How Running Teaches You to Follow Through and Finish What You Start
“Implementation, not ideas, is the key to real success.” — Chet Holmes
Examples of quitting too soon are all around us.
Start learning how to play a new instrument. Stop after a week.
Get a gym membership in January. Stop showing up in February.
Start a new life-changing book. The book starts collecting dust on your night stand after reading the first ten pages.
Discipline and persistence are neither very sexy nor exciting but those who develop this habit tend to get more of what they want in life.
This morning, I was running with my run buds on the Burke-Gilman Trail as we do every Thursday at 6AM.
A biker was heading toward us in the opposite direction. As he passed us, I heard him say under his breath, “Masochists…”
I realized that to non-runners, running for fun is unimaginable.
A couple summers ago, I decided to do something I promised I would “never” do — run a marathon.
Me from a few years ago could not imagine running 26.2 miles by choice. To those who have not immersed themselves in long-distance running, it seems like a torturously senseless activity.
“So, you just run from point A to point B and do that over and over again?”
But I have since learned that there is magic to be found during those sometimes painful miles.
If there was one flaw that I knew could hold me back, it was the bad habit of starting things and not following through long enough to see the results.
My life sometimes felt like a vicious cycle of fits and starts. Have a great idea. Start researching the idea and getting excited about the prospects of the idea. Take a little action. Get distracted by the next idea because it was easier to dream and plan than to actually do. Rinse and repeat with nothing to show for my grand ideas.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
I had to break free from the insanity of being just another dreamer and become more of a doer, which is always a work in progress.
It takes a lot of commitment, time, energy, sacrifice, and discomfort to train for a marathon. At the start line of my first marathon, the Seattle Marathon, I could look back and see that the benefit of marathon training comes from learning to embrace the struggle!
Anything worth achieving is often more about sticking with it long enough and being able to persist despite discomfort, whether it is a business, health goal, or dream.
My Uncle Roland, the oldest of eleven children, once said to me, “Your generation is soft!”
This came from a man who had to walk out of Burma (Myanmar), was shot in the leg and left in a forest to die, made it to America by himself, and managed to help the rest of his family immigrate to California.
It is ironic that being lucky enough not to experience true struggle became my struggle. My life has been relatively easy thanks to the circumstances of where and when I was born, and I knew that I had to create my own challenge to toughen the hell up.
Marathon training has been a great training ground to practice following through and finishing what I start.
Fast forward to today, I have experienced some of the magic that happens with running.
- Running can teach you to love the process. A marathon is hours long but short compared to the months of training leading up to race day. What is the point if you only enjoy race day? I realized that my race day experience was built on the foundation of the months of training prior to that. I could look back on my progress and hard work with satisfaction regardless of what happened on race day.
- Running teaches you about yourself. Running is physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing. People will think you are crazy. Who runs 21 plus miles on a Saturday morning? Who wakes up at 5am to run with friends? Despite questioning your own sanity, you learn what you are made of and may even become aware of the rough edges you need to work on.
- Running teaches you patience. “Life is a marathon, not a sprint.” Now I actually understand what this means. Patience is knowing that the results come after you put in the work. Whether I study the most accomplished runners in my running group or world-class Olympians, they do not expect to be magically fast right away. Marathon training is a process of building up day after day and preparing to peak at the right time. It takes patience and self-awareness to know where you are and to show up consistently instead of training hard once and expecting to see results tomorrow.
- Running teaches you to be present. Running forces you to focus on the here and now. Much of the human struggle to get things done can be attributed to dwelling on the past or worrying about the future instead of taking action. Running is a practice of taking action now. There is no time to worry when you are huffing and puffing up a hill or trying to avoid tripping over the uneven Seattle sidewalks.
- Running teaches you that small, consistent steps compound to create big results. I would be in awe of the runners in the group who would do the “2016 miles in 2016” challenge and wondered how they did it. The way they achieved this feat was through consistency, not cramming in the miles the last 3 months of the year. Through May of 2017, I have spent more than 112 hours running and have covered 734 miles and counting. This even surprised me. I got here by dragging myself out of bed one day at a time, not waiting for the perfect time to get started. Show up consistently, and you will get farther than you thought possible.
- Running can help you feel more confident. Whether your personal best is running 1 mile without stopping or running a marathon in under 3 hours, achieving a personal best is something you can reference when you encounter a challenge. You know that you are capable of doing more than you once believed. You know the feeling of reaching a goal despite your doubts. With every run accomplished, you add to your mental database of challenges you faced and overcame. This confidence helps you continue even in the face of failure, setbacks, and obstacles.
- Running teaches you to be okay with other people thinking you are weird. Achieving something remarkable requires discipline and persistence despite what other people think or expect of you. You begin sleeping earlier on Friday nights before a long run instead of staying out for a couple more drinks. You begin waking up before dawn to meet up with other weirdo runners. You begin eating differently to support your health when your friends and family could care less. Your friends will think you are weird, but weird is different and different is remarkable. Plus, you will make friends who find it perfectly reasonable to spend hours every week running.
Running is painful. Running is hard. Running is a little bit masochistic.
However, running can help you rewrite the story you tell yourself. Running trains you to set a goal and to have the discipline and determination to finish, even when you encounter difficulty and setbacks.
The practice of running can teach you to follow through and finish what you start — a valuable skill no matter what you want to do with your life.
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