Runners learn slowly and very often the hard way.
We’ll run races in shoes that we bought at the expo and then surge ahead of the pace group in order to ‘bank time’. In other words, as a tribe, we’re practically immune to taking advice.
With all that in mind, I have some tips based on many years of road-running that I’ll offer up knowing well how the process works. As each of us comes to running from a slightly different angle some, all or none of what follows may apply in your case.
1. It’s the people that 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; how often would you train? I’d guess that many of us wouldn’t run nearly as much as we do now and some of us wouldn’t train at all.
Looked at in another way, the difference between how we train now and the way we might train if we found ourselves alone, is the amount of running we do because of other people.
2. See beyond the next race
Many runners I’ve known find it difficult to see beyond the next big race; the one that they’re training so hard for right now. The next ‘big one’ can assume such importance that everything else is set aside in the push to be right on the big day. Short-term thinking can often lead to long-term burnout and injury.
Over the years I’ve come to realise that races come and races go but it’s really the running that matters. This is a wonderful sport and you will get lots of chances to shine. If you mess up the ‘big one’ there’ll be another one coming along soon.
3. Dance like nobody is watching
There was a time when I’d only wear black training shoes. I’d go from shop to shop hunting down the ones I thought would help me to look the part. I gave very little thought to what they’d be like to run in.
Paradoxically, I paid very little attention to what other runners were wearing or doing; assuming that they absolutely knew what they were doing.
After a while, it dawned on me that nobody really cared about my running or my shoes. To most other people, I was just another face in the crowd.
Once I accepted that I was able to relax and was able to enjoy myself a lot more.
4. Races are the jam on the doughnut – not the doughnut
Many runners like to enter races and it’s easy to see why. The buzz of races is encouraging and they can be the perfect opportunity to test ourselves and see the progress we’ve made.
Although I still love races, they can’t be my main reason to run anymore. I need to know that running is something I can enjoy any day of the week and not something I endure daily so that I can race occasionally.
5. In order to keep it, you have to give it away.
Like all the best twelve-step-programs, running works best when we can pass it along to others. I don’t mean to say that runners should grab the nearest couch-potato and harangue them about the benefits of jogging, but we can share positive experiences and encouragement when the moment is right.
I’ve always found that when I take an hour to support someone else that I get that positivity back twenty times over. It’s Karma baby!
6. Make some of it up as you go along
There’s a lot of conventional wisdom around running, but just because something is true most of the time doesn’t mean that it’s true all of the time. Don’t be afraid to occasionally take an unconventional path in training or in racing.
Some of the most enjoyable races I’ve ever run 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.
Never take the whole process so seriously that you find yourself doing things the way you ‘ought’ to do them.
7. If you don’t want to run, don’t run
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 likely be fresher, more enthusiastic and ready to rock.
8. It’s the process baby!
Don’t confuse the process with the goal.
Your goal might be to run a sub-four-hour marathon, to lose some weight or to complete a 10km race – but it’s the process that delivers. As the man says, we’ll all be dead a long time and we might as well enjoy ourselves a little while we’re here.
Take the time to gather a few rosebuds along the way and to notice what’s passing you by.
In ten years’ time, we probably won’t remember the races we run but we might still know the friends we made while we were training.