5 Lessons I’ve Learned from Running that Apply to Life

Over the past couple of years I’ve become quite a running enthusiast. Running is my escape. It’s how I cope with and relieve stress. However, there are several unwritten rules to becoming a runner that aren’t necessarily obvious at the beginning that not only apply to running but also to life in general. As I’ve continued my runner’s education, I believe I’ve also gained some valuable insight on life and business as well. In this article I will share 5 lessons I’ve learned from running that apply to life.

You Have to Walk Before You Can Run

When I first started out exercising, I could barely walk to the mailbox and back without getting winded, so running wasn’t even an option at first. My journey began nice and slow by walking laps around the subdivision where I lived. The same holds true for life and business as well. Just because you have a great idea or figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life, doesn’t mean that you can just jump right in and start doing it right away. There are far too many variables in play and you haven’t done enough research (a.k.a. walking) to understand how to navigate them all safely. If you’re starting a new business, changing careers, or just trying to get in shape like I was, you’ll be much better off in the long run if you spend some time learning how to run before you actually try to do it.

You’ve Got to have Patience

Patience has never been one of my redeeming virtues. In fact, I’m downright impatient about damn near everything. I want it, and I want it NOW. That’s probably a symptom of my being an only child, but that’s a different topic for a different day. My ultimate goal when I first started out was to run a half marathon (13.1 miles). My problem was the fact that I wanted to do it sooner rather than later. I picked a date for a local half marathon event and signed up. My downfall was picking such an aggressive date, and not giving myself enough time to train. In doing so I wound up hurting myself during my training, which almost cost me the ability to run at all. I think this is what a lot of people do in life as well. They set lofty goals and put them on a far too aggressive timeline. Then when they don’t reach those goals within their given timeframe, they either give up or consider themselves a failure for not getting it done. No matter what your goal, setting realistic expectations is key to ultimately achieving success. Are there people who drop a ton of weight in 6 months or guys who make millions off of their first business venture? Sure! But just as the fine print on most weight loss supplements reads… These results are not typical. Pace yourself, and be patient.

You Don’t Have to Kill Yourself to See Results

I learned this one the hard way. I’m the kind of person that puts in 110% effort into whatever it is that I’m doing. I’ve been told  I have two speeds, stop and go. When I realized the damage I was doing to my body by training so hard for this half marathon, I quickly turned to the web for advice and guidance. I found an app called Hal Higdon’s Beginner Half Marathon. This app allowed me to input my start date, enter my race date, and then based on that it calculated a program for me. The program itself consisted of a lot of interval training, walking and running, and it blew my mind how effective it was. Within a few weeks I was able to run 5 or 6 miles without hardly breaking a sweat. I couldn’t believe that I could achieve such great results without running 7 days a week. There’s a lot of debate going on right now, especially in the Silicon Valley communities, about work/life balance. Some say it’s good, some say it’s bad… I say it’s required. You don’t have to kill yourself 24/7 to see results from anything. You just have to set a goal, put milestones in place, and then meet those milestones one at a time. As long as you’re hitting those milestones, you’re in great shape. No need to work any longer or harder than that.

It’s Okay to Let Others Run Ahead of You

I’ve run several 5ks and the single half marathon, and in each one of those races I noticed a recurring theme. There’s always that guy/girl who jumps out in front and just blows everyone off the starting line. Then, midway through the race, I generally wind up catching them and passing them because they’ve already run out of gas. I also learned that it’s okay to let people pass you by. When you’re in a race like that, everyone goes at their own pace, and that’s okay. Set a goal for yourself (for me it was to be under 2hrs and 10min) and stick to that goal. Going faster than that can hurt you. You know your capabilities, so just stay within them and forget everyone else. The same holds true for business and life. Yeah, there is going to be someone in your chosen industry that skyrockets out of the gate. Most of the time, though, these are the companies/people who get passed up at the end because they’ve run out of gas. Set a goal, pick a pace, and run your own race.

