10 Key Life Lessons from Running

I just finished my first ever 21K race at 2018 Phnom Penh International Half Marathon. My initial target was just a 10K race, but I decided to go for a 21K race instead to challenge myself. About 6 years ago I broke my leg and I thought running was definitely not for me. I increased my running distance bit by bit and my leg seems to get used to the pain from running and here I am as a 21K finisher. I was told that people get a lot of inspirations from sport especially from running. At this moment, more or less I understand the passion for running. Here are some of the lessons and metaphors I learned from running.

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1. You have more strength than you can possibly imagine:

We have a tendency to underestimate the potential within ourselves. I learn that there is hidden potential waiting to be unlocked if you keep being persistent and focus your attention to it. For example, I remember how tiring I was when I started running my first 3K. I was out of breath and I thought to myself “How the hell am I going to run 10K? How the hell am I going to finish 10K under the time limit of 1hr30min?” Through training and miles accumulated, I now can run 10K at 1hr 8mn and 21K at 2hr 47mn. Yes, my pace is still slow, but 10K and 21K now look more doable than ever before.

One more thing that I notice is that whenever I feel like my body is running out of gas, there is always a little bit more strength and a little bit more energy left in me if I can push it through. All I have to do is dig a little deeper within me and pull it out. I look back at the time I pushed myself and I felt a sense of pride and satisfaction that I decided to carry on when giving up would be much easier. You are brave. You are strong. You can live the life that you dream of and love. Don’t let other people tell you otherwise.

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2. Be present in the moment:

Running is actually very simple. You put one foot in front of another foot. You focus on each stride forward, concentrate on each breath and at the same time keep eyes on the path ahead. Long distance runners have this facial expression – the look like they are thinking deeply about something, but in reality often the mind is empty and they don’t really think about anything. That is simply staying present in the moment. You are not depressed about your past. You are not fearful of the future. You just allow yourself to enjoy the run, to feel the cool breeze of air, to feel the sun shining on your face and the sweat dripping from your forehead. Concentrate on every step of the journey in life and embrace every beauty of it.

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3. Your true competition is yourself:

While running, there is this voice inside your head telling you to stop running, because you are tired and your leg hurts. “Why are you punishing yourself like this?”, the mind says. From my experience, if you can overcome this battle inside your mind and continue to run, you will be amazed that you actually can run further and you will feel amazing after reaching your targeted distance and/or pace. Through running, more or less I learn to control this little demon inside my head and show it who is boss. There are many occasions that this demon inside your head tries to bring you down, make you feel depressed and fearful of the uncertain future. With the ability to control this demon, I am now able to be aware of my mind, accept it and just let it subside. The feeling of awesomeness can also be attained after beating your own personal record of running – whether it’s running 5K under 30min or 10K under 1hr or reaching the standard you set for yourself.

Runners want to be the better version of themselves. The only person that you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday. My pace is still slow and one of my goals this year is to run 10K under 1hr and 21K under 2hr 30mn. For now, I am focusing on improving my endurance and speed.

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4. There are people who run past you and people who you run past:

While running, there are runners who are slower than me and of course there are runners who are much faster than me. However, the fact that there are runners who can run faster does not really bother me. The faster runner may have trained longer than me or may have a better physical condition than I do. Probably, that runner has only started running a few minutes ago and that’s why their energy level is higher and pace is faster. My point is it is not important to compare yourself against other people. You don’t know their whole story or what they have been through. The fact is everyone is fighting their own individual battle. As long as you are improving over yesterday and reaching the standard you’ve set for yourself, everything else is secondary.

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5. A difficult challenge will look attainable if it is broken down into one step at a time:

Running 21K can seem overwhelming. But if you can break the 21K down into 21 of 1K, the task now seems more achievable. While running and feeling tired, I keep telling myself that “Ok just run 1 more km”. Just like I lie to myself “Just one more episode” whenever I watch Netflix. Sometimes when I have a bad day and I get tired so quickly, I just told myself to do my best and run past the next tree. This technique is very effective. It actually gives you hope and we human can do miraculous things with hope. In life there are projects or goals that seem too difficult to accomplish and you tend to procrastinate. But if you can break it down into smaller parts and achieve those small parts one by one, the whole project may start to seem less complicated. One step at a time!

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6. There is no regret when you put your best effort:

If there is something worth doing, it is better to put in your best effort. I have put in many hours and miles into running, but my pace is still slow. My personal record for 21K race is 2hr 47mn and there is nothing to brag about. One of the quickest PP Half Marathon runners this year ran under 1hr 30mn. My pace is super slow compared to him, but there is nothing to be ashamed of. No matter what the outcome may be, I can feel a sense of peace and contentment, as long as I have given my best shot. “Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running and a metaphor for life,” said Haruki Murakami – a Japanese running novelist.

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7. There is no shortcut. Getting better will cause you pain.

You can’t expect to run half marathon or a marathon easily with no training. There must be effort, sacrifice and hard work that you have to put in. Some days you have to force yourself to run, although you don’t feel like running. Oprah Winfrey said “Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it.” Sometimes you have to endure pain for a long time. The pain in itself is what makes us feel alive. I remember a running mate saying that quote and I just smile, because it is true in so many ways. If it was easy and did not cause pain and discomfort, everyone would do it. It takes someone who is special and crazy enough to take the challenge and do it.

There are times when the finish line looks so far away and these kind situations require us to be patient, endure pain for a long period of time. But if we continue to put one foot in front of another, we will reach the finish line.

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8. Hard work, sacrifice, discipline and consistency can substitute innate talent

Let’s face it. Life isn’t fair. Some people are blessed with natural talent. For example, there are people with great height and strong body and leg that can excel at running super fast with only little training. But not everyone is born with such natural gift. Rather than complaining that life isn’t fair, we can focus on what we can control and that is hard work, discipline and consistency.  

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9. Things don’t always go according to plan. Life is not always what you want it to be, but it’s okay.

I can be impatient sometime. I want to run 10K without the need to stop and catch my breath. I want to be able to run 21K straight right now in under 2hr 30mn. Most of the time when I am running, there is one thing that is on my mind and that is how good I would feel if I can break my own personal record time of running, whether it is 5K and 10K or 21K. Of course, I won’t be able to break my own record every time I tried. Even if I could not break my own PR, I would just brush the disappointment off and look forward to another run to break it during my next run.

Not getting what you want can be very frustrating. There were times that I hurt my knee and cannot run fast. There were times that my pace and endurance did not improve at all after all those training that I had. Sometimes life gives you adversity which is what you don’t expect. You might feel disappointed and frustrated, because it’s not the situation or result that you want. But it’s okay, because it is the reality of life. You can learn from those setbacks and move forward. Who knows? Those setbacks might be there to teach you something and to make way for more positive and meaningful things for you.

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10. The process is just as exciting as the goal

That’s another non-cliche way of saying life is about the journey, not the destination. Yes, I know it is a cliche. Many people have said that sentence, because it is true in so many ways. Yes, it feels amazing to cross the 21K finish line under the time limit. But what makes crossing the finish line even more special is thinking about all the early morning runs that I had to force myself to get out of bed to run, the community of friends that is in my life and want me to succeed, the pain that I have endured and the lessons that I have learned along the way. All of these experiences that I’ve gone through are what shape who I am today and I am very grateful of that.

My point is: embrace every step of the journey that leads you to where you want to be. Enjoy the process and trust the journey. Be open for the infinite possibilities of life.  I hope I end this article on a high. Happy running!

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About jaya

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One Response to 10 Key Life Lessons from Running

  1. Pingback: 10 Key Life Lessons from Running - When in Phnom Penh

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