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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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…)
- The hardest mountains to climb are the ones that offer the best views at the top.
- 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.
- 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.
- It is better to cross the finish line last holding hands with a competitor than finish first alone.
- 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.
- The first 20 min and the last 20 min of any run, whether it is 250 km or 10 km, are always the toughest.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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!).
- 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.
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!