Below, I share five life lessons from running, some that took me many years to learn. These life lessons transcend running, so even if you’re not a runner, you can apply these universal life lessons to all areas of your life.
I never planned on writing a blog post about running. While it’s a big part of my life, I don’t fall under the category of “Health and Fitness” bloggers, and I don’t want “runner” to define me or detract from my overall message of self belief, self love, and following your dreams. “Runner” is not my title. “Just Run” is not my message.
So why am I posting this blog post now?
The idea hit me while I was, maybe not surprisingly, on a run. I was taking in the stunning scenery surrounding me and feeling extra grateful for the gorgeous weather that morning, and I thought about how much I enjoy just running. Running is my sanctuary. It’s my “me” time. It’s that sacred hour (sometimes less, sometimes more) when I don’t worry about to-do lists or any other nagging worries that might’ve been nipping at the edges of my mind prior to my run. Everything kind of just fades away.
I don’t actually have to do anything when I’m running, except just be.
As I thought about all of these things, it hit me that when I’m running, even though I might have a specific mileage goal in mind, it’s never really about the destination.
It’s always the journey that I savor and appreciate.
And that’s when it clicked. Over this past year, I’ve set an intention to just enjoy the journey in life. To be present. To embrace this moment right now and not get so hung up on where I’m going. And when I think about that intention in terms of running, it makes perfect sense. In fact, it even becomes easy.
Of course the journey is the most important part.
How had I missed that all these years?
Running as a Metaphor
But this wasn’t the first time I’d made a connection between running and bigger, more universal life lessons. There have been many times when I’ve been out on a run, and I’d take a lesson that I was currently in the midst of learning and connect it to running, and then suddenly, it would make sense. Running has allowed me to see things from a different perspective.
When I use running as a metaphor for life, I suddenly can see everything more clearly.
You don’t have to be a runner to understand these life lessons from running. Maybe you hate running, and that’s okay. I promise, this blog post is for you, too.
Because while this is a blog post about life lessons from running, it’s not really a blog post about running at all.
Life Lesson #1: Another person’s success can never take away from my own, just like someone else’s running success could never prevent me from reaching my own achievements.
It doesn’t matter if a person runs faster than me. It doesn’t matter if a person runs farther than I run. It doesn’t matter if someone climbs an elevation that’s higher than what I climb. And it doesn’t matter if a person has more medals than me, or if they got theirs first.
Never, under any circumstances, does another person’s ability to run take away from my own.
I cross paths with other runners all the time. Sometimes, we’re going in different directions. Other times, another runner might come up and pass me from behind, or vice versa. Often, in any of these scenarios, we might smile and wave, and then we continue along our way, each focused on the individual path before us.
You want to know what I’ve never, not once, thought on any of the hundreds (thousands?) of runs I’ve completed?
- “Great, there’s another runner on the path. I guess I can’t run now.”
- “Oh no. That girl is running, too. I better go faster because there’s only room for one of us.”
- “If I’m the slowest, they’ll all beat me and then I’ll never be able to run again.”
- “What if all these other runners shun me from the path?”
This all sounds pretty ridiculous, doesn’t it?
Yet, how many times in our lives do we have these kinds of thoughts about other things that matter to us? Have you ever felt a slight twinge of envy when you saw someone succeeding at something that you want? Have you ever thought that if someone else gets that job, that relationship, that pay raise, or anything else you desire, there will now be less to go around for you? Have you ever had a dream but decided not to even try because you figured there were already too many people doing that thing and that there wouldn’t be room for you?
None of that’s true. None of it. If there’s a dream in your heart that you’re feeling called to, it’s there for a reason. And maybe others have similar dreams, but their paths will all be different from yours, and as long as you follow your inner knowing and choose love over fear, there will always be room for you. Your dream might change along the way. It might take different shapes. Maybe something in the distance will catch your eye and inspire you in a way you never dreamed before. Whatever happens, it’s your journey and your dream, and no one else can ever take what’s meant for you.
Life Lesson #2: Small and consistent improvements over time are more important and valuable than trying to go from 0 to 100 in one week.
My organized, spreadsheet-loving self loves training plans.
It’s the first thing I do when I commit to running in a long-distance event. I count how many weeks I have until the event and decide how many weeks I need for training. Then I carefully build a training schedule in which I plan out every single run from now until the event, slowly increasing the total distances and overall weekly mileage.
