Running seems so simple. You just put one foot in front of the other over and over again really fast. Who would have ever guessed there was more to it? Yet, in its elementary lack of complexity, you stumble into the profound with each swish of your shorts. If you listen, running can tell you about yourself in a way that few things can. The more you embrace each mile, the more you understand that the wisdom found in the quiet, dew-filled morning runs is unique and spectacular, all wrapped up in one heart-pounding combination.

So how can running teach you about life? Read on. Then lace up your shoes and see what you can learn!

1. Synergy isn’t just a buzz word; it’s how you get better!

Synergy simply means that 1 +1 = 3. That is, you are so much more powerful working with others than alone. If you have been a runner long, you know that we form a global community. I can pass another runner on the road, or find out someone is a runner, and we instantly share a connection that warrants getting up at the crack of dawn to meet a total stranger and go pound the pavement together. Because, if you’re a runner, then you instantly get a huge part of me—no explanation necessary. What better way to start a friendship?

Runners support each other. They push each other. They unite over running together. You find you become so much faster when you are surrounded by the sound of other feet slapping the sidewalk right next to you. With a good support group at your heels, the miles fly by, the mountains become molehills, and you suddenly discover that you are faster than you ever thought possible.

2. Your body is capable of more than you ever dreamed.

When I first started running in high school track, I never dreamed I would run farther than the few miles needed to train for the mile race in the track event. I thought a 5K race was a huge deal! Now, I’ve completed a marathon and I am training for my first Ironman triathlon; which has you running a marathon after swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112 miles to warm up first.

I can honestly say that finishing my marathon made me realize that endurance running wasn’t something only obtainable by those born to run. Regardless of genetics, any healthy person can become a distance runner as long as they put in the proper training time. Your body can do truly impressive feats when given the right training and nutrition.

Now, when I drive distances, I think, “Hey, if my car broke down right now, I could run that!” It’s actually an empowering concept!

3. Your competitor isn’t the one beside you; it’s the one inside you!

Sure, it’s nice to outrun other runners. I like winning my age group just as much as the next girl. But, the real war is inside. It’s that voice that tells you it’s too dark, cold, and windy to get out of your unbelievably soft, warm bed and go for an early morning run. It’s the very sound, logical whisper that tells you it’s better to slip on your slippers then your running shoes after work. After all, you’ve worked hard all day. You deserve a break. If you do manage to overpower that siren of sleepiness and make it out the door, it’s that whimper nagging your mind the entire run that you’re going to get heat stroke if you don’t turn around right now and go back and get a nice, cold lemonade.

If you want to become a serious runner, you have to learn to silence that voice. I can promise you, running a marathon is not easy. It hurts. And, if you don’t learn to defeat the enemy in your head, your feet will never take you very far.

After running, I see that enemy inside everywhere. When I want to eat healthier, she’s tempting me with the junk food. When I want to be productive, she’s arguing how a movie would be a nice way to relax.

Every time I want to move against the current of easy, my inner enemy wants me to stop struggling and just let life happen to me. But, even a dead fish can swim with the tide. I want to live! And that means defeating my mental monster and giving up what’s easy to discover that you can push past the pain to the impossible. There’s a war inside, but for now, I’m winning!

4. You are what you eat!

When I’m seriously training, I think about every meal as it relates to my run. Are my food choices helping me or hindering me? You see, some things I eat will reduce soreness, strengthen my body in muscle repair, and help keep me lean so I can cover distance more easily. Other foods will slow me down, make me feel sick when I’m running, cause me to pack on pounds, or loose my immunity to illness. While I don’t remember every amazing thing that I’ve tasted, I do remember what it feels like to lose my fitness, endurance, and health. It is directly related to my daily eating habits.

When you run, you can easily see a direct link between what goes in your mouth and what energy pulses through your feet. Once you see how much better you can perform with clean eating, you start to see a connection with how food affects the rest of your life too. I now understand how my food choices impact my mental clarity, performance, confidence, mood, and relationships. I never would have seen the causation so clearly without running.

5. A little grit is required in life for anything worthwhile.

If you want to get better at running, you have to stress your body. In order for your muscles to get stronger, they first must be slightly damaged through exertion. Then, your body builds the muscle fibers up stronger to handle the increased workload. The damaged muscles are what cause you to feel sore after a good workout.

While you should be responsible and manage how much pressure you put on your body to avoid injury, you can’t get better without adding in some stress.

This also translates to other areas of life. People who are successful are usually so because they didn’t shy away from hard work and a little pain. They stepped outside their comfort zone. They put in the extra elbow grease that most won’t exert to reap the rewards many will never achieve.

While gaining fitness in running and life is always an uphill battle (especially if you’re doing hill repeats), the view from the top is spectacular! You learn you really can live a life of no limits, and it’s worth every painful moment needed to reach your full potential.

6. People who are better than you should motivate you, not intimidate you.

When I’m training, I love to seek out people who are just a little faster than me. It helps push me to catch up to them. I also love watching elite athletes race, because I mentally envision how they move when I’m running and strive to replicate that. Emulating someone who has reached higher levels helps keep me excited about improving, and to remember to never be content with a stagnant life.

Your life is always fluid as well. You can either be moving towards good or bad in your relationships, health, fitness, career, and mentality with every choice. For me, running is like the canary in the coal mine. I can see results very quickly for my decisions. In other areas of life, it takes more time for your choices to produce change. But, if I want to become better, I need to surround myself with people who know how to get me there. After all, who better to show the way than those who have already been there before me?

7. You begin to see potential in everyone.

Fitness is attainable to everyone, no matter what your waist size or body fat percentage. When I see an unfit person sweating and slogging through a walk / run workout on the track, I know if they keep at it in a few months, they will be transformed into a different person. A fit, fast, confident runner is being chiseled out from their exhausted attempt to move with each trembling step.

How do I know this? Because I’ve completed that metamorphosis a few times myself. I’ve gone from an overweight, depressed couch potato to a sleek, fit marathoner and triathlete. The great thing about running is that you don’t have to be incredibly talented, just determined.

And, honestly, isn’t that how we should view everyone? As a potential success story in progress? While someone may not live up to the stereotype currently, it doesn’t mean they aren’t going to be successful when they put some actionable work behind their dreams.

Running mirrors life in so many philosophical ways. I think that’s why I love it so much. As I dig deeper into each mile, I learn so much more about myself. With each pair of running shoes I wear out, I gain a deeper perspective on life’s journey.

Plus, running gives me a valid excuse to collect copious amounts of psychedelic shoes! And, really, what girl could resist that?

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