Musings about life Practical Advice

What Running Has Taught Me

In starting my NGO, Free to Run, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the role that sports have played in my own life and what running has taught me about myself, about life, and about human nature. Here are my thoughts:

  1. We are not born athletic or un-athletic. Frankly, the idea that some people are ‘sporty’ and others are not is a load of rubbish. As a self-professed klutz (I have the scars on my knees to prove it), I never thought that I could actually be good at sports. I was good at math, not soccer or basketball. The thing is, I just needed to find a sport I enjoyed – once I did, there was nothing stopping me.
  2. The most unimaginable lows will pass if you let them – it is just a matter of when. The trick is to keep moving forward through the fog, one step at a time.
  3. You can tell a lot about people by the way they treat race volunteers at checkpoints. (Or at work, the way they treat their employees or secretaries…)
  4. The hardest mountains to climb are the ones that offer the best views at the top.
  5. Sometimes you just need to sink into the pain, let it wash over you, and release it with acceptance. Trying to avoid it or fight against it will only lead to further problems down the trail. In running, we call this over-compensation. In life, we call this denial.
  6. There is something to be said about perseverance, but if you’re on the wrong path, perseverance will only take you further and further away from where you are supposed to be heading. Sometimes the smartest thing to do is stop and admit you’ve made a wrong turn. And start over.
  7. It is better to cross the finish line last holding hands with a competitor than finish first alone.
    HK100 finish 3
  8. Running is the ultimate social equalizer. It doesn’t really matter how much you earn, where you were born, or what job you have when you’re out on the trail. All that matters is how well you trained, how committed you are to finishing, and whether you’re willing to help other people along the way.
  9. The first 20 min and the last 20 min of any run, whether it is 250 km or 10 km, are always the toughest.
  10. Success doesn’t always come in the package we expect.  It might mean simply getting through a run rather than completing it within a certain amount of time. It might mean dropping out of a race early instead of forging ahead and spending months recovering from an injury. The trick is to recognize when we have actually ‘won’ and redefine our failures as unexpected successes.
  11. Similarly, we don’t always know what we want until we get it (or conversely, we don’t always know what is harmful until it goes away). In running, we take pain killers when we really need water, electrolytes when we really need calories and sugar when we really should be eating salt. In life, we date people who aren’t right for us, work jobs that aren’t unfulfilling and convince ourselves we’re doing what is best. Sometimes other people can see what we can’t – it might help to listen them every once in a while.
  12. No important decisions should be made while sleep-deprived or in a sugar low. That goes for navigation on the trails or large financial deals at work. Take a nap, eat a cookie, or call in a pacer (or junior associate).
  13. Your mind is much stronger than the body. The mind can overcome shortcomings of the body, but not the other way around. When the body breaks down, let the mind do the running. If that fails, run with your heart.
  14. It isn’t nearly as satisfying to achieve something you knew you could do as it is to attempt something at which you might fail. In running, we sign up for the biggest, baddest, gnarliest races because they seem impossible. We are pulled towards running challenges that appear out of reach and we aren’t afraid to try. So why are we so scared to expose ourselves to failure in our non-running lives?  Running has taught me to step outside of my comfort zone more and to give myself permission to ‘fail’ (see number 10!).
  15. And finally, running has taught me that age is just a number. Young in the heart = young in the legs. At least that’s what I’m telling myself because…


…today, I’m celebrating my 32nd birthday from my tent in Mingkaman, South Sudan. When I think back to a year ago, I never would have anticipated I’d be where I am now… but I’m so incredibly grateful and happier than I have been in a very long time. Life. Is. Good. 2014 has already been one of the best years of my life so far and all signs are suggesting the year of being 32 is going to seriously rock.

Wine delivered by helicopter!

I started my day with a run through the market under clouded skies and even discovered a little trail through the bush. Tonight, there is a party at the Medecins Sans Frontieres (hey ho) and tomorrow we have a little ‘drunch’ (way better than brunch) planned in the humanitarian hub. A bottle of wine even appeared out of the sky by helicopter for me yesterday, which was magical (thank you Andrew!). I’ve been loving seeing all of the messages and photos from friends and family around the world in different time zones. I feel loved, lucky and blessed!  Now, back to the compound to put on my best t-shirt and maybe even a little deodorant for those MSF docs….

Until next time!


Okay, this was in Zanzibar... but I'm drinking margaritas here in my head.
Okay, this was in Zanzibar… but I’m drinking margaritas here in my head.

43 comments on “What Running Has Taught Me

  1. Happy 32nd birthday from Canada.

  2. Great thoughts on life, running and sports.
    And Happy 32 birthday, Stephanie.

  3. Deon Braun

    Hello Stephanie, happy 32nd!

    I trust the best t-shirt and deodorant knocks them out (in the positive way), haha.

    A quick email to say hi from South Africa and to introduce myself. I publish TRAIL mag and have been getting your newsletter for a while. What you’re doing with your life is inspirational!

    It would be great to do an interview with you this year. We’ll read up on some of the other media you’ve received first and find an angle that will appeal most to our readers.

    I also wanted to ask you if you’d be amenable to us using part or most of your latest post on our Manifesto page, where we focus on tried and tested trail running maxims.

    We’ll send you a PDF of the whole magazine for your reading pleasure of course 🙂

    Anyway, take good care of your brain cells post-drunch and hope to chat soon!

    Kind regards

    Deon Braun Founder of TRAIL (2011) & Go Multi (2003) magazines (1% For The Planet-affiliated companies), entrepreneur, plant-powered athlete, journalist, naturalist, nutrition enthusiast.

