With my ninth attempt at 26.2 miles just a few more hours away (so excited for the inaugural Naperville Marathon!) I've been thinking more about why I run and how it connects with my everyday life. I've said it before--the sport of running is about more than just getting stronger, competing with others, and improving your body. Running has changed my life in ways that have nothing to do with the physical aspect of it. For example...
1) I've learned that no matter how much success you experience, you're never immune to the struggles you dealt with in the first place. They can creep back up on you anytime, and they love it when they think you're not expecting them. If you eat that pizza or give in to those cookies that your parents technically bought for their Bears tailgating event the next day, you're accountable. Period. You don't have to spend weeks beating yourself up over it, but you shouldn't ignore it either. Acknowledge it, learn from it, and move forward. Bottom line? You never outgrow the learning process.
2) I've learned that life is hard, but never so hard that you can't find something to smile about...even if it seems minor. Be grateful for the smallest things. Whether it's a genuine hug from a 7-year-old, an unexpected compliment, or time spent with family, it really isn't "small stuff" at all. It can never be small when it brings happiness to some part of your life.
3) I've learned that if you've accomplished something, you should write it down. Write it quickly so you don't forget, even if you have to scribble it on your hand until you get home. When you accomplish something and feel good about yourself, it's nice to have something to help remember that amazing feeling. You'll lean on it later, when you really need the motivation.
4) I've learned that for every weakness you have, it's someone else's greatest strength. Don't be afraid to learn from them, to ask for their help, and to appreciate what they have to share with you. If they took the time to help you out, thank them. If they inspire you, tell them. They deserve to know.
5) I've learned that the glory of the race day is amazing, but there are many, many lonely days during the learning period...in other words, the training. The fun can't come before the work. Sooner or later, you have to just do the hard stuff, often by yourself, and focus on getting stronger without the constant motivation of someone cheering for you. That's the roughest part--struggling through the pain and wondering when the heck it's going to pay off. The second that day arrives, though, you'll feel it, and it's pretty awesome.
6) I've learned that I'm slow, and that's okay. I may not be the best, but that's no excuse to say I'm the worst and stop trying altogether. There's always room to get better and be YOUR best...which is actually kinda cooler than being THE best.
7) I've learned that sometimes, you just have to push through the pain. Other times you need to back off and listen to your body...but in many cases, it's just a matter of sucking it up. The longer you keep at it--whatever IT might be--the better you become at learning the difference. You can trust yourself to know which is which, and to be smart about the choices you make in your life.
8) I've learned to look around as much as possible, just so I remember why I'm doing this and why it makes me happy. Concentrating on the joy will be helpful when life gets painful or difficult later. I know I'm going to fall. But when I get up (and I will), I'm going to learn how to fix it...and in the end, I'm going to be better for it.
9) I've learned that it will come. It might happen slowly, but it will come. Patience is key to getting through just about anything.
10) I've learned that it's not all about me. Help someone else out whenever you get the chance. Don't be too shy or too nervous to step up. You have something to share, something to teach. If you've struggled with that in the past (I know I certainly have), for whatever reason, take advantage of a future opportunity to make a positive change. That's what second chances are for, when you're lucky enough to get them.
11) I've learned that not everybody is going to like me or care about what I have to say. It's truly one of the hardest lessons to learn, and I spent many adolescent years (okay, and a few adult days) literally in tears over that exact issue. At some point, though, after freaking out over it enough times, you find peace with the fact that some people simply don't care for you. They might find you annoying for some reason. They might think you're weird or crazy. They might not be able to stand you. Sometimes people have a reason for acting this way, but all too often, it's a matter of them just being plain mean. It's okay, though, really. You don't like me? That's fine. I can take it. We live in a society where certain people are constantly being critical and judgmental, almost as if they're pre-conditioned to do so. That's their problem, and nobody else's. On any given day, all you can do is be nice. Feel grateful for those who do love and support you. Besides, life would be boring if everyone just thought you were awesome...and even then, someone would have to dislike you for that reason alone :)
Oh, and for the record, I swear I'm not just speaking empty words right now. From personal experience, I can tell you that it's a huge burden when you worry about these kinds of things, and it feels really, really, REALLY good when you finally give yourself permission to let it go. That's what I started doing (very recently, actually) and I'm a lot happier because of it.
12) I've learned that if you're working hard and trying your best, there WILL be a payoff, even if it takes a long time. Even if it's different from the one you originally planned. When the time comes, you won't mind if the picture isn't the same one you had in mind. You'll be too happy to care, because a part of you is already stronger, and nothing motivates you more than that, especially when it's time to go after the next big goal!
13) I've learned that when everything else fails, and you don't know what else to do, being kind is the answer. There are days when you might feel too weak, too dumb, or too worthless. You may ask yourself why you even bother trying in the first place when things keep going in the wrong direction. But then, when you start to look around, you realize that the world is still going on, and it is so much bigger than all of that. Everyone is dealing with something, even if you can't see it clearly in the moment. We count on each other to be kind, to be respectful, and it truly is one of the most basic good things we can do for another person. Even just a simple "Great job" or "you inspire me" can change someone's entire focus...and maybe even motivate them to pay it forward somehow. I know because there are many people who have done it for me...and hopefully I have been able to do it for others, as well. Too often in life, things happen that we can't change, so it feels good to come across something that we can control absolutely, 100%, every single day. Kindness is one of those things.
14) Most of all, I've learned that saying or writing all these things is good, but at some point, you have to get up and actually live it. Don't be afraid. Ask for help if you need it. Find inspiration from others whenever you can. They're here for you. You have worthwhile things to say and give, so have at it (and remember to smile too)!