• Casper Yeow

5 Life Lessons I've learnt from Running (Why I run - Part 2 of 2)

Updated: May 25, 2020

My kids hate it when Dad starts spouting metaphors, especially when they can tell that I'm in 'let me teach you a life lesson' mode. Unsurprisingly, given that I LOVE metaphors and analogies, it shouldn't be any surprise that I've drawn many from running, my mid-life crisis past time. So, here are; 5 life lessons I've learnt from running!

Always start with a firm foundation

When I first started training for a marathon, inspired by a single line in a book, the word "slow" wasn't even remotely close to describing the pace I was 'running' at. At first, I had all sorts (old ladies, old dudes, little kids, overweight middle-agers - you name it) lapping me on a closeby Lacrosse oval. It was seriously difficult to leave so much of my ego at the door but I knew I had to for a good reason.

Because I had never been an endurance runner (like ever!), I needed to build what was known in the game (of endurance running) as a 'base', to transform my aerobic system to one that will enable me to go long distances without stopping. As a 'newb', my first objective was to make the distance, not the pace.

Lesson 1: With any large worthwhile endeavour, Step 1 will always be about building some form of foundation. For example, your dream job may require some form of qualification or for you to undertake some sort of formal education. The bigger and ballsier, the firmer and more solid that base will need to be, and possibly take longer to build than what you originally anticipated or wanted it to be. It's difficult to curb the excitement at the beginning and exercise patience, but take it from me, you DO NOT want to skip this part!

Just start it!

Most of us would be familiar with 'Just DO IT', the well-worn Nike tag line. In my opinion, it should have read "Just START IT!", for indeed, that is, for the most part, the hardest part of any worthwhile activity. Going for my run each morning is no different. Truth be known, most mornings, I don't feel like going. To overcome this, I adopt mind tricks to get myself to a point where I've started it and it'd be silly to not go ahead and finish what I started. We've all heard that the 'Why' is always an important part. For me, it's the looming marathon that was originally at the end of June but now delayed thanks to COVID-19. Another thing that I've found helpful is setting up beforehand. For my daily runs, I'll have all my clothes and gear ready the night before to remove as many excuses as possible for not running.

Lesson 2: Whatever it is, just start! You just need to someway get yourself to start, and it's likely that the 'do it' part will take care of itself. Don't wait until all your ducks are lined up (ie everything is perfect) because like that's really going to happen! That said, a good thing to do is to put aside some time to line up some ducks to take away any potential excuses.

Keep the form

I never knew how technical running was until I started geeking out on running. Stride length, foot strike, cadence and hip tilt were all foreign to me. I thought all I needed to do to run was...well, run! At the beginning of a long run, while our conscious fight/flight response hasn't yet been activated, our conscious mind is able to keep us in good form as long as we're mindful. As our bodies fatigue, our mind starts to go "Hey, wait a minute. This activity is going to kill me!" causing the form, that helps us to be efficient and injury-free, to start breaking. Instead of doubling down on what we need most (efficiency), our arms and legs start to flail around necessarily burning precious fuel, until we hit what runners refer to as 'the wall'.

Lesson 3: As hard as things sometimes seem, KEEP YOUR FORM! Keep doing the things that you already know are important - exercise, eating healthy and on time, learning, keeping in touch with family and friends ...whatever! These things, while they seem unnecessary in the heat of battle, are in fact many times more important. Make a commitment that no matter what life chooses to throw at you, that you will stick to your form. These are not necessarily big things but they do compound to make big differences!

Establish a rhythm

Once I've done a form check, the next thing I search for at the beginning of every run is rhythm. Once you find it, there's never a sweeter feeling. Your body goes into automatic mode and you free your mind up to be totally present and living in realtime! If for some reason, you can't, you may need to slow down (see Lesson 1), remembering that it is YOUR rhythm you're seeking, not someone else's.

Lesson 4: Once you've identified the important 'big rock' items in your life, the next step is to establish your rhythm for each activity - daily, weekly, monthly etc. This will, of course, depend on your individual unique circumstance and how much you can fit in, and even more importantly, how much you can sustain (ideally right throughout your life!). For instance, while daily two-hour meditation sessions will certainly be beneficial to your mental wellbeing, 14 hours a week may be better spent elsewhere. That said, there is no magic formula. Apply common sense, pragmatism and be realistic.

The person to beat is always going to be you!

In competition, whether sport or otherwise, we often hear about "the person to beat." At the pace I run, I wasn't going to be 'beating anyone'! When I entered my first official half-marathon, my sole objective was simply to make it, and therefore, the only person for me to beat was me!

Lesson 5: To me, "beat" sounds overly harsh, even when it's applied to myself. "Beating myself up" does not sound particularly inspiring. So, I choose to replace it with "bettering" or "improving." Just like working my way up to completing 42kms, bettering and improving one's self is incremental, best done by striving to make the 'today' you better than the 'yesterday' you, not by comparing yourself with your friends and neighbours, and certainly not by comparing yourself with the 'norms' of media and advertising.

These are not miracle cures, but if you apply these five lessons to your life, I could almost guarantee you miracles. It'll take lots of effort, and it's likely that doubt will occasionally creep into your thoughts. John Lennon was quoted as saying "Everything will be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end." To your doubts, always remember that you'll make it in the end. If you've not made it, it's not the end.

Excited to hear back from you. Good luck!

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