10 Things I have Learned from 10 Years of Running

This weekend I began coaching a group with Club 26.2 for the AFC Half marathon and as I was introducing myself I realized (and shared) that I have been running for a decade now.

That’s amazing!
I can hardly believe it’s been 10 years of solid, consistent running! (Wait — is this a sign I’m getting old?)

Reflecting on the ways running has enhanced my life, I’m offering 10 lessons I have learned in the last 10 years that i may not have learned if I hadn’t been lacing up my shoes and hitting the roads…

10) How You Train is No Indication of How You Will Race: You can train perfectly and have a terrible race due to circumstances beyond your control. Likewise, you can feel totally unprepared for a race and set a personal best. Life is full of surprises – don’t set your expectations in stone!

9) Cold isn’t Always a Bad Thing: I grew up in Alaska and have vehemently hated cold weather. That said, running in the cool weather is much more pleasant than the heat of late summer. And believe it or not, ice baths are AWESOME. Take home lesson – everything has its place and time, be open to changing your mind sometimes.

8) Rest is Essential: I first learned this on the trail, then began to apply it in other areas of my life. Rest is mandatory, period. When you train too hard and neglect rest, all sorts of things happen. You become injured, grouchy, your immune system fails. When you refuse to rest in life (vacation, reasonable work hours, allowing time to play) you become grouchy, get carpal tunnel, and your immune system fails! A lot of us wait for forced rest in both personal and athletic lives – be it stress fractures,  a nasty virus we cannot ignore, or a full-blown heart attack. By choosing rest, we not only avoid unnecessary trauma, we also strategically prepare ourselves to rebuild and come back stronger. This is the purpose of tapering miles before a marathon. In other areas rest is essential to maintain our quality of life. I find when I take breaks with the seasons and allow myself vacations and weekends off I come back mentally prepared, inspired, and have better interactions all around.

7.) Don’t skimp on quality: When you cut corners on shoes and fuel, your training suffers. When your training suffers, you suffer. Take Home Message – be willing to give yourself quality to get the most out of what you love. The payback is well worth it.

6.) Body Knows Best – it holds all the answers and is never wrong. Running has gotten me in tune with the fine messages and signals my body sends me. Having this kind of relationship is precious. A healthy relationship between body and mind is as rewarding as a healthy relationship between horse and rider. Just as the rider can read the horse’s non-verbal cues, everyone can learn the clear, unique messages sent by the body. Miles and hours of solo time with my body and holding an inquisitive, curious approach to such signals has allowed me to discover how to best care for myself and stay active without significant injury, consistently improving race quality for a full decade.

5.) Little Changes Matter: A 100-calorie pack of gel can get you to the finish line; double-knotting your shoes saves a lot of hassle; the difference between 30 minutes and 50 minutes is huge when it comes to refueling and a tiny patch of moleskin can save 3 days of pain. Little adjustments can yield big results. This has become both how I live my life and guide my clients.

4.) Support Supercharges Everything: For my first race, my former husband was at the finish line. We had fought all weekend and he was there because he was expected to be. Despite 11 months of training and a nearly perfect regimen, that was the hardest race and recovery I have ever experienced in my life (the course was also a factor). For my last two marathons, I had friends cheering me along the course; they were there because they WANTED to be and were really excited for me. I have spent much of my running career flying solo when it comes to support, and have found that the camaraderie from training with a group and the support of friends and loved ones along the course and finish line to be energizing and inspiring in a way that no amount of training or fueling can offer. Likewise, having support from family, friends, or a group of similar people in all aspects of life allows us so much more endurance and tenacity than trying to do it all alone.  Having a cheer team doesn’t make you weak; it keeps you strong and allows you to bounce back from everything quicker and easier.

3.) Hills Make You Stronger: Part of the reason that first marathon was such a disaster was that I did no hill training. Hillwork (adversity, swimming upstream, going against the grain) strengthens you, makes you a better runner, and pushes your mental stamina as well. When you get to the top of the mountain or hill, you have a huge sense of accomplishment and a boost of awesome brain chemicals dopamine and endorphins, contributing to a sense of reward and that sought-after runner’s high. In life, this has translates to meeting adversity head-on and moving through challenges; running has made me more fearless and confident in life.

2.) Appreciate Your Body: Running has really reinforced how amazing the human body is. And the great news is that we each get one! Despite any perceived imperfections, it is strong, allows me to do so many wonderful things and has amazing powers of regeneration. It works for me to get back into balance when I make mistakes and always does its best to accommodate my (sometimes absurd) demands. My body is undeniably an amazing vehicle that transports me through this life and is deserving of the utmost care and consideration.

1.) Attitude is everything: How you talk to yourself will make or break your training and racing. Ultimately you are the only cheerleader that is with you every single, sweaty mile. For the hours you devote to exercise it is far more supportive to have positive, uplifting encouragement than a barking drill sergeant on your back.  As soon as my thoughts turn negative (“this is hard”, “I’m so out of shape!”, “I should be faster/stronger”) my body starts to feel MORE weary and heavy; I’m more likely to throw in the towel early or call it quits all together! However, just some simple encouragement (“Look how far you have already gone! 1 mile left; anyone can run a mile!…You are staying strong and doing well! Almost there!”)This applies not only to training, but to all aspects of living joyfully.

For those of you who run – what has running taught you? What lessons have you gained in exercise that you have found apply in other areas as well?

What is it that motivates you to keep going when you get discouraged?

5 Replies to “10 Things I have Learned from 10 Years of Running”

  1. Running taught me not to set limits. I never knew my body was capable of so much. I look forward to finding out what else I am capable of.

    When I get discouraged, I focus on the little things which are going well and keep my eye on the bigger picture.

    Nice post Aimee. 🙂 Happy 10 years running!

  2. That’s really great advice! I actually didn’t know that taking seasonal breaks would be good – I was feeling pretty lazy for doing so but I think it’ll pay off once our rainy season is over and I start up again (b/c I’m not one of those hardcores who is willing to train in the rain)! I always find that the inner cheerleader in me needs to be balanced out with an inner challenger to keep me going. I’m naturally competitive by nature so if I think “hey, you’ve made it this many miles, let’s see if you can make one more. Okay, you made one more, you’re not dead, go for another, let’s see if you can” etc etc etc.

  3. Number 1 and two are my favorites. very nice list, although i would add to it: Never assume you know everything: seeking advice form knowledgeable professionals in the fitness industry or a veteran (even if you are a knowledgeable professional or veteran) can lead to great breakthroughs in your performance, everything from strategy, to form and technique to different kinds of shoe lacing or identifying trends you couldnt see because you were too close to it. Listen to advice, even olympic athletes have coaches.

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