Lessons from Running (13.1 of them, in fact)

On Saturday I ran my fifth half marathon, which is evidence that either a) this running hobby is genuinely sticking, or b) when signing up for new races, I have selective memory that glosses over the pain and effort involved.  (I'm not sure which.)  Still, over the years I've learned valuable lessons from running -- many of which are also applicable to general life -- that I'd like to share with you today.

1) Running is more enjoyable when you're not uptight about the results.  My husband caught me off guard when he asked if I'd like to sign up for this particular race.  You see, we're training for other races that will be held in May, which means that we're still weeks away from peak race shape.  "We could treat it like a long training run on a nice course, not a race," he began, before adding, "I could ask my parents to watch the girls for the day."

What I heard from his spiel: His parents would watch the girls while we'd take a day trip by ourselves.  What I chose to ignore: We'd run a combined 39.3 miles to make this trip without children actually happen.

Regardless, I was persuaded.  I went into the race with no performance expectations.  I didn't set a goal time, I didn't measure my time or distance on my watch while running, and I didn't stress.  I simply ran.  It wasn't my fastest race, but upon reflection, I realize that it was my favorite race.

There's something to be said for doing something for the sheer experience, not for results.  (As a goal-oriented individual, I'm mulling over this observation in light of the other facets of my life.)

2) You'll have the best conversations in line for the restroom before the race.  I don't know why this occurs, but I meet the most interesting people while waiting to use the restroom.  (To the two woman who stood in front of me, I have no idea who you are, nor do I have any idea how we ended up whistling the Hunger Games theme song together as if we were plotting a District 13 uprising, but thank you for your brief, yet wonderfully pleasant, pre-race companionship.)

3) Disable your camera function when your phone is zipped in your jacket, or you, too, like my husband, might end up with 884 pictures of the inside of your pocket that will look just like this:

You will need to delete each one individually.

4) Don't try anything new immediately before or during a race.  I think every running article ever written has dispensed this advice, and yet, I somehow didn't draw a connection between it and the brand new shoes I wore the day before the race -- those new shoes that rubbed my heel and left me with a limp-inducing blister.  Let me speak from experience: don't try anything new right before a race, including shoes.

5) Music boosts morale.  Part of the beauty of a Rock 'N' Roll race is that every mile or so, a new band is stationed to play live music.  As I ran, I passed nearly a dozen live performances, including the Howard University marching band drum line.  It almost makes you want to stop running so you can listen.

6) It's good to reach mile six and be pleasantly surprised that you're running.  Before I ran long distances and experienced it myself, I never would have believed people who claimed that if you run long enough, your body eventually falls into autopilot, but it's true.  When you pace yourself intelligently, it's entirely possible to have multiple miles under your belt and have an epiphany: "Well, whaddya know?  I'm running!"

This is much better than pushing yourself beyond your capacity, reaching mile six, and having the reverse epiphany: "Oh. My. Goodness. I am running.  And I am dying."

7) Weather makes or breaks a run. They're few and far between, but when you run on a perfect day -- temperatures neither too hot nor too cold, sky neither too sunny nor too overcast, air neither too breezy nor too still -- you'll rejoice.  This past Saturday in Washington, DC was such a day.

8) Ditto for scenery.  If you enjoy nature, or architecture, or even people-watching, running provides an opportunity to view scenes you'd otherwise miss.  I've driven through neighborhoods in my town countless times, yet I can discover something new and charming when running along those same streets.  Saturday's course took runners past monuments, through character-rich neighborhoods, and alongside blossoming crab apple trees.  You can't absorb these scenes as well while driving past them.

9) People who cheer for runners deserve high fives, too.  Most of my running is a solitary affair.  I train early in the morning or tuck in runs before my children come home from school.  There's no fanfare involved in training.  But on a race day, people come out of the woodwork: offering high fives, holding signs, and cheering.  I can't imagine watching a worse parade than thousands of runners streaming past in sweat-wicking paraphernalia, but there they are.  Race-day cheerleaders, you deserve high fives, too.

10) Training on hills minimizes the effect of hills.  In my public speaking courses, I often encourage my students to practice in the manner in which they want to perform.  It always pays off.  Similarly, when running, always add a hill.  When you've practiced hills when they don't count, you can tackle them when they do.

11) It is better to pass than to be passed.  In my first half-marathon, I started at a pace that was too fast to sustain, and I suffered for it.  It's far better to start conservatively, get your legs underneath you, and pick up speed during the latter half.  (It doesn't hurt your motivation to pass other runners in the final miles, either.)

12) You're not finished when you reach mile thirteen, or, if you're a full marathoner, when you reach mile 26.  You'll see the final mile-marker sign before the finish line and prematurely think, "I'm almost there!"

And then you will run the longest fragmented stretch of a mile that you've ever run in your entire life.

13) Ask the right guy to take your post-race pictures.  If you ask the friendly guy who has bad timing, you might end up with a picture like this:

It's a non-action action shot.  Still, you'll you'll have fun writing captions for it.

Joel: Did you realize that I'm wearing a shirt?  I'm wearing a shirt!  Look, there are even words written on it.
Robin:  Yes, you wear shirts.  That's funny; I do too.  And, guess what?  I have hair.

13.1) Take a few post-race selfies anyway, just to be safe.  Because you'll certainly want to capture those endorphin-filled post-race celebratory moments so when you look back on your experience, whether days, weeks, or months later, you'll remember what a good time you had.

And then you'll sign up for another race.


  1. Oh my goodness, this was so many levels of awesome!

    I often take pictures of the inside of my coat pocket. LOL - we are so similar - except I NEVER run. NEVER. I walk. I wander. I get lost but I don't run.

    You meet people in the restroom, I meet people in line at the grocery store. My youngest likes to invite everyone she meets to our house. I've actually held off on teaching her our address for this reason ;)

    Thanks for sharing and way to go! I'm pondering your point:
    "There's something to be said for doing something for the sheer experience, not for results."

    Yes - I need to mull that one over too.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Wekl, that seals it: we should text each other our pictures of the insides of our pockets, then.

      I LOVE that your daughter invites strangers from the grocery store over to your house, and I love it even more that you don't teach her your address because of it!

  2. Oh I love this Robin! I love to run...well most days;) I did my first half marathon 3 years ago. Thankfully everything came together and I had a really great race but it made me not want to do a full marathon. I kept thinking I must have run 13 miles by now!?
    I learned the hard way about tip 11. I now have learned my lesson and love passing others up! It really is motivating and I am pretty competitive;)And yes music makes such a difference. I hate running without it. I have been meaning to write a post about running for a long time. I am just going to have to do it now. Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. I learned the hard way about tip 11, too, so we're kindred spirits in that regard. Ouch. You learn your lesson that way, though, eh?

      You have to let me know when you write a post about running! I'd love to hear your insights!


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