In common with a lot of other things in my life, it’s taken me quite a few years of involvement with running in order to realise just how little I know about it. Having said that, I think I’ve learnt a few lessons along the way that might be worth passing on. Above all else, I’ve come to know that every single runner comes to the sport from a slightly different place, and so it’s almost certain that not all of what I’ve picked up will apply to anyone who reads this post.
There might however be one or two bits on the list that you can identify with – at least I hope so.
- It’s the people who make it all worthwhile. Ask yourself this question. If you were stranded on a desert island, with enough food, water and shelter to last indefinitely, would you still train as you do know? I’d guess that most of us wouldn’t run as much and that some of us wouldn’t train at all. Looked at in another way, the difference between how we train now and how we might train if we found ourselves in complete isolation, is the amount of training that we do because of other people. I’ve often written about the pleasures of good company on the road at races and so I won’t labour the point here except to say that it’s the main reason that I run.
- Try to See Beyond the Next Race. Many runners that I’ve known find it hard to see beyond the next big race – the one that they’re training so hard for at the moment. The next ‘big one’ can assume great importance, so much so that all other considerations can be set to one side in the push to be right for the big day. We tend to focus on, obsess about and worry over how fit we’ll be and what time we might run when the time comes. There are sometimes good reasons for targeting one particular race, but over the years I’ve also come to realise that big races will come and big races will go, and that, in the end, it’s the running that matters and not the big races. This is a wonderful sport and you get lots of chances to shine. If you mess up at the next big race or if you don’t even make it to the starting line, there’ll be another one next week, or month, or year that will be just as big.
- Relax. Nobody is Watching You. There was a time, especially when I was a little younger, that I would only wear a certain colour training shoe. I would go from shop to shop hunting down the correct style, giving little if any thought to what the shoe might actually be like to run in. I was concerned almost exclusively with how the shoe looked. At that time, when I went running, I was very worried that I might look like an eejit, that I would be able to fit in and look like I knew what I was doing. Ironically, it was also true that I paid very little attention to other runners – because I just assumed that they knew what they were doing. If I saw someone wear unusual clothing of do strange stretches at a race, I might wonder in passing why that was the case, but my basic assumption was that everyone else was ‘in the know’ and that I must at all times keep up the appearance of being ‘in-the-know’ – even when I hadn’t a clue. After a while it dawned on me that nobody was really worried about my shoes, clothing or how I stretched. The truth is, that to most other people we’re just another face in the passing crowd and they have bigger problems to worry about than the colour of our training shoes. Once I shed some of that pointless anxiety, I was able to enjoy myself a lot more. It’s like they say, “Dance like nobody is watching”.
- Races Are The Jam on the Doughnut – Not The Doughnut. Most, but not all, runners like to go to races. It’s easy to see why. The buzz surrounding races is encouraging and they’re an enjoyable opportunity to test yourself against both the distance and other runners. Many people, including myself, started running in order to train for a race – it was what got us started. Although I still love to go to races, and to suck up some of that positive energy, they can’t be the main reason for my running. I need to know that running is something I do and enjoy most days and not something I do so that I can race every few weeks.
- You have To Give It Away In Order To Keep It. Like all the best 12-step-programs, running works best when you pass some of your enjoyment and enthusiasm to others. I don’t mean that runners should grab the nearest couch potato and immediately convince them about the benefits of jogging, but rather that everyone should share experiences and provide a little encouragement for others when they think they have a chance. Online forums area great recent development where runners of all standards can mix in an easy and supportive environment. I’ve always found that when I take an hour to support someone else I get that goodwill back twenty times over. It’s Karma baby!
- Make It Up As You Go Along. There’s an awful lot of conventional wisdom around running but none of it should be accepted unchallenged. Just because something is true most of the time it doesn’t mean that it’s true all of the time for you. Never be afraid to take an unconventional path in training or in racing or to make up your own mind about how you want to run once you’ve decided that’s what you’d prefer. Some of the best races I’ve ever taken part in have been informal, quirky and small and I’ve often found that the standard training advice doesn’t suit me well. The more spontaneity, imagination and silliness that you can bring to running the more fun you’ll have. If you work 20 miles from work and have always wondered what it would be like to run home – do it one day. If you’d love to run around a mountain why not actually have a go. Never take the whole process so seriously that you find yourself doing things the way you ‘ought’ to do them.
- If You Don’t Want To Run, Don’t. Never let running become a grind, an obligation or a chore. If running is an important part of how you want to live, take good care of that involvement and give yourself enough room to enjoy it properly. If you arrive at a point where, on any particular day, you don’t want to run – don’t. Tomorrow you’ll be fresher, more enthusiastic and ready to rock.
- It’s the Process Baby! Don’t confuse the process the goal. The goal might be to run a sub-three marathon, to lose weight, making some friends or to complete a 10km race – but it’s the process that delivers. As the man says, we’ll all be a long time dead and with that in mind we might as well enjoy ourselves a little while we’re here. Take the time to gather a few metaphorical rosebuds as you run and to look around each day to see what’s passing you by. In ten years time we probably won’t remember the races but we might still have the friends we made while we were training for them.