When you are running, especially long distances, you have enough time to think. And more importantly, you can think more clearly than ever. In the beginning, when your runs are shorter, you think meetings, tasks, projects, obligations…As your running becomes almost an everyday habit, you learn to think only what matters. You learn to distinguish important things, you learn to ask. You learn.
Running long distances, like marathons and ultras, is probably the most educating activity I have ever put myself into. And it is absolutely free. It’s recurring nature offers the necessary deeper understanding of the lesson. And since the year reached its end, it’s a good opportunity to evaluate and maybe set new targets. So what did I learn from running?
I confirmed that, as most things in life, hard work and persistence are necessary, if you really want to achieve something. Nothing is for free. I’m afraid that regardless how bad you want something, the universe does not conspire in helping you to achieve it. I have reasonable suspicion that the universe does not give a damn about any one of us (Sorry Paolo Coelho). You have to sweat for hours and hours, to get cold, to bleed, to get dirty, tired, exhausted to accomplish something (even something small).
Running a marathon requires a strict schedule. “Free-styling” and “whatever” attitude does not exactly work here. Meticulous planning, daily training, monitoring, studying, analysing, trying and correcting, rescheduling. You have many months ahead of you and the biggest challenge is to follow this schedule.
A marathon is neither 1000m, nor 10km. It’s a little more than 42 difficult and agonising kilometers (or 26.2 miles). When you start your quest, this seems almost unreachable. You find yourself gasping just after 5km. It feels impossible to continue even for 1 more minute. Patiently and tolerantly, you build your strength and endurance mile by mile, run by run. You identify your weak points and you try to work them out, to find a way to improve them.
Nothing is easy. There are days when you’ll find it impossible to walk, let alone run. Your feet feel heavier than cement and your duvet is as heavy as a tombstone. You listen to your body, but you don’t let it command you. Your will is under test and consistence and reliability is all that matters here.
Failing is not that rare. You’ll have to learn to control these failures. You hoped for a better time but you just managed to finish or even worst you dropped the race. You got injured. You fell. You have to get up again, to learn from your failure, work with it. Never give up. Mandela got it right “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”
You are not Kenyan or Ethiopian, you did not inherit any special skill, you were not born an athlete. Rather late in life, you decided to be a runner. You watch others to run faster, smoother, it seems easy but you can’t beat them, not in this field. You have to be wise and careful. Your only adversary, your only opponent is yourself. If you beat him then you are already a winner. Every runner understands that sooner or later.
A certain amount of sacrifices is needed. Less partying, less late nights out, less (or no alcohol), no smoking, better nutrition. Come to think about them now, I can’t actually see any sacrifice in the above.
You may think that running is just putting one foot in front of another. It’s not. Ask any experienced long distance runner and you’ll find out that he can talk for hours for fuelling protocols, race strategy, pace tactics, appropriate gear and running techniques. Like it or not when you embark this journey you have to deal with all this knowledge and find a way to master it (or at least try to).
The most important lesson from running is that all the above values do not apply only to it. Thanks to running you get better in almost every aspect in your life. You get more productive at work, more patient (ok, I’m still working on this one), you learn to better handle your failures, you become more persistent, more durable, more perceptive, more adaptable. Priorities become obvious.
It’s true that when you choose such a path, you do not just pick up a sport or a hobby. You embrace a way of life and this is reflected to all your activities: social and professional. Come to think of it, a very close friend of mine, was absolutely right: running defines you. Maybe even more: it identifies you.
Happy NEW YEAR!