7 life lessons I've learned from a year of running
I still find this hard to believe, but I’ve only been running for a year. Only a year… and yet those 365 days completely changed my life in so many unexpected ways. A year ago, I couldn’t run to the end of my street, now I’m about to run my second half marathon. Aside from being fitter and happier than ever, I’ve learned a lot about myself and life just by putting on those running shoes and heading out the door. These are just a few of the life lessons I’ve learned over past year…
1. There’s nothing you can’t do when you want it badly enough.
The main thing I learned this year is that the mind is the most powerful thing we have. I believe running is 30% fitness, 70% psychology. Everyone can run, but the difference between 1k and 10k is mostly situated between the ears. If you really put your mind to it, you can achieve it, it’s as simple as that. When the body feels like it no longer can keep going, the mind has the power to push you across that finish line. Sure, sometimes your body will have certain niggles your mind can’t fix, and if we’re using this as a metaphor for life, well yes, it can throw things at you which are beyond your control, but it’s all about learning how to deal with those events, rather than throwing in the towel. If you want something bad enough, hard work and determination will get you there. Fact.
2. Amazing things happen when you step out of your comfort zone.
Last year, I was in a rut. Still unsure of what to do with myself after a painful break up, I needed something else to focus on. I wasn’t feeling very confident and quite nervous about going running outdoors, until one day I forced myself to just do it. Going for that first run in the park was a revelation: my anxiety faded immediately and what came instead was a freeing, happy feeling. Since then, I’ve achieved things I never even thought I wanted to achieve, I met a whole new awesome bunch of people, and of course the biggest thing of all: I started Fashercise and now have a completely new career which I get to do with my dear friend Cam. It seems surreal to think so, but all of that happened because of that first run I was so reluctant to do. Leaving your comfort zone can open up a whole new world, so why not do that one thing you are so scared of doing?
3. You can’t achieve a goal without setting one.
This is fairly obvious, but yet so often we skip this vital step in the pursuit of our dreams. For years, I’d been running on and off on a treadmill at the gym, always frustrated I wasn’t improving very much at all, then get disheartened and stop again. Last year, I just signed up for a 10k forcing me to have a specific goal and timeframe to reach that goal in: within 6 weeks I went from 2k to 10k, and it was surprisingly easy. Visualising a specific goal will push you to do more, to do better, to do it faster. So often in life and work, we say we want to achieve these huge things, and never quite make it. Set small, specific goals with a time limit and work towards them – this will make achieving things a lot less daunting, will make you more productive and will get you one step closer to where you need to be.
4. You don’t always have to be the best, as long as you’ve done your best
I’m a competitive person. I like being the best, I like winning, and when I’m not, I tend to give up. When I was younger, I did a number of sports all at competitive level, and when it became obvious I wouldn’t reach the very top, I just moved on to the next thing. Running changed my mindset completely: I don’t run to win against others, I run to win against myself. Let’s face it… I’m short, curvy and 28 years old, so the reality is that I probably won’t become a running champion, and here’s the thing: that’s ok. When I run races, I set myself a goal time, and just try to beat that… it really doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing. I’m trying to use this lesson in my life: as long as I can say I did everything I could and did my very best, I should be happy with myself. And if it just so happens that I’m the best at it, that’s fine too of course 🙂 Follow your own pace, not someone else’s!
5. Being friendly can make someone’s day
Runners are a really friendly folk. When you pass a fellow runner on your route, they’ll just smile at you – SHOCK – a smile that says “hey, we’re in this together”. Those smiles have gotten me through moments where I wanted to give up. I’ve had really fast runners pass me by on their third lap of a track when I was still on my first telling me I was doing great. During my first half marathon, about ready to give, an old lady gave me a Haribo and told me to keep going – so I did. Little things like that make a world of difference. When is the last time you just smiled at a stranger? Or really asked someone how their day was? Try it. Yeah, some people might think you’re a freak and change tube carriages, but you might just make someone’s day a lot better.
6. Take the road less traveled to discover new things
This one is a bit similar to leaving your comfort zone, but starting to run has really opened up London as a city for me. I have no desire to run along busy Oxford Street, or through Covent Garden or Picadilly Circus. I want quiet routes without a ton of people, traffic or distractions. When I run in my neighbourhood, I choose the streets I would usually never walk through. I’ve hopped on buses and tubes to go to a park I’d never been to and discovered a whole new world out there: I found new pubs, new shops, new incredible places in a city I thought I knew so well. Try getting off a tube stop before your usual one and discover the area. Take a street you’ve never been in and see where it leads you… you might just be surprised.
7. Exercise makes you happy
To quote no one other than Elle Woods in Legally Blonde (one of the greatest movies ever made, surely?): “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.” Well I may have no husband to shoot, but I definitely find myself a lot perkier after working out. A good run is the ultimate cure for so many things: heartbreak? Go for a run to clear your mind. Mild hangover? Go for a run and it’ll magically disappear (doesn’t work with proper hangovers… I speak from experience). Feeling restless? Go for a run and you will be happy to be doing nothing at all after that. Having that moment where it’s just you, your body and your mind is fantastic – nothing or no-one can disturb you for that brief time. That moment is yours and yours alone and that feeling can be really liberating. Don’t believe me? Try it. And if it doesn’t work, you can still shoot your husband, I don’t mind.
p.s. Single girls: hot guys. Everywhere you run. Sometimes with dogs. Totally worth it.