What I Learn from Running

Posted on July 2, 2009

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People ask me why I run. I talk about running 5K and 10K races, and I’m honest about my results. 9-10 minute miles are normal for me, and that makes me something of a penguin in running circles. People look at me like I’m crazy. I get it. When I got out of the Army, I stopped running unless someone or something was chasing me.

When my 40th birthday started looming on the horizon, I decided to get back in shape, and the truth is that I actually like running. Of all the sports I tried growing up, the ones that stuck with me the most were bicycling, running, and cross-country skiing. I like sports that take me places. I like the feel of wind in my face. It was not easy to start. My first running partner was very frustrated because I could barely run a single mile. It was horrible, and it was painful.

Intuitively, though, I knew that running is completely natural. We all do it as children, and there’s no reason we can’t run as adults. So I persisted. As the pain receded and the distance increased, I started learning. Obviously, I learned a lot about strength training, endurance training, speed training, nutrition, stretching, the glorious relief of ice packs, but I learned about life too.

I learned tremendous amounts about my neighborhood and the people and animals in it. I became part of my neighborhood in ways that I couldn’t from behind the wheel of my car. People recognized me. They waved, or sometimes honked their horns. They offered me smiles and nods. Other runners gave me thumbs-up. Running made me part of a community.

I learned what all athletes have to learn about incremental change. We start out at one level of performance, and we have to learn to recognize and celebrate small successes. I noticed that people at work sought me out to talk about their accomplishments, and relished my participation on their teams, because I saw each step of progress that they or our team made, and applauded it.

Most importantly for me, I learned a tremendous amount about planning. I started running at a certain level (and it was slower than 10 min/mile, believe me). I wanted to be better. I researched running online, in magazines, and at the library. I talked to trainers and other athletes. That let me set a clear goal. Then I planned the training that got me to that goal. I celebrated, and repeated my process. Readers, this is what we do every day in both our personal and professional lives. As running stopped being something I did and became part of who I am, so too did planning become an intuitive process for me. I didn’t need flowcharts and graph paper. I could hold beginning, goal, and process in my head all at once, and could communicate it to others.

Lately I hear a lot about social media, and one idea in particular keeps jumping out at me: That there is no longer a separation between personal and professional, between private and public. The Internet smears it all together. Running taught me that years ago, as I applied the lessons I got from running to the rest of my life.

Run like you’re still a kid. We look silly to others, but in our hearts we know how good it feels.

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Posted in: running