If I were to think about running a 26.2 mile race at the start of 2015, the overwhelming feeling would be one of fear. I have only ever ran a 10k before and just signed up for the Austin 2015 half Marathon, my first ever half. The prospect of running twice the distance still seemed far away though. Flash forward to October 18th 2015, I finished my first Marathon with a 3:49:00 time. As I look back on this year, I wanted to put together some of my realizations during the whole process.
Running is a privilege: Living somewhere where I can run safely, have trails to run on, be in good health to run are all privileges to be thankful for. Growing up in the developing world meant that it was hard pressed to find opportunities to be involved in outdoor activites. Having the time and space to exercise is a luxury that needed to be earned. I never ran in high school, and by the time I graduated college I could not run longer than 5k. Having the time to run, being in US where running is very much part of the culture has been a huge contributor to my running progress.
Joining a running group is one of the best decisions you can make as a beginning runner: Training with people better than you to improve is not unique to running. Start of 2015, I had no plans of running a marathon. In April, I joined the Austin Runners Meetup (ARM). In training long runs with ARM, I was able to build up the endurance for longer runs which made the progression to a Marathon much easier mentally. Training with other runners can definitely help you maintain the habit of running as well as improve your form and performance. Moreover, I found a new community of great people which has been very rewarding.
Tying running with other activities you enjoy can make running much more consistent: In Charles Duhigg’s Power of Habit, he talks about the cue-action-reward pattern that most habits follow. Being aware of that pattern can help in building running as a habit. When run’s are followed by a delicious breakfast, you have something to look forward to. Trance music and podcasts help me maintain the flow during running. Travel is one of my favorite things and going to a new city for a race is something I eagerly look forward to.
Running is a blissful release from life’s distractions:
“All I do is keep on running in my own cozy, homemade void, my own nostalgic silence. And this is a pretty wonderful thing.” ― Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running“`
Distractions are part and parcel of our lives as more form factors emerge competing for our limited attention span. Often, this results in us not being aware of the passage of time. Running has been a great antidote to that problem for me. When running is effortful, you have to concentrate on the activity at hand and your entire focus is on the present moment. Long runs offer the prospect of seeing places and neighborhoods that you would not frequent otherwise. A slight breeze on a scorching summer’s day has never been more enjoyable.
Once running is a habit, a chore becomes a craving: When you start out running, it can be something you dread on your calendar. There is really no way to get past this without sustained practice, lowering the cognitive load with group associations and reward mechanisms. If you continue though, you realize at one point that you start craving the runs. Don’t get me wrong, it still requires a lot of mental effort to get up at 5:30am for that 20 mile run you need to do for Marathon training. But something about the combination of endorphins, habits built during running and seeing your friends out there on the trail can change running into something that you look forward to.
You only compete against your past self: This can vary a lot based on personality, but being slower than a lot of other runners has never really bothered me that much. As long as I beat my previous PR by two seconds, I would be happy. Running as an activity has been such a positive change for my life that the gratification from being faster than others has not been necessary at all. Lot of people starting out running also worry about their pace. However, beginner runners should actually run slower than the pace they think they can run at to avoid injury and build up distance and time.
Respect your body’s adjustment mechanisms: One of my foremost running philosophies is to avoid injury. Running is a full body exercise. Your heart, muscles, ligaments and joints all need adjust to the increased level of physical activity. In the beginning, you run out of breath since your heart is simply not used to pumping out the necessary amount of oxygen to the muscles. However, it can adjust remarkably fast, and you may be tempted to run faster than you should. Getting past muscle cramps is often the next step. Your joints likely will be the last to adjust though, and care should be taken to not run too fast too soon to avoid injury.
Hard things are often the most rewarding: If a Marathon was easy, the feeling of achievement would be less profound. You will be in pain after finishing a Marathon. However, if there is any time when pain feels besides the point, this is it. Finishing a Marathon feels good in a way that is hard to find a parallel in our day to day life. Rather you feel as accomplished as a battle commander from the middle ages after winning a long and arduous war.
It will affect you positively in ways you may not expect: When I talk to people about running, I consistently discover new and positive impacts running has had on their lives. For some people if is therapeutic and a great way to cope against troubles in life. It stands out as one of the activities that can have an 80/20 impact on your life, since the improvement in concentration and physical ability that you gain from running regularly can help in most other areas of life.
It gives you the satisfaction of reaching your goals and finishing: There are lot of things in life that can drag on, get pushed on and not have a clear resolution. Life is rarely black or white. Running is often a refreshing break from all that. Once you finish a race, it is done and over with, offering the joy of finishing something. Moreover, looking forward and planning for the race can become an exciting activity, as you look to vindicate your hard hours of training.
Running is ultimately a very solitary activity. It does not matter if you train with a group, you are going to be on your own for long periods of time. This makes everyone’s running journey very personaI. If you are starting out running in 2016 or have certain training goals, I wish you all the best. If you have already been running races, I hope there was still something useful in this post for you. Either way, feel free to reach out or leave a note. I would love to hear from you.