “What have you learned from running?” I have been avoiding it, because I want to think about my own answers without being influenced by others I have read. What follows are my thoughts on the topic.
I have learned the best way to accomplish a big goal is in small increments. This was my first lesson from running. Years ago, I tried and failed several times to begin by running until I was exhausted. This method was frustrating and painful. A running friend kindly instructed me to begin by going three miles; not running three miles. I ran until I started to get tired, then walked until I caught my breath. Gradually, I increased my running segments and decreased my walking segments until I could run the entire three miles. I was a runner!
When I was a teacher, I helped students with science fair projects. I used this “small increments” approach to prevent students from being overwhelmed by the enormity of the project they were required to produce. Thousands of my students completed projects following this method I learned from running.
I learned gratitude. I have been fortunate to have so many wonderful adventures through running. During Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota one June, as I was running along Lake Superior through pretty birch woods on a country road, a moment of realization struck me: I am so lucky to have the physical ability, the financial capability, the mental fortitude and the opportunity to do this.
I am truly one of the luckiest people alive, and I must appreciate all the gifts I have been given. I don’t always remember as I should, but the seed of gratitude, which later lead me to keep a gratitude journal, was planted at this marathon. Living life with a grateful attitude has helped me to be a happier person.
Running has taught me to be flexible and keep my sense of humor during stressful times. Runners know that anything can happen between the start and finish line of a race. I can make a race plan that includes hydration, nutrition, clothing and pace, but if Mother Nature has other ideas, my meticulous planning is worthless.
Once, I planned to race a local five miler to try to achieve a new PR. I discussed my plan beforehand with a student who was on the high school track and cross country teams. He planned to run the race too. His goal was to win his age group. The tail end of a hurricane on race morning brought my PR goal to a screeching halt. I was considering not even running the race. My student asked me “You are not a fair weather runner, are you?” “N-n-no…” I stammered.
We both ran in howling wind and pounding rain, and both won our age groups (I did not PR). The age group awards were huge tins of pretzels. As we ate cheese omelets and dried off at the local fire hall after the race, he asked if I was glad I ran. I thanked him for teaching me a valuable lesson: accept what the day gives you. I was extremely glad I ran.
I learned that in order to run fast in a race, you must practice running fast. The way to develop endurance is to endure, the way to be loved is to love, and the way to be forgiven is to forgive. To cultivate faith, you must have a spiritual practice. To develop trust in others you must ground yourself in the truth and the way to find gratification is through patience. “As you sow so shall you reap.” Or, “what goes around comes around” – however you say it, the lesson is the same.
Running taught me that I am the only one who gets to define me. When I ran my first road race, I was 46 years old. I was 48 when I ran my first marathon and 57 when I ran my first ultra. The best runner in our local running club (she is ranked second in her age group nationally), will be running a marathon in Greece this year, one day after her 80th birthday. And who can forget the 102 year old track star Ida Keeling? If I allow someone to tell me I am too old to run long distances, I am doing myself a disservice. Only I get to make that determination.
Finally, I learned that the best friends are made through putting in miles together. I include my hubby (my best friend) in this group. My running friends are relaxed and fun to spend time with, probably because running makes them feel good about themselves. They are irreverent, witty, opinionated, composed and hilarious. We have laughed together in good times (several times to the consternation of other restaurant patrons), cried together in bad ones, and sometimes laughed until we cried.
One time five of us spent a week in a tiny hotel room with two double beds and a small cot when we traveled to South Dakota to do a marathon. Yes, five women shared one small bathroom without incident. Our good humor survived an attempted “break in” of our hotel room (by a confused individual) at 2:00 a.m. and our rental car sustaining damage in the worst hail storm I have ever experienced. One of our tribe gave us the moniker “The Good Girls in the Badlands”.
So. Life is short. Go for a run. You’ll be amazed at the things you learn.
Now tell me: what have you learned from running?