When I signed up for my first half marathon, my longest-ever run previously had been about 8 miles (12.9 km). I created a plan in which I ran four times a week with Sundays being my “long run” days. My first long-run day was 6 miles. Then, 6.5. The next week, it was 7, then 7.5, 8 . . . slowly increasing just a half of a mile every week until I reached 12. The day of the event was the first time I’d run a full 13.1 miles (21.08 km).
I followed a similar strategy when I trained for my full marathon, steadily increasing the distance of my long runs as well as my overall weekly mileage until I finally ran the full 26.2 miles (42.16 km) the day of the race.
So why am I going into the minute and kind of boring details about my training plans?
To show that when I train for an event, I don’t get frustrated that I can’t run the full distance Week 1. I have no expectations of this. When I create a training plan for myself, my goal is to make small improvements over time. Maybe I can’t run 26.2 miles today, but in fourteen weeks, I can, and it’s all because of consistent effort and trusting the process.
When I step back and look at other aspects of my life, though, I can see many times when I’ve tried rushing the process to get to the finish line faster. As a first-time novelist, I expected to finish my manuscript, get signed by a literary agent, land a million dollar publishing contract, and live happily ever after, all within a couple short months. I wanted these things so badly and always felt like I was in a hurry to get there. But do you know what happens when you’re an inexperienced fiction writer trying to rush through writing what’s supposed to be an epic fantasy novel?
It, well, kind of sucks.
But do you know what happens when I treat my writing process like a marathon training plan and focus on making small improvements over time without trying to force anything or rush to the finish line? When I accept that I’m not perfect and allow myself the time and grace to learn and grow my skills?
Well, then my writing doesn’t suck. Then, it can actually be kind of good.
I know how hard it is to wait for something you really want. I know how tempting it is to skip right past the period of learning and growing and building your skills so you can get to the finish line. And I know that “small and consistent improvements over time” isn’t exactly a phrase that’s going to ignite a fire in anyone’s heart.
But if I had tried to run 26.2 miles that first week of training, I would’ve given up. The time would’ve passed anyway, and I wouldn’t have reached my dream. Now, I’m not saying reaching your dream has to take a long time. It really doesn’t. Fourteen weeks of training to run a full marathon really wasn’t that much time at all. If you trust the process, the time it takes to reach your dream will fly by faster than you can ever imagine.
Life Lesson #3: Just because I’m not the best at something doesn’t have to stop me from doing it anyway.
I am not a particularly fast runner. In fact, I’m pretty slow. My average mile is about 9 1/2 minutes. I finished my marathon in 4 hours 32 minutes. That’s an average of 10 minutes 23 seconds per mile.
Not exactly breaking any speed records over here.
And while 26.2 miles isn’t anything to sneeze at, there are people running longer distances that I will likely never reach.
And that’s okay. I didn’t start running because I expected to be the best runner. Thank goodness, too, because you know what would’ve happened if I did?
I would’ve quit.
I’ll venture out to say that a majority of people who start running (or take up a different type of exercise), don’t ever expect to be the best. When I run, I’m not obsessively comparing my time to that person down the road. I don’t fret about who’s going faster or farther. None of that matters. Ever.
Instead, I focus on my individual achievements. My goals. My improvements. My personal records. My experiences. Just because there are a ton of runners who can run faster and farther than me doesn’t mean I’m not worthy of running. It would be silly to use that as a reason not to run!
But how many times have I stopped myself from doing something because I knew there were people out there who were better than me?
The short answer: Too many.
Have you ever not applied for a job that really called to you because you figured there were people more qualified than you? Have you ever not joined that class you really wanted to try because you worried everyone else would be better than you? Did you not start your blog or offer to teach that online class because you figured there were already thousands of blogs and online classes better than yours?
For most of us, we’ll probably never be the best at everything. And actually, in many scenarios, the people who are the best aren’t always the most successful. You know who is successful?
The people who start. The people who try. The people who set an intention and take inspired action. Those are the people who succeed.
So don’t worry about being the best.
Instead, be one of those people.
Life Lesson #4: It’s about the journey, not the destination.
My “why” for running is pretty simple: because I enjoy it and I know that I’m doing something good for my body. When I go outside and hit the pavement, I get to breathe in fresh air while surrounding myself with beautiful nature. My average run lately has been about 6 miles, which means I get a whole hour to myself. Sometimes, I listen to a podcast. Other times, I listen to music. Every once in a while, I listen to nothing but my own breathing. On any given run, I’m not thinking about how great it’ll feel when I’m finished. I’m just enjoying the present moment, one step at a time.
