When running becomes part of the ordinary, it’s easy to just go through the motions—lace up your shoes, grab your headphones and house key, and head out the door. It no longer feels like an extra productive morning when you go on a run. The once check-box goal becomes a given, like brushing your teeth in the morning when you first wake up. But when this starts to happen, it’s important to slow your pace and fully acknowledge the benefits of what we experience and accomplish on our daily jog around town.
Here are five life reminders brought to the forefront by running. Whether new to the sport or a seasoned veteran, every mile — forward, backward, left, right, wrong turn, and back again—helps shift our focus to the little things in life that mean the most before we cross that finish line.
Consistency is key
According to scientists, it takes an average of 66 days to turn a new behavior into a habit. For some, this could be much longer, and for others, shorter. In any case, if you factor a run into your daily schedule for, let’s say, three days per week, this number will soon become four and then five if you stay true to your plan. As with any new task in life, the hardest part is getting started. Maybe running is outside of your comfort zone or you’re recovering from an injury. Maybe you’re exhausted from the full-time job of being a new mom or trying to lose weight and feel like everyone is staring. If they are, let them stare. You are the one setting the day in motion and, although it may not feel like it at the time, it will get easier. The next day when you wake up and have another mental battle with yourself—should I close my eyes for a bit longer or kick-start my day with a mile or two?—always choose the latter. Consistency breeds results. Your morning thoughts will go from “I have to run” to “I want to run.” And just like that, it has become an automatic in your life (right after brushing your teeth). But remember, the process of getting to this point is a marathon, not a sprint. Start with the small wins, like a three-mile jog on your lunch break, and maybe throw in a five-miler on Fridays. Embracing everything in moderation will help you grow into a stronger person, both physically and mentally, leading towards goals you never even thought possible.
Always go the extra mile
When your heart starts beating faster, the sweat begins to pour, and you feel like your lungs may burst, it’s tempting to convince yourself to take a break. That vacant bench over there is calling your name. Who said you had to take the longer route today, anyway? While resting for a moment or shortening your run isn’t a crime, before choosing to do so, remind yourself that you are stronger than you think. Just when it seems like you’ve reached that breaking point of defeat, there’s always something to cheer you on from the sidelines, even when there are no fans. Whether it’s an old coach’s advice, the image of that elderly woman next door who, even with her weakening knees, goes for a lunchtime stroll every day with her walker, or that homemade bowl of leftover pasta from last night’s dinner that awaits, thoughts like these will help push your limits. Humans are resilient, but runners bring this resilience to a whole new level. Remember, you are your only competitor (and too often, your own worst enemy). You have nothing to lose and nothing to prove to anyone but yourself.
Explore new places
Running opens your world to new places. I bet you probably know the ins and outs of your town from the landmarks of your running routes. Even if you fall into a pattern, there’s always a new street to turn down and see where it goes. More often than not, it will lead to a hidden treasure, somewhere you never knew existed but now are glad you do. Being a runner reminds us to veer off the beaten path. And if it turns into a dead-end, having a few extra miles beneath your soles never hurts. Running allows you to explore. Maybe your route resembled a corn maze with lots of unnecessary twists and turns to meet your mileage goal, but if you hadn’t done it, you wouldn’t have spotted that lizard scurrying up the stucco wall, or that ball of fiery red peeking over the horizon, welcoming the brand-new day. It’s funny — whenever I’m on my usual route, I literally pass over writing engraved into the concrete sidewalk that says, “Never stop exploring.” It’s my constant reminder to break free from the norm. Take that new route you just mapped out, pitch that project idea at work, try that daring hairstyle you’ve been thinking about for years or that new recipe you’re intimidated to try. Life and its wonders are boundless and can be found everywhere, even in your own backyard.
Don’t be afraid to let your mind wander
Some say they do their best thinking in the shower. I do my best thinking on a run. Maybe it has to do with finding clarity—breaking from your day-to-day and hitting the road ahead. It’s just you, the fresh air, and your thoughts running in sync with the rhythm of your shoes. In fact, there is nothing to distract you but these thoughts. There is no TV, email, phone call, or text to pull you away. So, the next time you’re struggling to complete a task at work or simply need a break, make it productive. Go for a run to clear your mind and, at the same time, fill it with fresh, new ideas that will improve your day both mentally and physically. Whether it’s the released endorphins, sweat, or the change of scenery, running always seems to help find the answer, even if that answer was just to step away for a few minutes (or miles).
Enjoy the solitude
While making plans in advance with a running buddy or registering for a race can be fun, there’s nothing quite like an early morning jog alone. Yes, maybe it was the only free slot in your schedule and you’re not necessarily a morning person, but when the sun starts peaking over the horizon and the whole day awaits, you’ll know it was worth it. There’s a route I often take on a winding back road during my visits in Vermont. I always leave my headphones behind on this run. The birds chirping and the wind whistling through the branches of the old Oaks and Evergreens become my soundtrack—nothing more. Listen to the solitude and appreciate the loneliness. Use it as a chance to stay connected to yourself, your body, and the pure beauty of the world around you.
So, the next time you lace up those running shoes, tune out all the noise and focus on the journey. Running is more than just a healthy sport — it’s a life sport.