zenhabits : breathe

10 Life Lessons from a Reluctant Runner

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Brigitte Lyons of Unfettered Ink.

True confession: When I was a kid, I couldn’t run a mile. I was relatively athletic. Good swimmer. Deadly at 3rd base. Hiked up and down and all around.

But running? No thanks.

Until, at age 20, I started dating a runner. I decided to let him teach me. This did not go well. We fought about it, because I was constantly miserable. I tried and gave up countless times.

Now I’m 30. I’m married to that runner. And, somehow, miraculously, I caught the running bug. And learned a few things along the way …

1. Sometimes things that suck are also awesome. This is not a post that extols the many physical benefits of running — or even teaches you how to get started. I’ll leave that up to Leo. I’m not even here to tell you that I love running.

I still find it a bit miserable most days. You get all sweaty. Your legs burn. Your heart races.

And, then, when you’re finished, your endorphins come flooding in. If you track your runs, you get to feel smug about your progress.

Totally worth it.

2. It’s all mental. Typing those words, I already want to take them back! My husband used to tell me this, back when we were still running and simultaneously squabbling about it. Nothing made me angrier.

But it hurts … !

Yeah, it hurt. It often still does. But once I made that mental switch that I will get out and run, I was able to do it. The only thing holding us back is our state of mind.

3. There’s a discernable difference between pain and discomfort. When I started running, every step felt like the worst step of my life. I was whiny. I hated, hated, hated every moment.

But, as people do when they want to impress someone they love, I kept picking it up again. And, finally, I began to notice the difference between pain and discomfort.

In the last 10 years, I’ve only suffered an injury once. I was at the gym, running along, when suddenly it felt like something snapped inside me. Like a rubber band that had been stretched too far, and it finally pops. I pulled a muscle. A term that doesn’t really do the thing justice.

The miracle of it is, though, that I’m so much more in tune with my body’s signals. I’m aware when it’s craving movement, even though I’m feeling lazy. When it’s saying enough is enough. When it can go just a little longer, even though I’m ready to turn the corner and head home.

4. Equipment matters — find what works for you. For me, there are two essential pieces of running equipment. Nike Frees and SmartWool socks. Seriously, I am obsessed with these socks.

That’s it.

On the flip side, I can’t stand one of the most frequently recommended pieces of gear: the technical shirt. I cannot abide the feeling of Dri-FIT or similar fabrics on my skin. Especially on my arms. I know all the benefits. I don’t care. It makes my skin crawl.

When I started running, I went out and bought loads of these shirts. It took me a year (because I’m slow) to realize that my hatred of them was actually de-motivating me. So, now, I run in cotton tank tops. They’re cheaper anyway!

5. Take joy in small accomplishments. I wish I were sitting here writing that I ran miles and miles and miles. Wait, no. That’s a lie. For a girl who couldn’t run a mile as a kid, getting off my bum and running 3 is a huge accomplishment. Epic.

Instead of feeling shame that I’m not running marathons, I take joy in taking in the sights and smells of my neighborhood (especially in the spring … flowers!). Of turning down streets that aren’t a part of my daily routine. And, occasionally, at shouting down the barking dogs that lunge at their gates as I run by.

6. Inconsistency is OK. I face a huge barrier in becoming a better runner – Chicago’s temperature swings. I know I can suit up in the winter and strip down in the summer, but extreme temperatures make me sick. So I don’t.

Ultimately, I work out to feel good. Running, yoga, spinning, whatever. I don’t stop working out when the weather is unbearable, but I certainly don’t run outside.

This used to really bother me. How could I ever become a “real” runner this way?

Maybe I can’t, but it doesn’t matter. This spring, after a 6 month break, I ran 20 minutes my first day out. And, I’m currently running faster and longer than ever.

7. It feels good to pick up your pace at the finish. This week, I ran 30 minutes. This is pretty much my outer limit (for the present!). My average pace was 10:19. At the end, I picked it up to 9 flat. Even though my calves were burning.

It felt damn good. And, although I have no expert studies to cite, I swear it helps create an endorphin rush.

8.  But, slow down at the beginning, already! While it’s a good habit to pick it up at the end, I tend to overdo it at the start. As Leo has mentioned, this is inadvisable. In my case, it’s the single factor holding back my mileage.

My body is most comfortable at an 8 minute pace. That’s when I feel like a gazelle (no, really). Except, my body isn’t yet conditioned to hold this pace. So, I start fast. And then die. The only way I’m going to improve is to intentionally hold back from the very start.

9. Play is critical. Always. The first time I ran 30 minutes, it poured. My husband and I went for a 2 mile run, and the rain started coming down in sheets just after we got home. Instead of heading inside, I looked at him and asked if he’d run a bit further with me. We added a third mile. Running down the middle of our Chicago neighborhood streets, jumping in and over puddles … it’s still my most fun run to date.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t storm every summer day. Luckily, I know how to find the parks with fountains and sprinklers set out for kids and the young at heart. Racing to catch a light works, too. Just the other day I sprinted at a 5:58 minute pace, and it was exhilarating.

10. It’s ok to trick yourself. This is something else Leo has mentioned, but it bears repeating. Sometimes you have to just get out the door. If that means telling yourself, “oh, I’ll just run a mile, no biggie,” then do it. If it means adding one or two extra blocks before you turn back home, because you’re feeling stellar, do it.

My greatest breakthrough moments were the direct result of tricks I played on myself.

In a decade of running, I could share so many more life lessons. How about you? Share your lessons learned with Leo (@zen_habits on Twitter or Leo Babauta on G+) and me (@brigittelyons).

Brigitte shares unconventional wisdom for creative people on a mission at her blog, Unfettered Ink. She also courts all sorts of good karma by serving up PR Ideas for Busy People to entrepreneurs with grand ideas but limited resources.



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