The journey is always more important than the destination.
I also learned this lesson on a different scale after training for my first half marathon.
I had trained for that half marathon for 12 weeks. Every week, for four days a week, I committed hours of my time to running. Because most of my training was right in the middle of summer, I woke up early most days to get my run in. I had a goal and committed to that goal, and I never missed a single run.
After I finished that half marathon, I remember feeling really proud of the fact that I had just accomplished this amazing feat. I’d just run 13.1 miles for the first time, and it felt really good. But I also remember having a funny realization that I hadn’t anticipated:
As much as I was proud of accomplishing my goal, I was even more proud of the training that had gotten me there.
I was proud of my commitment. I was proud that I continually showed up, day after day, even when I didn’t feel like it. I was proud of my perseverance. I was proud of all the good runs and the bad runs that led me to that moment.
Of all these life lessons, this might be the biggest of them all.
You have big goals and dreams for yourself. And one day, you’re going to reach those goals. You’re going to make your dream come true. And you’re going to feel really, really proud of yourself.
But you know what you’ll be even more proud of? This moment, right now. For showing up, even when you didn’t feel like it. For sticking with it, even when it was hard. For not being deterred when you had a bad day. For continuing to push through.
What you’re doing right now matters. So love this moment. Embrace it. You are on a beautiful journey, and it deserves to be celebrated.
Life Lesson #5: If it’s something you really want, and you know it could be really good for you, then one bad experience should never stop you from going back out there and trying again.
I’ve had a lot of bad runs.
How do I define a bad run? It’s one in which I don’t feel good during or after. In fact, I usually will feel, well . . . pretty bad.
I don’t have many of these anymore, but that’s only because I’ve learned from my mistakes. Historically, most of my bad runs have stemmed from a couple different contributors:
- It was too hot (my old rule was I wouldn’t run if it was above 95℉/35℃ . . . which meant I was still running when it was at 95℉. Without shade. In the middle of the afternoon. *Facepalm*)
- I hadn’t eaten enough and had little energy.
- I wasn’t listening to my body and honoring its need for rest.
Here’s the thing: I can have bad runs, and that’s okay. Expected, really. But I have never and will never let one bad run stop me from tying up my shoelaces and going back out there the next time.
- Because I am not my mistakes.
- Because the good days far outweigh the bad.
- And because I treat bad runs as learning experiences, not as failures.
- Also because I know there’s a much higher likelihood that I’ll regret not going back out there and trying again than vice versa.
- And finally, because I love to run, and a bad day doesn’t detract from that.
These truths are so obvious to me when it comes to running, but in other areas of my life? I wish I could say the same. Let’s use writing as an example. Since I was seven, I’ve dreamed of being a writer. I started writing my first novel in college. I remember sending query letters to agents, feeling so much enthusiasm and excitement, knowing I’d get a big, fat “yes” on my first one. Sure, I read that sometimes it takes writers sending hundreds of query letters before they’re signed, but I was convinced I was going to be one of the special ones. I was going to rise right to the top.
Then, I got my first rejection. And then my second. And my third. I’m not sure how many I sent, but it wasn’t much more after that.
I quit after a couple bad experiences.
I don’t regret any part of the path that’s brought me here as it’s allowed me to learn some important lessons along the way. And running really simplified this one for me:
If you have a passion and feel called to do something, then bad experiences are not meant to make you just give up and quit.
They’re meant to help you learn and grow.
None of us get everything right the first time. I still make mistakes daily. But instead of letting those moments discourage me, I allow myself the grace of being beautifully imperfect, and I search for the lesson. If I fall twice on a run, I’m not going to hang up my running shoes and refuse to run again. I’m going to look both within and around me until I find the source of my falling, and then I’m going to learn and adjust so I don’t fall a third time.
We were made for resilience. And when we learn to embrace and trust our resilience, then the “bad days” and “negative experiences” become a lot less scary, because we know that we have the ability to overcome anything.
What life lessons have you learned from hobbies, workouts, personal achievements, and/or sports? Do you have any of your own personal life lessons learned from running? In what areas of your life can you clearly see that the journey has been more rewarding than the destination? Feel free to post in the comments below to share your own lessons and stories!
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Hi, I’m Zanna! I’m a blogger/freelance writer living in Boise, Idaho. My mission is to help you break through the barriers holding you back from accessing infinite abundance and to inspire you to gather the courage and confidence to follow your dreams.