7 things I've learned in 7 years of running, reading + writing
Also, we now have an app
I’m always forgetting things. My wife and my kids love to remind me of this constantly. And I discovered a day or two ago that I forgot the anniversary of this newsletter, which I sent out for the very first time on February 25, 2015.
I had a ballpark range in mind for when I sent it out, but I decided to look back through my email inbox archive to find it and, low and behold, there it was. To say that I had no idea what I was doing those first few weeks of writing it is an understatement; I just wrote whatever seemed appropriate, whatever came to mind.
(You might argue that I still do that, but I digress… 😉)
The newsletter began as an extension of a website I built, as a way to send you what I thought were the best races I could find around the world. And that was really it — just a list of races with a handful of links, no more, no less.
Little did I know that it would evolve and grow into what it has become today, a way for me and everyone who’s a part of this community to stay in touch, as a kind of virtual global running group.
We really are spread out across the world — right now, as you read this, someone somewhere in the U.S., U.K., Ireland, Scotland, Canada, Mexico, Lithuania, Israel, Tajikistan, France, Brazil, South Africa, Croatia (and many more countries) is reading it too. That still boggles my mind, and I’m incredibly grateful that you’re all here.
In the spirit of saying thanks, I thought I’d take a moment to share what I’ve learned from these seven years: what I’ve learned from running (and from researching the posts I’ve written here) and what I’ve learned from talking with you.
1. Running is a barometer for how I think, feel, and see the world
Most of the time, I’m on some kind of autopilot. My attention and energy are largely focused on keeping up with various responsibilities — my job, the family, dinner, meetings, classes, trying to stay alive and healthy in a global pandemic, etc. I imagine your life is much the same.
What that means is, I’m often disconnected with how my life is shaping me — what do I really think? How do I really feel? Am I headed in the right direction? Am I taking the steps I need to take to accomplish the things I’d like, or am I running in circles?
When I run, a mental space opens up for me that I have a hard time finding in any other area of my life. I’m able to find a clarity that’s often lost in a fog most of the rest of my waking hours. That doesn’t mean I won’t get lost again, but at least I know how to find my way back.
2. Running is meant to be shared…
A few weeks ago, the actress Emma Thompson wrote a touching piece for The Guardian about living with her daughter and her mother during the Christmas season. She noticed especially what it felt like to live under the same roof, the energy they gave off and how each needs the others.
Her mother’s body is frail, while her daughter’s “thrums,” she writes. “Her life force changes the atmosphere in the room as soon as she enters. We all receive the electrical charge and, once again, we dance.” When they’re together, life takes on a rhythm that would be impossible when they’re alone:
“Whatever made us think we could live without this? We were stuck on our goals and our aspirations and — God forbid — our dreams. We were too busy to notice how the bodies silently speak to one another, how we breathe each other in, recalibrate and breathe out.
But the meeting of these life forces now feels more essential than ever. We are constantly exchanging ever-altering resonances, and balance occurs. Not perfectly – nothing’s perfect – but, consistently, we change and reset one another’s state. So instead of grieving my mother’s ageing, instead of envying my daughter’s youth, I find I am buoyed up and calmed down by turn.”
This may sound silly, but I think we do this when we share our running with a partner, a friend, or a group. The movement of our bodies, all together at the same time and place, creates a feeling of being in sync. We experience life together in those moments, and they bond us in a way that’s hard to find elsewhere, especially as adults.
3. …and we need solitude too
A couple of years ago, I had a wonderful conversation with running coach M.K. Fleming, in which she made a great observation: for adults, it’s socially acceptable to step outside and be by yourself in only a couple of ways — “when you go outside to smoke, or when you go out for a run.”
There’s a difference between loneliness and solitude, I think. Loneliness brings us pain, a feeling of being disconnected; while solitude brings a feeling of freedom and independence, and renews our connection with our selves. That’s essential to feeling connected with others in a healthy way.
4. The rewards of running are worth it — but they take time to realize
You know as well as I do that a single run can make you feel different physically, pretty much instantly. You don’t have to wait long to feel that euphoria that makes a run worth it — though it doesn’t take long to fade away, either.
What I’m talking about is the knowledge you gain deep down inside yourself, when you know you’re taking care of your body and volunteering to put it through a discipline that will strengthen it in lasting ways. That’s something you gain only from doing it repeatedly over a period of time.
You learn that you value yourself enough to take care of this one body, the only one you’ll ever be given in this life. It’s a gift that only you can give yourself, and that no one can take away.
5. Rest may not cure everything — but it cures many things
I have a confession to make: I receive emails quite frequently about what to do for a variety of running injuries. I wish I had the knowledge of the body to help you more. (I should’ve studied harder in my college biology class, I knew it!)
The honest truth is, I haven’t encountered anything that helps a running injury as much as rest. I’ve experienced knee pain, achilles tendinitis, foot pain that felt like plantar fasciitis, and a few other ailments. Once I had achilles pain so sharp, it felt like someone was stabbing my lower leg with a knife.
Rest was the one thing that healed me — and healed me in a lasting way. I was in my twenties when I experienced it and thought I’d never run again. I laid off from running for a year, and when I came back I felt completely rejuvenated. And, I haven’t experienced that pain since.
6. The dance floor is open to everyone
I have a complicated relationship with sports. I’ve always loved playing, but I’ve never felt that I had the skill to compete at anything higher than a high-school level — and even then, I felt my skills were far below the level my peers were at, whether it was soccer, basketball, baseball, etc.
What I love about running is that it’s a non-skill athletic activity. If you have a body, it’s already equipped to run. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, there’s no method you have to learn. And, you can participate in so many ways — you can run 5Ks and 10Ks in your hometown, you can travel to vacation destinations for marathons, or you can visit some of the most rugged, inhospitable places on earth to run ultras.
7. The world is an amazing place, filled with amazing people
Do you remember the 2003 holiday movie “Love, Actually”? At the very end of the movie, the scene in which the characters are meeting one another at the airport for the holidays and we get to see what happened to them after the story of the movie has ended, do you remember the last line?
If you don’t, it’s this: “Love really is all around.”
That’s not to sound like a pollyanna; I see the same news on TV that you do, and I doomscroll on Twitter too (even though I promised I’d give that up). I get just as depressed and angry about the state of humanity as you do. But I remember the line from that Bruce Springsteen song: “at the end of every hard earned day, people find some reason to believe.”
When you line up at the start of a race, shoulder-to-shoulder with thousands of other people ready to run too, you’re doing something positive together. Everyone is there to pursue the same goal, and everyone wants everyone else to succeed.
Wherever you are in the world right now, if you’re heading out for your run, there are millions of people all around the planet who are doing that too. They’re not physically beside you, but they’re beside you in spirit. That may not be much, but at least it gives us a little reason to believe, right?
I hope you’ve had a great week so far and are getting your runs in — as always, keep in touch and let me know how your running/life is going.
We have an app!
I have an exciting surprise to share with you all: You can now read The Half Marathoner in the new Substack app for iPhone.
With the app, you’ll have a dedicated inbox for my Substack newsletter and any others you subscribe to. New posts will never get lost in your email filters, or stuck in spam. Longer posts will never cut-off by your email app. Comments and rich media will all work seamlessly. Overall, it’s a big upgrade to the reading experience.
The Substack app is currently available for iOS. If you don’t have an Apple device, you can join the Android waitlist here.