If you know anything about me, you know I am not naturally athletic. At all. Like, I would rather work on my taxes than run a mile on the treadmill. I hate to sweat, and I hate being out of breath, and I still, to this day, have nightmares about my high school gym teacher.
Therefore, I don’t think anyone was more surprised than I when I agreed to run my first 5K at age 49. I had never run more than ten consecutive feet in my life, and I had zero interest in starting until a friend challenged me to run a 5K with her. I’m still not sure what possessed me to agree (and I swear there wasn’t any alcohol involved). Before I knew what was happening, I said yes. And then I had to figure out how to do it.
The early days were easy. I bought new workout clothes and shoes and a cool new watch. But then I had to buckle down and start training. The actual running part was harder than I thought. I have lousy lung capacity and was surprised to learn that I am prone to shin splints (truthfully, I was only vaguely aware that I have shins).
On the bright side, running taught me some lessons that not only apply to running, but to life.
1. Look up
When I started running, I had a tendency to watch my feet. Part of this was out of necessity – I run next to a lake full of ducks and geese, and hey, I had to protect those pretty new shoes. But while I was able to avoid getting messy and I never tripped, I also missed a lot of good stuff.
I find that I sometimes do this in regular life, too. I keep my head down and work on what’s in front of me – which makes me very good at executing goals, but I sometimes miss amazing things, like sunsets and hummingbirds and dinner invitations from friends. It’s not all about crossing the finish line (unless you are a paid professional athlete, in which case, keep your head down and knock yourself out). For most of us, it’s about the journey.
2. Prep is crucial
Maybe most people already know this, but I learned the hard way: if I skipped over my pre-run stretches, I would inevitably pull something. While I may have saved a few minutes on the front end, it always cost me in my performance and usually set me back on my goals.
Life is like that too. Sometimes winging it is okay – when trying to get your creative juices flowing, or you know you have to jump into something before you lose your nerve – but in most cases, you’ve got to put in the prep work to get the best results. I’ve started being more intentional about preparations – for meetings, for breakfasts, for business trips. Rather than rushing around to save time, I’ve tried to automate a lot of things that I do every day by creating checklists for myself – so I don’t have to think as much and can be more efficient.
There’s an old Pennsylvania Dutch saying: “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” Take the time and do the prep work. It always pays off.
3. Have a plan, but be flexible
When I agreed to run, I had no idea where to start. I used a combination of running plans to coach me from walking to jogging short distances, to running without stops. I relied on a couple of different apps and kept a schedule on my planner. I developed my own plan, and I stuck to it – for the most part.
There were a few times when running wasn’t possible or advisable – like when I had a 6:00 a.m. flight, or there was a wicked thunderstorm brewing, or I felt a migraine coming on. I had to learn to adapt and adjust the schedule without completely tossing in the towel.
This is how I feel about goals, too. You must be able to go off the plan sometimes without ruining your momentum. Life happens. Be flexible. Stops and starts are okay – just be sure you start again.
4. You can almost always push yourself just a little bit more.
Maybe Bruce Springsteen was truly born to run. I was not. I find it to be very hard work. There were days when I would be out on the trail and seriously considering calling an Uber to take me home. When I was counting the minutes, feeling unsure that I could hit my daily goal. The rule I made myself stick to was this: I could quit, but before quitting, I had to define why I wanted to stop. Did something hurt, and if so, could I adjust my form a little bit? Did I need to slow down instead of stopping? Or was I just bored and anxious to move on to the rest of my day? When I thought through the reasons, I always found a solution. Never once did I call Uber.
Now when I want to quit something, I make myself answer these questions:
· Am I hurting (physically or emotionally), and if so, what can I adjust to make it better?
· Do I need to slow down a little bit?
· Am I just bored and anxious to jump to the next step?
Answering those questions helps me to make better decisions and gives me some options when I feel like giving up.
5. No one is watching
I’ve always been intimidated by hotel gyms. The equipment is never the same as what I’m used to, and I’m afraid I’m going to be the only person who doesn’t know what the heck she is doing. But to stay on my training schedule, sometimes I had no choice but to pack my shoes and hit the treadmill in the hotel.
You know what? No one laughed at me. No one even glanced my way. Everyone was either engrossed in a screen or staring at themselves in the mirror.
That’s life. We are all in our own world (see number one, above). Realizing this has given me much more freedom to try new things and to care much less about what other people think.
Running my first 5K was a good experience. I won’t say it was a great experience, because I still hate being out of breath and sweaty. But I’ve learned a lot about myself. I know I can set and achieve big goals. I have more endurance than I thought possible, and I am stronger than I knew.
I also like knowing I can chase down a speeding ice cream truck if necessary. Hard work really does have its rewards.