It was the summer of 2008 that my mom made the first push for me to join the Norco high school cross country team as I got ready to start my freshman year. I was 13 years old, spending the summer like most kids do by the pool or binge-watching Spongebob while I snacked on way too many otter pops.
Seeing as I had played soccer for the past several years and planned to play on that team in high school, joining cross country was so not in my plans. I hated running “the mile” during P.E. as much as the rest of my classmates did and saw running as a punishment – why would I dedicate myself to a whole sport that revolves around it?!
Nevertheless, my mom said it would be good to build my endurance and already be in shape for my first soccer season, so off I went to my first practice at 7 am – forever ending the days of lazy summers and life as I knew it. Little did I know that that first practice and the next 7 years of becoming a cross country/long-distance track and field athlete would change my life forever.
If there’s anything I could talk about for days on end, it’s all of the ways that running has changed my life, but today I’ll share the 5 main lessons I’ve learned from running that I still carry with me to this day:
Many of you might be reading this and wondering, “how the heck does torturing myself for miles and miles count as self-care?!” It’s true that running, if overdone/done incorrectly, can certainly cause damage to your body and wear you out mentally. But, if you take the necessary steps to heal your body after the wear-and-tear, you’ll be able to support it and empower it to go beyond what you thought possible!
Think of your body like a car. It has so many wonderful systems and features (that I admittedly have no clue about lol) that enable it to run efficiently and propel itself forward with hopefully enough speed to avoid being tailgated by angry drivers on the freeway. However, in order to keep itself going, it needs to be refueled/re-charged frequently and requires even more maintenance (and money) the more miles it’s driven.
The same goes for our bodies – while basic habits such as fueling your body with healthy food (or the seafood diet – see food and you eat it – as recommended by the famous Steve Scott 😉) and drinking plenty of water each day is crucial, doing the necessary “maintenance” for our bodies is just as important!
That means that on top of the fuel that nourishes your body, you need to stretch, massage tight muscles, and use that ice bath religiously if your muscles feel like they’re constantly screaming for help! For more tips on self-care, check out my Runner’s Guide to Self-Care.
While these tips for self-care may not look like the “self-care” you’re used to hearing about that involves mani-pedis, facemasks, or treating yourself to a nice glass of wine (which are all things I could definitely get on board with!), the same lesson applies. If we keep running toward our dreams at the speed of light, whatever they may be, we must take care of ourselves in the process to make the journey toward those dreams a lot less bumpy!
- I’m Stronger Than I Think I Am
I think this second lesson I’ve learned also ties into self-care since I truly believe that I would not be as mentally strong as I am now if I didn’t become a runner. Not only does running give your body a rush of endorphins, which are responsible for the “runner’s high” that runners always talk about (which is totally real!), it also gives you an overwhelming sense of accomplishment when you push yourself past challenges you didn’t think you could overcome!
There are also so many times I used running to turn a bad day into a great one; instead of falling victim to the negative feelings I might be experiencing at the time, running forced me to work through them! I could be feeling totally exhausted on both mental and physical levels to the point where I’m ready to throw in the towel until I’m reminded that if I just work through it, I can overcome any obstacle that’s thrown at me – whether it’s on the running trail or everywhere else in life!
- Rough Roads Are Good for You
We can all think of a time in our lives when seemingly one bad thing after another kept happening – maybe you failed your math test again or you got rejected for the 5th time after your seemingly endless job search – and wondered, “why does this keep happening to me? Why can’t I catch a break?”
Kind of like that dream you have when you’re running and running as fast as you can, but you can’t seem to get anywhere, actual running can feel like a constant uphill battle (in more ways than one!). The road is not always smooth – steep hills, rough dirt trails, and rainy days can make it hard to keep going!
But any experienced runner knows that these rough roads are actually good for you and, in fact, necessary to keep going in the long run (pun not intended but there it is)! And I’m not just being cheesy – running on softer surfaces that are often harder to run on really is better for minimizing damage to your joints and strengthening your ankles and their surrounding muscles even more.
That means that, yes, that trail in the middle of the woods that threatens to twist your ankle at every turn is actually better for you than the solid concrete path that’s easily accessible from your house. Even running on asphalt is better than concrete since it has more “give”, believe it or not!
In the same way that rough roads are better for you during a run, these rough roads we often experience in life can be better for us too! Although it seems counterintuitive to think that the more we struggle, the better off we’ll be, if we hadn’t failed those tests or bombed those interviews, we wouldn’t have studied harder or improved our interviewing skills enough to finally pass that class or land that amazing job!
- I’d Rather be Happy than Comfortable
When I first started running at 13 years old, I wouldn’t say that I was in a good or happy place at the time – not that being 13 was fun for anyone, right? I was officially a teenager with all the mood swings and hormones you could imagine, and I was nervous to enter what was, in my mind, “the real world” of high school for the first time.
Joining the cross country team not only helped make the first day jitters better since I already had a new group of friends like my first friend, Emily (who is still one of my best friends to this day!), but was also instrumental in helping me learn how to deal with all of these new feelings I was experiencing.
Making that decision to become a runner was such an incredible turning point in my life that I genuinely believe it saved my life, in a way. If I didn’t start this amazing journey that became my primary outlet for any baggage that I felt weighing on me, I could’ve been like many other kids that started going down the wrong path as many do in those 4 very important years.
Seeing as I and many of my other family members struggle with anxiety and depression, I often found myself a little too comfortable in my occasional bouts of unhappiness even though I knew I wasn’t happy. As I’ve mentioned before in my discussion about Fear and Playing it Safe, it’s almost as if I was afraid of being happy or getting out of my comfort zone even though I wasn’t getting to where I wanted to be.
This all changed almost immediately when I started getting a taste of running and how the road to happiness, so to speak, is pretty much always worth the discomfort it takes to get there! It was this journey that quite literally taught me to fight for my life and that choosing happiness over whatever place of comfort or safety I might be hiding in is always the better choice.
Even though my years of cross country are over in the competitive sense, I still carry these lessons with me and apply them to any situation life throws at me.
Has running had a positive impact in your life?