The accidental runner: 6 things I learned on my journey to becoming a runner

runner sunlightLess than a year ago I would have told you I wasn’t a runner.

You know, runners are people who go out running. Because they enjoy it.

Me? I remember despising running when we had to run the mile in junior high. Once, a friend dragged me to a Nike-sponsored 3-mile training run in Central Park. It was torture. I walked a lot of it because I was incapable of running more; I was definitely the last of the pack.

For the last four months I’ve been running three days a week, rain or shine. Sometimes even in the snow or on ice. On my own. (That was when I admitted to myself that I had become a runner.)

On Sunday, I did my longest run to date: just over 2 hours and just under 11 miles.

So what changed?

Not a whole lot, actually. Just three small decisions … 

The first was that I let myself be persuaded by colleagues to sign up for a 6.5K/4M citywide company run. For the first time ever, I began to run. I started with 10 minutes because that’s all I could manage. The experience taught me how to run. But as soon as the race was over, I hung up my running shoes.

Fast forward 8 years. My husband and a few good friends and neighbors are runners. Occasionally (once every few weeks or months) I’d tag along for a run. But I never went on my own steam.

That all changed when I signed up with a few friends for a 10K at the end of last summer. I found a training plan online, printed it out, and followed it until race day. I was proud of my training efforts and achieved my goal, which was under an hour.

But guess what? In the three months after the race, I maybe went running once.

I knew I needed a new challenge. And boy did I get one.

A friend of mine is turning forty at the end of May. To commemorate, she’s gotten a group together to do the Six Dales Trail in Northern England’s Yorkshire Dales with her. The trail starts at her hometown and happens to be about 40 miles long. The plan is to complete the trail in three days.

Initially I planned to walk the 40 miles. But then I realized that wouldn’t challenge me; I’ve done long, multi-day walks before. What would be a challenge would be to run it.

The decision was made over Christmas break; the running shoes came out in cold, icy January and are still making tracks in gorgeous, green early May.

Will I continue running after my trip to Yorkshire?

Most certainly. It might not be four times a week. It might not even be four times a month. But now I’m a runner: I enjoy it, I get it.

1. You are who you hang out with

So what have I learned from this experience and what can you? Success experts harp on the fact that it’s important to surround yourself with people who are successful. It’s the same reason so many parents worry about the kind of friends their kids hang out with. We are definitely influenced by the people we spend the most time with. I happened to have colleague friends and now have neighbor friends and a husband who all enjoy running. It made it easy for me to be like them.

2. Actions speak louder than words

What you do is more important than what you say. Although I denied being a runner for a while, bit by bit I realized I was acting like a runner, looking like a runner (I started buying running gear) and hanging out with runners. So if you want to be an artist, lovable or a productive person, start doing things artists, lovable people or productive people do. Surround yourself with them. Pretty soon you’ll find yourself on the right path.

3. Set precise, time-bound goals

If you have a precisely defined goal (e.g. run 10K in one hour) and a set date (the race day) when it needs to happen, then you’ll be way more committed to making it happen than when you have an imprecise goal with no deadline.

4. Having a plan is essential

When I signed up for the 10K, I knew I had five weeks to train, so I found a training plan for first-time 10K runners. Having that plan made going for runs a no brainer. I knew how often a week I had to run, which day was a running day and how long I should go for. Because I’m awful at orientation, I found one route near my home in the beginning that I could follow without getting lost and did that each time.

5. You have to keep challenging yourself

So I did the 10K and achieved my goal. At that point I still didn’t consider myself a runner. In fact, I essentially stopped running. But having had the experience of the 6.5K and 10K, I knew that I just needed a new challenge. By setting that next bar for myself, I knew I could build on my previous experience and go to the next level. And I’ve got to say, I like it here.

6. Understand that the journey is the main thing

Recently, I told my birthday friend that I was really looking forward to the trip. She worried that it could be a bit of a letdown: we could get lost; the accommodations could suck; the weather could suck; we could all be sore and tired and miserable. But I realized that it could be all of those things. Or I could end up walking most of it. I could even end up not going for whatever reason. But the fact remains that I’m now running four times a week, often on my own, often for upwards of an hour, sometimes two, discovering new trails, being out in nature and feeling strong and alive. Whatever happens in Yorkshire, no one can take that away from me. So as long as you can recognize that what you achieve as you get from point A to B is, in itself, worthwhile, then you’re more than halfway to achieving your goal.

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