You Need to Enjoy Victory and Accept Defeat

As is the case in running, you’re going to win and lose several times in life. The key here is to know how to handle success and failure alike. I’ve run races where I didn’t meet my time goal and I’ve gone on runs where I didn’t even come close to my ultimate goal for distance. I’ve had similar experiences in life. I tried my own business for a while, and never could quite scale it like I wanted, so it folded. Now, I’m happily employed at my dream job. I’m enjoying the hell out of myself at my job. I love what I do and everyone I work with, and I celebrate that on a daily basis. I also accept the fact that I’ve failed many times throughout my life, and I use those as educational experiences that have (hopefully) made me better in the long run. When you can do that, you’ll be way ahead of your competition.

Conclusion

Life lessons are everywhere. You just have to know how to recognize them when you see them. When I first started out training, I had no idea the doors it would open for me. I’ve gained valuable insight on life, business, and fitness throughout my journey, and it’s been one of the best things I ever did for myself both personally and professionally. I think everyone should find an outlet, like running, that they can immerse themselves into and see what kind of lightbulb moments it triggers. If you’ve already found your outlet, what is it? Drop me a line in the comments or hit me up on Facebook or Twitter. I’m always interested to see where other people gain insights into themselves and how you find motivation and inspiration in the everyday world. Thanks for reading!

Justin Seeley is a graphic designer, author, and online content creator. His work can be seen on platforms such as LinkedIn Learning, Lynda.com, CreativeLIVE, and Pluralsight. Justin loves helping both individuals and businesses reach their professional goals through education, creative services, and social content strategy.

8 comments On 5 Lessons I’ve Learned from Running that Apply to Life

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  • I would add:

    6. You’re probably capable of more than you think. When I first started running 5Ks, I would get winded and my finish times were horrible. As I trained, I got better, and getting better leads you to slow try more ambitious things. Gradually, that “outer envelope” of ability keeps expanding. It took me years, but I am now running ultramarathons, double marathons, and doing century-plus (100+ mile) bike rides. Whether in life or in business, test your limits and even push them a little.

    7. There is always something you can learn. Whether it’s training to go farther, or switching to a different sport and seeing where your abilities and limits like, you learn by trying, and there’s always something you haven’t tried. Even if the only lesson you get is to not try THAT again, it’s still learning.

    8. Be willing to fail. No, WELCOME failure. Sometimes the only way we learn the RIGHT thing to do in a situation is to do the wrong thing. Unless the consequences of failure are very costly (i.e., death or dismemberment), be willing to do things wrong enough to know what right looks like. This applies to both training and life.

    9. Find the little successes. Not every workout is going to be fantastic. But if you went farther, or faster, or felt some part of it was a little easier, enjoy that as much as setting a personal record. It’s a milestone, and it’s these “little victories” that keep us going.

    10. Be thankful for the bad days, too. A close friend and workout buddy of mine has a saying: “Welcome the bad workouts, because they help you appreciate the good ones.” It’s very hard to head home after a bad workout feeling like you’ve done something. But the truth is, you showed up, you tried hard, and your brain and body is probably busy trying to make sense of what didn’t work. Let that happen… next time you may have a victory to celebrate as a result!

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  • Hi Justin,

    Nice post. I’m a longtime runner myself, and I think you hit on some nice themes. One that really strikes me is that you don’t know how far you’ve come until you stop. In running, it is obvious. If you’re running a few times a week for a few months, you may get in a rut and feel like you’re not getting better, or faster, so you stop for a month. Then if you try to get back out there, you see that the pace you were able to keep, and the endurance you had, was kind of impressive.

    Same thing with any skill in life. You may call yourself a hack because you’re not a ‘pro’. But if you set that skill aside for a year, you’ll look back and realize you were pretty good.

    I actually found your article on Lifehacker, and was curious how it got there? Did you submit it, or did one of the editors happen upon it and repost it? If you have a second and can pass along any tips, I’d appreciate it.

    Thanks!
    Paul
    @sneakysmart

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