8 Things Running Teaches You About Life

I got into running during my University days, both to keep fit and to clear my head each evening after a long day in class.

If you’re anything like me, you probably started running for similar reasons – you realised it was an easy way to exercise, and it was a good way to pass some time.

But as any seasoned runner will tell you . . . the more you run, the more running rewards you.

Like the best things in life, running repays your investment and commitment: through improved fitness, through clearer thinking, and through some deep life lessons.

So here are 8 things running has taught me about life:

1. Every Day Is Different

Or, should I say, every run is different.

I often run the same route, at the same time, each day.

After I get home from work, I put on my running shoes and go for a 10km loop.

It’s the kind of activity that should feel identical every day – after all, the conditions are more-or-less the same.

But each day is different.

Sometimes it’s internal things that change from day-to-day: my mood, my energy levels, my enthusiasm.

Sometimes it’s external things: whether it’s sunny or raining, the wind, what I see.

Every run is its own thing – and while sometimes I’d like each run to be the same (for example, when I’m training for speed work and have targets to meet), it just doesn’t work that way.

Sometimes it’s impossible to muster that surge of energy you need to push through. Sometimes you are restless and want to quit.

Each day’s run is different, and that’s just like life.

Each day is something new and different – sometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes routine, sometimes unexpected.

Running teaches you that each day is different, and therefore to appreciate each day for being unique.

2. Your Competition Is Not Other People

Running is practically a non-competitive sport.

Alright, you might sometimes race your buddies a little at the local 10k, but really . . . if you’re running in order to beat other people, you’re doing running wrong.

Running is something where your competition is yourself.

Some days you are competing against the voice in your head telling you to quit, or stay home.

Some days you are competing against a self-imposed target.

Some days you are competing against your previous performance.

It’s not about competing with other people. In fact, the comparison is likely to simply demotivate you in the long-term.

And as in running, as in life.

Those who are successful are not the people who are constantly measuring themselves against other people.

They’re the people who measure themselves against their own high standards.

They’re driven to work hard in order to become the best version of themselves.

Your competition isn’t other people – it’s you. Your ego, your procrastination, your self-talk.

8 Things Running Teaches You About Life 1

3. Only You Can Truly Help Yourself

No one can run a 10k on your behalf.

If you want to run a 10k, there’s only one person who can make that happen.

There’s only one person who is responsible for whether or not you show up.

And that’s you.

You can get support, guidance, or encouragement from your friends and other runners.

But the person who has to do the work?

That’s you.

How does this apply to life outside running?

Just like in running, anything you want to truly achieve has to be initiated from within.

No-one else can spark the desire, or take those first steps on your behalf.

It has to come from you.

Once you start, you can get assistance, or guidance, or moral support.

But showing up and trying to suceed?

That’s on you.

Only you can truly help yourself.

4. Setbacks Are Going To Happen

Speak to any runner with a few years under their belt and they’ll share some war stories.

They’ll tell you about the knee injury that put them out of the game for six months, or the burn-out they suffered which mentally derailed them.

But they’ll also be able to tell you how they had to confront their setback, and work on it in order to get back to be able to perform again.

If you run long enough, you’ll realise that some form of setback is inevitable.

Maybe it’s an injury.

Maybe it’s a loss of motivation.

Maybe your marathon just got canceled due to events outside of your control.

Runners learn that setbacks happen, but are always temporary. Some time in the future, they’ll have recovered, be running again, and be all the stronger for having suffered a setback.

And in life?

The same story plays out.

Something terrible or unexpected happens – a setback – and suddenly we feel like life has been permanently de-railed.

But once you recognize that setbacks are both inevitable and temporary, you can re-frame these events.

You can realise they’re something to learn from, perhaps even an opportunity to grow. They’ll present different and – at times – challenging situations, but ultimately they will pass.

And with the right mindset, we can thrive.

Setbacks are going to happen.

5. Discomfort Is Actually Just Delayed Gratification

Running is all about getting comfortable being uncomfortable.

Early morning runs where you’d have rather stayed in bed.

Running in cold conditions, or when it’s raining, too hot, too windy…

Related: Running In The Wind Guide

Pushing the limits of your body past your comfort zone, whether it’s by running a long distance or ramping up your exertion levels.

Runners come to accept, if not embrace, the sensation of being uncomfortable.

They recognise that it’s necessary, that it’s an inherent part of training.

They realise that it’s essentially a form of Delayed Gratification: this is the act of doing something uncomfortable now for a later reward.

Rather than chasing the instant gratification (staying in bed, playing with their phone, eating candy), runners recognise the slow-burn benefits of putting themselves willingly into harder situations.

And this lesson translates extremely well to life.

The best things in life often appear as rewards for passing through trials and periods of discomfort.

The work can eventually become it’s own reward.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Discomfort is actually just delayed gratification.

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Couple running together in a race

6. Routine and Structure Lead To Success

All good runners have some form of running routine.

Maybe it’s running before work three times a week, or maybe it’s their weekly running club meetup.

Or maybe it’s following that half marathon training plan they’ve got taped to the fridge, diligently crossing off each day’s workout.

The best runners follow a plan, or routine – and it’s what keeps them balanced and successful.

In life, structure, routine, and targets are what lead to success.

No-one wrote a great novel acccidentally – such a work requires discipline and structure.

Likewise having routines around your regular chores ensures that they get done in a timely manner, so you can focus the rest of your time on the work you want to make happen.

Whether it’s writing a blog or trying to change the world, some balance in life will help you get there.

Routine and structure lead to success.

7. It’s Important To Know When To Take a Break

Run training – especially if you’re prepping for an ultra, let’s say – is a physically taxing commitment.

Your training schedule often ends up so packed that you end up running on tired legs, and your beaten body never gets a chance to fully recover.

Over time this can manifest itself through overtraining symptoms such as feeling of fatigue, restlessness, injury, or decreased performance.

All good runners know when they should be sticking to their plan, and when they need to take an unscheduled training break.

Sometimes, downtime and R&R are a core part of a good runner’s training arsenal.

And this lesson transfers well to the rest of life too.

Burnout, chronic stress and tension, and always being in ‘flight or fight‘ mode are common symptoms of modern life – and are signals your body needs a break.

Take the night off, book a spa break, or simply Netflix and chill…sometimes you’ve got to hit pause to recalibrate.

It’s important to know when to take a break.

8. There’s Strength In Community

Running is undeniably a great solo pursuit, but any good runner will happily tell you the importance of having a good running community around them.

Whether it’s your local running club, or a Facebook community (such as our one) having a group of runners who give you support and encouragement can make all the difference.

Training with a friend is often just easier than training alone.

And isn’t life just the same?

No man is an island, as the saying goes.

We all rely on our friends, family, and community in everything we do.

They make us better, stronger, and encourage us.

There’s strength in community.

Photo of author
Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and playing with his two tiny kids. More at his bio.

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