Start where you are
Use what you have
Do what you can
Poster at an athletic centre
Everything about life can be learned on the run. That is to say- you can learn a lot about life through running- or any other practice (skill) for that matter, that you engage in regularly and which requires consistent effort, such as music, art, a vocation, learning a language and so on. For me, it has been running.
Running is not for everyone and the reasons people run are as varied as the runners themselves. Fitness, in fact, may be the least of the motivators. Over the years, I have found that the experience of running (training, races, frustrations, discomforts, exhilaration) is a window into how we deal with what life throws at us and reveals our priorities. One insight or lesson that has resonated most with me was captured in a conversation with a running coach, who said:
“Run at your own best pace. Ignore the time.”
“Ignore the time? Why?” I asked.
“You’ll run stronger and probably faster; besides, you’ll enjoy the run,” was his response.
He was right. I was reminded of this conversation as I prepared to run a 10 km race a couple of weeks ago. The race was important to me because I had had a break from running and starting back was difficult. It led me to think about what might be important to others. So I decided to informally survey a few women I know about what they have learned from running. Here is what I found:
- People matter more than things (money; houses; the job; material possessions; how fast you run a race, and so on). In the end it is the people near and dear to us that count the most. The best part of running is the wonderful community of women of which I am a part.
- The best way out is through. We go through a challenge or rough patch (or-a bad run) and things don’t go our way. There is nothing to be done except deal with what is at hand. That can mean letting go of what we thought was the ideal outcome (a personal best run), making the best of a bad situation, or weathering the storm. Knowing this too will pass.
- Life is too important to be taken seriously. Oscar Wilde said it best. It helps to ask ourselves from time to time why we are doing what we are doing. And if it’s not fun, then why we are doing it?
- Start small, but start. One reason for not starting something is because it seems overwhelming. Where to begin and how? Significant events and initiatives (races, moves, life work; changes in relationships) always have a starting point and get done in increments. We don’t need to know what the endpoint is- only the next step.
- You need to do the work to accomplish anything. As I get older it seems to take longer to get things done and I am not entirely sure why, but it can be a deterrent to starting something. Utterly frustrating, but you still need to do the work. There is no short cut. The good news is that you still get there in the end.
And finally: Run at your own best pace!
What does this mean? It is the liberating idea that we are often best served by doing our own thing (i.e. what is important to us) in our own way and in our own time. Forget about what is expected. So often we live our life by the clock. Many runners certainly do. And if you’re like me, you have spent a good deal of time trying to accomplish something (asked of us by others) within a time frame set by other people. It is true that circumstances of our lives require that we adhere to this reality at least some of the time. But surely not all the time!
It is an act of resistance to run (or do anything) at your own best pace- to counter the convention that “faster” and “more” are better. How important then, that we observe those moments of being engaged: starting wherever we are, using what we have, doing what we can. In honouring our own rhythm, we experience the flow of working at something that is meaningful to us, doing it in our own way. And in so doing, we are stronger and probably enjoying ourselves.