Strategies For Success: What I Learned As A Runner

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

-Nelson Mandel


My sophomore year at Lake Superior State University I was a walk-on for the cross-country team. Every year, the coach planned an off-camp training weekend for the team. That year it was going to be at a camp in Wolverine, Michigan. If you don’t know where that is, don’t worry, nobody does. When we arrived, we found an old cabin. We had running water and bathrooms, but the cabin looked like it had been there at least 100 years. The inside was dark, damp, and stunk of mold. As soon as we got there, we changed into our training clothes and went outside for an hour of 1km repeats (or maybe it was a mile, I don’t remember).

That night at dinner, our coach announced that the next day we would be running 11 miles. This would be the first of many challenges our coach would present to us. To this day I don’t know why I joined the Cross-country team, I really didn’t like running that much.  By the end of the season we were all over trained and had developed chronic injuries. Despite the mostly negative experience, I learned some valuable lesson as a runner.

One step at a time

Often when we decide to do something, we see the big picture. We know where the end is, and we know we are at the beginning. We know the middle might hurt a little, and are unsure if we will be able to move past it. Look at the first step you have to take and focus on it. Maybe that first step is calling a local gym to talk to a personal trainer. Maybe it’s writing a shopping list of the good food you’re going to buy to fuel your body. Whatever that small first step might be, focus on it. When you have completed it, look at the next small step. If my time as a runner taught me anything it was this: keep putting one foot in front of the other. If that’s all I thought about, rather than how much my feet hurt, the finish line always seemed to arrive sooner.

Encourage and be encouraged 

Find people who are on a similar path as you. Maybe you have the same goal, or the same timeline. We all need someone to help pick us up when we are down and encourage us to keep going. That being said, you need to be a part of that encouragement. Cheer for your friends; take time to learn what their goals and dreams are; listen to their struggles. You will be surprised how similar you really are. If you don’t have a support group, build one. In the age of technology we can so easily find people to connect with. Start that running group, establish that book club, organize a meal swap. Don’t sit around waiting for things to happen, make them happen.

It’s ok to get lost

We all get lost. I doubt there is a single person on the planet that set a goal and didn’t at some point feel like they were failing. You are a human being. You are going to make mistakes, the best thing you can do is forgive yourself and then go back to taking it one step at time from where you left off. Believe it or not, sometimes failure is an even greater lesson than success. Cross-country did that for me. By the last race, I was so over-trained that I had multiple injuries and crossed the finish line in tears. My health, which had already been an issue, was now out of control. It was shortly after that when I decided my health was important, and started to get the help I needed. If that hadn’t happened, I may have just accepted poor health and continued to live with it, but instead I now have better health today than I have had in 10 years.

Stop self-sabotaging

Working in the fitness industry, I saw this all the time. People would come in with big goals, but they were scared they weren’t attainable. So instead of giving their best and possibly failing, they would do things on purpose so that they had an excuse for failure. Most of the time they didn’t even know they were doing it. They would put themselves under stress so that at the end of the day they could say “I tried, BUT….”. Complaints of staying up too late, binge eating ice-cream, working out too hard the day before, wardrobe malfunctions etc,. The list goes on and on. If it is something within your control, then it is your decision whether or not you do it. Be it positive or negative, we make our own choices. Give yourself your best chance! Don’t make excuses when things don’t go planned. Keep your head down and eyes forward.

Final Thoughts

I still enter the occasional 5-10 km race, and I think about the long runs I used to do when I was on the cross-country team in university. At the time, I didn’t appreciate any of it. Being hurt and tired doesn’t tend to give one happy feelings. Six years later I am thankful for that team, especially for my friend Sarah who I wouldn’t have met otherwise. That experience helped shape me into the person I am today, and I know there will be other similar experiences. At the time it may seem like there is no silver lining, but you can always find one if you keep looking.

Eat Your Veggies!




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