What I’ve Learned from Running
"Either you run the day or the day runs you." - Jim Rohn
By Kristoffer Pedlar
I’ve been running now for almost 7 years. It started out as an exploratory 10K and quickly escalated into half marathons and marathons. It’s gradually become a part of who I am and it’s usually one of the things I turn to when I am in need. Running, for me, is a passion and an exercise in mental health. It has also taught me many things about the world and myself.
A few weeks ago I ran a 10K in Toronto (The Waterfront 10k). It was my first big run in almost a year, and the first without a group of friends to run with. I also ran without headphones, without equipment of any kind and without a specific goal (something unusual for me). I ran simply for the joy of it and having no devices to distract me, I retreated into the recesses of my mind. I thought about my friends, my family, the direction my life is taking, and about running and what it has given me.
Aside from the numerous health benefits of running I’ve learned the most about perseverance. Running long distances takes time. During the training runs for my first marathon, I quickly understood that old adage: “it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon”. It takes weeks of training and then the race itself is a grind. This is a feeling I have carried with me into the rest of my life. When things are at their toughest, whether it be due to work, relationships, friendships, or just generally shitty days, I know I have the will and determination to get through.
I also have to learn how to set goals and actually follow through on them. Running 42.2 km is a huge commitment. I have to commit to the process of training and follow through. Also accomplishing goals is just awesome. It feels good and it's good for my mental health.
It's Okay to be Alone
I hate doing things alone. I've always hated it. I feel self-conscious, I don't know what to do with my hands, and I feel watched and judged. Only recently have I really begun to feel more comfortable by myself. I've gone to baseball games solo, a restaurant or coffee shop, I regularly take long walks and I've actually enjoyed it. Running was what taught me that it's okay to be alone. We learn so much about ourselves when we are alone.
When you run solo it’s nice to unplug and listen to those around you, sounds of nature or your community, and often for me my deepest thoughts. I wish my thoughts were always about something profound but they're often about the Blue Jays and Raptors. Sometimes I do think serious thoughts. I plan out what I'm going to say to my students at work the next day or what my side of the story is for an argument I'm having with my wife. Sometimes I remind myself that the world is a beautiful place and that I'm a lucky guy in the grand scheme of things. This comes in handy when I'm feeling overwhelmed or down. Running has a healing power that way.
It Can Be Better Together
I was recently on a run with my daughter (who was sleeping in the running stroller) and another runner high fived me as he passed by. He stuck his hand out and I did not, could not, leave him hanging. I did not know this runner, he didn't seem familiar to me at all and before this moment I would have never offered a similar gesture to another runner I didn't already know (more of my own issues). But I started thinking (as I do when I run) maybe I should high five people, offer them positive reinforcement or, at the very least, just put myself out there, take a risk and enjoy my run.
This little moment highlighted a bigger positive I’ve found with running: the community. The running community is one of the best in the world. It is supportive, inclusive and knowledgeable. I have met some wonderful people because of running, through run clubs, yoga classes, cross training, boot camps, Facebook groups, clinics and post race celebrations. The running community is overwhelmingly positive, cheers for runners after their own races are done, lines the race with noisemakers and funny homemade signs when they're not running and take joy in watching other runners compete at a high level.
Running is Good for the Soul
As I've already stated, running has helped get me through some dark points in my life. Breakups, fights with loved ones, feelings of inadequacy, frustrations at work, sadness. It's what I always go back to whenever I'm having a rough day. It's my comfort at the end of a tough week and it's often what helps to clear out the "Cobb webs" in difficult times.
I started running when I broke up with my girlfriend years ago. I decided I was going to get healthy and "ripped" to stick it to her and make her regret the breakup. Little did I know running doesn't make you "ripped", "pumped" or "jacked", but try telling sad, broken-hearted me that. What it did offer me was time and space to work through my emotions over that breakup and because I was so all-consumed by these emotions at the time it let me consider alternate perspectives. I was able to look at the breakup from her perspective. Why not? I had an hour to kill running up and down Mt Pleasant. The running and time I spent thinking about things helped me work through that unfortunate period in my life in a healthy way and to take ownership of my own role in the breakup. I still use running to do this. When it feels like there is nothing right with my life, I'm overwhelmed and feeling helpless, I strap on my runners, sometimes plug in the tunes, and work through what's ailing me. My problems aren't always solved by the end of my run, they rarely ever are, but I feel better. More prepared for the next day and to take whatever next step I need.
Life, after all, isn't a sprint.
The Great Equalizer
My dreams of becoming a professional athlete died in my grade 9 gym class. It became all too apparent I was not a typical "athlete" despite my feelings and desires to the contrary. I used to imagine winning gold medals at the Olympics, complete with a host of accolades from the press and fans the world over. In grade 9 though I learned that the talent pool was much too deep and I was but a small fish in a massive pond.
When I took up running I very spontaneously signed up for a 10k. Having never run a race before in my life this was a pretty big deal. It was a tough race but I ran a really good time, at least this is what my other running friends told me. Suddenly all of those dreams I had as a teenager came flooding back. Even though I was now a 30 something "non-athlete", working hard to stay in shape, these dreams I once had seemed vaguely plausible again. Running that race made me confident that I could be anything I wanted to be.
Every time I line up for a race I am amazed at the diversity of the competitors representing a variety of ages, races, and cultures, even people dressed in costume. It doesn't matter who you are, it's what you bring to the table. Everyone is equal and everyone has a chance at greatness. In running, it's not about your physique, your strength or your past accomplishments, it's about your preparation. And that knows no age, gender, race or culture.
I remember running the Waterfront half marathon a couple of years ago in Toronto. It was somewhere near the 16k mark, I was struggling, starting to feel the effects of a tough run when this older gentleman, probably in his 70's, zipped past me without an issue. I remember feeling very humbled. Very surprised. But he trained for that race, just like I did. And as he left my panting, sweating heap in his rear view he reminded me of humility.
Since that race, I have never judged anyone in the starting corrals again, not people who look like they were born to be athletes nor people who look like they've never run before in their lives. That has no bearing on how they will run or where they will finish. Great runners don't come in perfect packages. It's one of the best things about running.
Does Everyone Deserve A Medal?
I was recently speaking with a very good friend of mine who asked if I ever felt like it was wrong that the people at the very back of the pack in a race get to have the same medal as the rest of the runners. It was an interesting question and really got me thinking.
Everyone who runs a race is running for a different reason. Some are running for time. They're trying to beat their PB, reach a new milestone, qualify for Boston, or even place. Others are running for health; they're trying to lose weight, lower their blood pressure or usher in a new health regimen. Some are running their first ever “big race”, some are running their last. Some are trying something outside of their "comfort zone", checking off a bucket list item or following through on a dare. I've seen runners who ran for lost family members, to raise money for charity, or just after their own treatments for disease. Everyone who runs a big race is there for a reason. It might be selfish, it might be valiant, but there's a purpose, a motivation. To me, it doesn't matter if you accomplish your goal or not, whether you walk the whole way or run a blazing new time, it matters that you were there, that you tried, that you got out of bed and did something with your day.
So yes, everyone does deserve a medal.