14 life lessons learned in 24 years running

This week marks the beginning of my 25th year as a runner. On March 4, 1996 I laced up my shoes for the first time and with really no idea of what I was doing podded through a two mile ring of my apartment building in Hackensack, New Jersey. (Read about that HERE).

In the last 24 years, I have logged 18,458 miles and participated in 312 races (including 119 5Ks, 73 10Ks, 48 Half Marathons, and 10 Marathons). I had some personal bests and personal worsts, although my favorite race experiences were rarely my fastest. And some of my favorite runs weren’t races. Some of my best friendships – and most fierce competition – were cultivated because of a shared interest in running. As a runner, I have found meaningful volunteer work, supported and raised money for a variety of causes, and have even found ways to get paid supporting and promoting running (read about one HERE).

A customer at Fleet Feet recently asked me if I was a runner while I was fitting her for a pair of walking shoes. “I think it’s a requirement of the job,” I quipped. She then proceeded to ask me what I was running away from. “When I was younger, probably lots of things,” I replied. “But mostly I feel I’m always running towards something.” That seemed to give her something to contemplate and we went back to discussing her shoes.

While running has provided an escape at times, it is all that I have found in the journey – the unknown I’ve always been running towards – that keeps me actively engaged in the sport. Here are fourteen guiding principles for life that I have learned through running:

  1. We are all more capable and stronger than we think. When I was in the final stages of labor, I remember thinking “you can do this, you’ve run a marathon.” From cancer diagnosis and the loss of loved ones, to professional set-backs, and digging deep in the final miles, we learn that the pain passes, and we emerge confident in our strength and capabilities.
  2. Nothing is impossible if we believe we can. I started out believing I couldn’t run a mile. Now I know I can run marathon. When we reach our goals, we moved the bar up believing we can achieve more.
  3. Preparation leads to results. Training to run races carried over to my professional and personal life. Shortcuts and procrastination just don’t get you to the finish line – and probably not to the start line either.
  4. To achieve anything, we need to work at it. Nothing comes easily as much as it may look that way from the outside. A conscious effort to achieve our goals is the only way forward.
  5. The road is full of up hills and down hills, successes and lessons learned. Everything is a learning experience. Hills build strength. There are no such thing as failures, just discoveries that motivate us to look at something differently.
  6. To keep moving forward, we only have to take one step at a time. From the perspective of a 5k finisher, the marathon looked daunting. Looking at next steps rather than the entire journey is the best way to reach the ultimate destination.
  7. Challenges keep us motivated. I always have the next goal race on the calendar. If I’m not challenging myself, I get bored.
  8. In the discomfort lies our growth. We’re heard it a million times: “you won’t grow if you don’t move out of your comfort zone.” That couldn’t be more true in running. It’s never until I push myself beyond what’s comfortable do I find the next level.
  9. We should focus on being OUR best and not compare ourselves to others. There is a power in running with a group, competition is powerful. Others push us – but satisfaction comes when we are pushed to be better versions of ourselves, not to achieve goals that aren’t personally meaningful (as I realized in my quest for a BQ).
  10. Patience is an important tool. Patience pays off in training – and really everything we do. Taking out time, being persistent, putting off immediate satisfaction for long term gains I always regarded as a sign I’d reach maturity. Having patience can still be one of my biggest challenges, but running has taught me about the payoffs.
  11. There is freedom in accepting what we have no control over. My second fastest marathon was in the most horrendous weather conditions – high wind and a torrential downpour. My husband died unexpectedly one sunny October afternoon. Weather happens. Life happens. Getting to acceptance allows us to keep moving forward.
  12. Investing in ourselves is the best investment we can make. I used to think I was being selfish if I took time for myself. Then I realized that running, mediating, and “me days” made me a better mom and partner and employee.
  13. Sharing our best selves with others will improve our world and help us lead longer and healthier lives. There is lots of evidence that engaging with others is the secret to longevity. Running brings us together – at races, through running clubs, training groups, and charity teams.
  14. It’s all about the journey. I have found that when ever I reach a destination, I move the finish line. While there is satisfaction in achieving goals, the planning, the learning, and everything we discover in the process is where we find meaning – and fun!

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