Physical activity wasn’t my thing growing up. Sports were a foreign concept to me, and the only activity I actually understood was dance. So, running was always a big, whopping "nope" until I was in college and finally decided to give that exercise thing a shot. It’s been a slow road, but I love running, even though I can barely outrun a 9 year old. I’ve learned a lot about fitness, endurance, and myself simply by taking up running and pushing through the miles. Running seems like it's a physical challenge, but it’s actually more mental than anything. Here are just a few things I’ve learned along the road.
Pushing through is worth it.
No, really. Before I learned to just push through the burning lungs and muscles, I gave up running within minutes. I did this with almost all physical activity. I didn’t urge myself to suck it up and breathe through it. When I finally did, though, I realized I got so much more out of gritting my teeth than I did by quitting when things became tough. I don’t think I was a quitter in the broader sense before this lesson, but I’m definitely not now. Life isn’t always going to be easy peasy. So like Dory said in Finding Nemo, “just keep swimming.”
The runner’s high is real.
I did not believe in the runner’s high at first, but that’s because I never actually ran long enough to release a flood of endorphins. However, the runner’s high is all that the fitness world hypes it up to be. There are days when my high doesn’t hit until after my run is done, but then I walk around like I’m the queen of Sheba. Other days I get a rush within minutes. It beats almost every other high, including shopping spree exultation. Trust me when I say you’re missing out on an amazing feeling if you’ve never run long enough to get that high.
It’s possible to keep going.
It always blows my mind that the physical challenges we overcome reveal something about life and inner strength. The simple activity of running has given me a sense of my own capabilities beyond my muscular strength and endurance. Every runner experiences the moment of doubt about half a mile into the run. There’s a feeling that it’s simply too far, it’s too hot or too cold for comfort, and it's more than the muscles can handle. I’ve learned that I can handle whatever run I set out to do. More importantly though, I’ve learned I can handle any difficult situation that comes along.
Sprinting is ten times more fun than jogging.
I used to hate the thought of full-out running. It looked like it required too much energy. I was just fine with slumping through a rhythmic jog for 30 minutes, even though it kind of made me miserable. Sprinting, however, feels like flying. There’s something satisfying about slamming your legs down with each step to push yourself forward for as long as you can. You’re weightless for the split second after one foot has left the ground and the other foot hasn’t yet reached it.
Nothing is as bad as it seems.
The morning after a long run is always filled with dramatic sentiments about how painful and debilitating my shin splints are, but they really aren’t that bad once I start moving around. I can still get out of bed, take the stairs, and make it to the gym with them, and I’m a better person for not letting them become an excuse. Thanks to this physical lesson, and the quiet time I have with my own thoughts when I go on a run, I know that no situation is as dire as it first appears. Sure, the fight you’re having with your boyfriend is upsetting, but it doesn’t have to be the end, and there is a solution. Running has taught me to look at difficult situations differently and see that those mountains are actually just pebbles.
You have to keep practicing, no matter how good you are.
Running has taught me to not assume I’m above consistent practice and effort. It might not seem like a big deal to take a week off of running, or anything else, but the lack of practice will make it harder to start again. One week without running causes me to be more sluggish, uncoordinated, and unmotivated than I’m ever prepared to be. This doesn’t just apply to running. It applies to almost everything in life, like a hobby or skill I enjoy doing. If I don’t devote time to my yoga practice then the next time I step on my mat will take more effort, and I will be tighter and weaker than I was before. You have to take time to become better at something or you’ll regress.