“If we are facing in the right direction,
all we have to do is keep on walking.” –Buddhist Saying
Ten years ago, this month, I took a big step forward. I started running.
Not fast. Not competitive. Just for my health. And in those 10 years, I’ve learned a little about running. And a lot about life.
- Ignore the doubters … When I first started running, I mentioned it to a friend with a big belly. He told me that my knees would fall off. Ten years later my knees haven’t fallen off. But his belly is even bigger. When your doctor, good science, and common sense all say that something is good for you, do it. And politely ignore those who tell you otherwise.
… but listen to those who know. Continually educate yourself. Learn about running. Learn about nutrition. Learn about finance. Learn about world affairs. Keep learning. Educate yourself. Every day. And talk to people who already have walked this path – lots of people. Listen and learn.
- Drop the headphones … There are so many things to discover on a run. Nature is all around us if we listen for it. I’ve seen coyotes, skunks, deer, owls, hawks, and even a seal or two. And the sounds are nuanced and complex. When we’re in our headphones, we may catch up on the latest podcast, or feel pumped up by the music, but we’re living in someone else’s world. Instead, look around at your world. Be in your space, not someone else’s.
… and reflect more. Although it took a number of years, I discovered that running can help me understand myself better. I use an early morning run to gauge my mood for the day. If I find my mind criticizing someone, I know to be a little more careful of my words that day.
- You will be passed … There are so many fast talented runners out there. I used to grumble when they’d pass me by, jealous of their talent. Petty. Since then, I’ve learned that it’s ok to get beaten because you’re really competing against yourself.
… and you will pass. You will find yourself passing slower runners. I used to chuckle to myself when I passed someone saying how much better of a runner I was. Arrogance. Now, especially if I pass someone who’s struggling, I might offer some words of encouragement. And I always try to always remember I was there once. Be humble in your opinions and accomplishments.
- Run through the nooks and crannies of the world … When you travel, taking a run can help you discover the back streets and little nuances of a place. I remember running into, almost literally, the Fremont Troll in Seattle. It’s still one of my favorite cities in which to run because it has wonderfully quirky art. When you travel, skip the bucket list and look at what’s behind the tourist curtain. It’s more interesting.
… and re-discover what’s in your own neighborhood. No matter how many times you run a path or a sidewalk or a road, there will be something new to see. When I was getting started, I ran down the same street, past the same dried up garden for months. Then the roses in the garden bloomed. It was overwhelming.
- Run for yourself … “Even the Taj Mahal needs upkeep,” –Stephen Holder from the series, The Killing.
We only have one body, take care of it.
… but run for others. A few years ago, I discovered the CharityMiles app. For every mile I run, their sponsors donate a quarter to Parkinson’s Disease research for me. Since then, I’ve probably donated $500. No matter what you’re doing, if you look hard enough you can find a way to help someone else while you’re doing it. It’s not all about you.
- Build good running habits … I don’t know a single dieter who wants to put back on the weight. I don’t know an investor who wants to lose their money. I don’t know a runner who wants to stop running. No matter how hard you work, without good habits you’ll slide back to where you were.
… by taking small steps. You can’t climb the mountain without taking the first step. Or the second. Or the third. Although this post is in honor of 10 years of running, I believe that one of the reasons I’m still running today is because I spent 6 months walking first. And now, even on the worst running days, I still go miles.
- Persist … When I started running, there were three, brutal mental walls. 6 months, 12 months, and 18 months. I just didn’t want to get out of bed early any more. But somehow I kept going. Same thing goes for any skill. Want to be a computer programmer? Push through the hard problem. Want to be a world famous chess player? Play chess for 10 years. Want to be rich? Patiently invest your money and use the power of compound interest over 40 years. Our resolve often seems to be built from an inferior clay that dries up and crumbles under the slightest pressure. Be a stickier clay.
… and commit. Seth Godin says we teach too much technique and not enough commitment. Agreed! Too many people say how much they want to run but don’t have time, have an old injury, without actually running. Commit yourself to running and run. Commit to learning something and learn it. I’ve seen the same thing as a speech coach and in Toastmasters. People want to be better speakers, but they don’t commit to attending regular meetings or speaking enough to get better.
- Run alone … You won’t get in shape unless you workout every day. So you can’t wait for someone else to motivate you. Sit down by yourself. Make a plan. Then implement it.
… and run in a group. Isolation may be the biggest underreported problem of today. We’re connected to the world, but sit alone in our room. Drug abuse is often worse in lonely people. Depression, insecurity – often in those that are alone. So, run through life with a large group of people who support you.
- Run new routes … Run new routes to keep monotony from setting in. Drive to a new park and run. Put one shoe in front of the other on a different street. Run different places and different speeds. Run toward new experiences in life, don’t run away. Build a life you don’t need to escape from. Keep running.
… but don’t forget to look back. If you can’t run a new route. Turn around. Run your route backwards. It’ll look different. And every so often, stop and take a look back at your life. See how far you’ve come.
- Give. Period. IMHO, it’s the most important thing you can do. Tony Robbins repeats “The secret to living is giving.” On this, he’s right. So quit taking selfies and start giving more – without expecting a reward – if you want more out of life.
One of the reasons I started running was because I kept falling asleep when I was reading to my twin daughters. Running was a way to have more energy at night for them. When you’re running, stop and pick up trash. If a shopping cart is in the street, run it back to the store. Those little actions seem to mean little, but by focusing on others it will give your life meaning. And it will mean something to the people you help. Give (a lot) your time to other people.
So what do the next 10 years bring? Well, the guy with the big belly would probably tell me that I’m in for a lot of knee problems. But I’ll take my chances.
One day at a time. One step after another.