Why running is a metaphor for life

Running: just do it!

Regular readers will know that I took up running at the beginning of 2011 for two reasons. One: I had a problem controlling my weight (I wasn’t huge, but I wasn’t svelte either) and two: to honour my friend Dave Fitzsimons who died of non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2008. I walked the inaugural Fitzy’s 5 determined to run it the next year.

When I first started running, I couldn’t run 50 metres to save myself, even though I was an efficient walker. If there was a zombie apocalypse at that time, I would have been done for because everyone knows that the first rule of ZA survival is cardio. And I certainly wouldn’t have been able to save my little family! However, by the end of 2011 – with my iPhone, Get Running app, Runkeeper and SARRC‘s Start Running classes – I could run close to 7 kms. Not entirely comfortably, but I still was proud of my achievement. Just as exciting: I dropped weight quite quickly with the help of Lite N Easy and My Fitness Pal.

Last Sunday – almost three years exactly after I started running – I ran 15 kms as part of my half marathon training. It was a comfortable run, and this means – barring injury – I am on track to run the half marathon at this year’s Adelaide Marathon Running Festival as a precursor to the Lake Maggiore Half Marathon in 2015. It was my trip to Italy in 2012 – and my stay in Stresa on the Lake – that got me thinking about the vague possibility of running a half in the first place!

While this journey hasn’t been without setbacks, and it has certainly had its challenges, I have learned more about myself than just about anything life has thrown at me.

What you do after a setback defines you

I have started and restarted running at least twice each year since 2011. It’s not because I give up, it’s because I have injuries (not severe ones, mind you, just niggling stuff) that require tender loving care. And rest. Injuries need rest. And I travel; this year I was away for close to two months and it wasn’t possible to run while I travelled.

Each time I start again, it takes me less time to get my fitness back, which is incredibly gratifying. My body is an amazing machine and it knows what it has to do. What I can push it to do. My body continues to rise above setbacks, does what I need it to do to get back on track to just keep running. If you start and keep running, you will be amazed at what you can achieve if you don’t give up. I know I am.

Nothing can help you with goals like persistence, consistency and discipline – and determination

When I first started running, I felt really silly. You’re not a runner, I’d tell myself, you’re almost 50 for God’s sake – what on earth makes you think you can do this? But I persevered because I had something to prove to myself. And to Dave Fitzsimons.

I made myself run three times a week – Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays because it was do-able. I switched to early mornings because I quickly learned that if I ran in the evening, I was likely to find any excuse not to (hard day at the office, impromptu drinks, too hot, too wet, too dark). So I ran in the morning before work. And I ran outside because I hate gyms and treadmills. I put my toons on, was bossed around by my running app and I ran. I ran when I was tired, in sweltering heat, in frosts, in rain, after storms when I was worried about trees falling on my head and the river flooding. Sometimes I ran when I wasn’t feeling the best. Some runs were better than others. I walked more than I ran at times. But I did it, and it is now a firm habit – a habit I feel very uncomfortable about not observing.

My mantra in those early days was a run was better than no run. And it’s true.

You’ve got to figure out a way to solve the problems

You would think running – and continuing to run – would be a straightforward activity. You lace on your shoes, you head out the door, and you run. And you keep on running, just like Forrest Gump. Not so for me.

One of my first injuries (more of an annoyance than an injury, really) was blisters. Big ones, in my arches, appearing after about 3 kms into a run. It took me nearly two years of bandaiding the symptoms (literally!) to work out it was the inbuilt arch support in my shoes. I switched to a neutral shoe, and have been blister free.

A sharp pain in my knee – that wasn’t fixed with knee support – sent me off to the physio, where I was diagnosed with ITB syndrome. That was fixed with rest and stretching, but reappeared after I ran the goat track that is the Pioneer Women’s Trail. Apparently down-hill is no good for runners who are prone to ITB flare-ups. More rest and stretching.

My point is: running – and the desire to keep running – requires you to think about how to solve problems that crop up. And they crop up on a regular basis!

Keeping your eyes on the prize is crucial to achieving anything

My main motivation for running was initially weight loss, then weight control. Then I just wanted to be able to comfortably run 5 kms, which I vowed to do after running that first Fitzy’s 5. Then 10kms. After visiting Italy in 2012, I had my eye on the Lake Maggiore Half Marathon, which I plan to run in 2015, and I’m ahead of my schedule for that event. I’ll run a half this year as a practice run (literally!) so that I know – psychologically – that I can do it.

I track all my runs – time, distance, calories burned – in either Nike+ or Runkeeper. I celebrate my achievements and the wins, for example, furtherest distance and fastest time. I love seeing how far I have come since I started, and it keeps me motivated.

There is no such thing as perfection – just improvement

The best – and worst – thing about running is that you will never master it. You will never be perfect at it. You challenge yourself every time you lace on your shoes. Hell, it took me two years to even like running!

You will have awesome runs when all the planets align and everything goes your way, and you will have shite runs, when your feet feel like blocks of concrete and you just can’t catch your breath. On some runs, that voice in your head will tell you to stop less than 1 km in; on other runs, that voice in your head is cheering you on as you pass the 15 km mark.

All you can do is just keep your eye on the prize, know that there will be setbacks and just keep running.

Because in the end, running is its own reward. And like life, you get out of it what you put into it.

4 thoughts on “Why running is a metaphor for life

  1. I particularly loved the last section of this piece. It’s nice for us non-runners to hear that even experienced runners still have their bad runs. Then, when we give it a go, we don’t feel like we’re doing something wrong if we experience those days, too

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