    Tel 031 261 6133 • Fax 086 609 4429 • Cell 082 377 4669 Postal address PO Box 50135, Musgrave, 4062 • Physical address 64 Feilden Drive, Glenmore, Durban, 4001, South Africa (non-postal) Skype deonbraun

    Go Multi Magazine Life’s too short for one sport! & TRAIL Magazine South Africa’s first trail running print magazine, launched December 2011 &


    • Hi Deon!

      Fantastic!! Thanks for following and reaching out. I’d absolutely love to do an interview. Your magazine is great! (Amazing shots of the Drakensberg Grand Traverse by the way!) My other interviews can be found here: If it is of any interest, I should have some pretty interesting stories after my trip to Afghanistan for Free to Run (my new NGO – we are running our first project for girls in Afghanistan, which is super exciting!). I’m keeping the details of the trip off my blog or other public fora until it is over because of security, but drop me a line and I can give you more details of the event and timing: or Looking forward to chatting!!
      p.s. I even found some lip gloss for the party last night, so I think I made a good effort (ha!!)

    • Oh, and yes of course, please feel free to use all or part of this post on your manifesto page. Happy if some of my ‘truths’ ring true with others!

  4. Trails and Ultras

    It’s my birthday too! Happy birthday to both of us 🙂

  5. I LOVED this. All so true. Thank you for writing this. And Happy Frickin’ Birthday!! Miss you! We need a run together soon! xx

  6. You continue to inspire me with every word and every blog you write. I began following you a couple years ago when a friend of mine from RTP mentioned you. From then on I have been hooked. You are true testament to making every moment count. You have touched so many- thank you for your gifts to humanity, Mother Earth and the many souls you have yet to touch. I’m just a girl, friend and mom doing my best to make all the moment count, and when they don’t- well I’m gonna do my damn to fix em haha. Sending all my best in strength, love and kick ass hell yeahs!!!!

    • Wow, what an incredibly lovely comment! Thank you for taking the time to reach out. LOVE the kick ass hell yeahs – I’ll take ’em!!! Keep on running, dreaming and achieving everything you thought was impossible 🙂

  7. Happy Birthday, Stephanie Case. May Peace and Love Always Be With You.

    Dr. Yergler

  8. Clancy Johannsen

    Happy birthday from So. California. I love reading your blog. Lovely, interesting , thought provoking.

  9. Such a wonderful blog from a beautiful, inspiring young lady. Happy birthday Steph. I am so proud to have a friend like you.

  10. Perfect Steph – every one true. nix

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  12. Happy birthday!! I loved this post and you made some really great points in your list. I loved #5, but all were wisely written. I hope you enjoyed your day!

  13. David Martin

    Happy birthday!

    This is so true, I grew up for the most part an uncoordinated nerd. Nowadays I look athletic and people will always ask me what I played in Football, haha it’s a lot of fun, glad to see that you’re doing well.

  14. Really nice post and wishing you all the best for your birthday:)

  15. Hi! I just found your blog today, and read back many of your posts. I admire what you do – both professionally and also in your running shoes. Thank you for sharing your thoughts 🙂

    And when it comes to the thought #3 – “You can tell a lot about people by the way they treat race volunteers at checkpoints. (Or at work, the way they treat their employees or secretaries…)” – SO TRUE!

  16. Running made my life a lot happier. I had much broader circle of friends. It gives me more energy that can be spent bonding with my family. It enabled me to set a goal and finish it. I learned to push myself to the limit and I think it’s really a good thing to do.


  17. Happy 32nd! I just want to share what running taught me too. It made me more patient, that I can’t be finish a 21k before I ran for shorter distances. It made me a lot more focused, focused on my goals that I want to reach. I also widened my circle of friends. Now, I have running buddies that inspires and motivates me whenever I feel I want to give up.


  18. Great post – I couldn’t agree with you more! And a belated Happy Birthday 🙂

  19. Great insights. You are SO right that no one is born “athletic” or “unathletic”. It is all in the habits we formed as young kids. When we’re “adults” we’re really just old kids. Never too late to form sporty habits!


  20. I love how a post like this makes me feel. Much like a good run, sweaty and exhausted… ok maybe not, but the good feelings I get are similar. I’m sure some people get what I mean.
    I love finding a new track, I like to explore, so it works well together.
    I’m sure you’ve helped many people push for their goals just a little (or maybe a lot) harder after they’ve read this. I mean just look at all the other comments.

  21. Running also taught me a few things. To have a goal and finish it with flying colors. To really give an extra effort in training and it really feels good when you see the difference it made. People like you inspire me more to strive harder in this sport. Seeing you all accomplish unimaginable things motivates me to do better the next day. Thanks!


  22. Happy birthday! You definitely look a lot younger than 32!
    This was a beautifully written and incredibly inspiring post, I couldn’t agree more with every single point!
    Keep running and blogging!

  23. Pingback: The ultimate list: the best running books, blogs and movies of all time / SportPursuit |

  24. Happy birthday! Running made my life a lot happier. I started to achieve my goals a lot faster and easier because I can control myself. It helped me to improve my self discipline. It also gives me more energy and a lot of happiness

  25. True! For me, to achieve something you want, you must work for it, focus and be motivated to do your best. The best possible version of yourself. If you could do such thing beyond what you have imagined, then you finally reached your goal. But, don’t stop. Continue doing your best and never give up. Thanks for sharing!

  26. Great post shows that it’s all about a person whether will to do or not as everything is possible….

  27. Reblogged this on The view from the mountain and commented:
    No. 14!!

  28. Pingback: Defining Moments | Ultra Runner Girl

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