It is no secret to anyone who has ever met me that I’m a type A personality. It runs in my family for the first thing. I’m highly organized, have a sense of urgency, like to know what’s going on and focused. It really shouldn’t be a surprise that I am a glutton for self-improvement, even if some people might call it self-punishment. I channel those feelings into training. So honestly I’m shocked that it took me so long to get into running. Marathon training came a quick year and a half after I ran my first mile.
Marathon Training taught me a lot in the 16 weeks I had my nose to the pavement. And not just about running but about life and who I was. I wish I had disciplined myself when I was younger and had learned these lessons. If I had maybe I would have known that I was with the wrong person and that his lack of drive or responsibility wasn’t just a little thing that would change as we got older. But its always better to start at 29 then 39. Of 39 instead of 49. Hell, if you’re 50 that’s better then regretting it later!
A lot of this will focus on my marathon training but it really applies to all aspects of my life and working out. It IS something that is essential and the excuse that people don’t have time to do it is complete and utter crap. If your health, both physical and mental, matters to you, you can carve out half an hour a day. I was working a 40 hour week in a restaurant, with a job where I was constantly on call, when I was training and still pulled it off.
It’s hard. And the reason why it matters is because it’s hard.
Build Self Discipline
I personally think that self-discipline, self-awareness, and self-responsibility is one of the single most underrated traits. Everything has an excuse. I work too hard. I’m too tired. I have no time. I worked all week so I deserve to sleep in on the weekend. Yes okay, life is hard and not all of us are professional athletes that get paid to work out. I’m certainly not. In fact, my job is to eat. But I decided I wanted to get healthy and when I did, everything changed. I knew that to do it I would have to reschedule my entire life. That meant not sitting down when I got home from work and going right for a run. It meant after working a 40 hour week getting up at six am (Earlier than my work week wake up) for a long run. It meant not eating crappy food or drinking on Friday night.
Regardless of if you are going on a run on Saturday morning or not, the point is to have a goal and the discipline to get there.
Have a Routine
Remember when we were 13 and Mom/Dad woke us up every morning when all we wanted to do was sleep? Yeah, that’s not going to happen anymore. The only person who is going to build self-discipline is you. And that’s where a routine comes in handy. Even as a Type A personality, I can’t plan every single second of my life. A routine takes some of the pressure off, creates more time, reduces stress and helps keep us calm and can reduce the need for us to use Willpower to get our daily mundane tasks done. Think simple things like waking up in time to have your coffee, shower, eat breakfast, get dressed, brush your teeth and get to work on time. A routine means that you know exactly how long this takes and will wake up and do it without rushing or having to focus yourself.
It takes 21 days to make a habit. It takes 3 days to break one. That’s a serious disparity. Making a monthlong checklist or habit tracker is a great way to help you build habits and routines, leaving all of that new time and willpower to go into other more productive things. For me that means being able to force myself up and on that 16-mile long run when everyone else is sleeping. Remember that when it comes to exercising one day is rest, two days is a break, three days is being lazy.
Figure Out Just How Capable You Are
So many of us underestimate ourselves and what our minds and bodies are capable of. I know that I did. After years of working hard and still not getting momentum, I got super depressed and doubted myself. I had to forcibly yank myself out of it (See how the Self Discipline is linking in again?). I started something new and focused my brain on it and my body followed. We are all capable of extreme things if we focus and just do it. But we have to commit. The act of training and running a marathon isn’t about being a supreme athlete (Though that’s part of it for sure), but about being able to trick our own minds into moving forward.
Just go to the finish line of a race. There are all sizes and shapes of people there. We are not all those lanky, all legs runner stereotypes you think of. But everyone had one thing in common: we all worked hard and believed in our own personal power.
Building Confidence is Important
It seems to be a growing trend for people to doubt themselves. For people to think that they are limited by their life and their circumstances. And that can become an excuse to not try. I can’t even describe how sad this makes me because I have been through it. I thought that I would never be able to run a 5k, much less run a full 26.2 miles.
Training, not even fully running it, made me feel so good about myself. Running those long runs, being able to have those sorts of bragging rights, made me feel like a new person and drove me forward in everything in my life including my job and my confidence in myself to be able to do things on my own.
Yes, humility can be important but no one wants to be around someone who is constantly doubting themselves, much less hire them.
Doing the hard thing and not taking the easy way out builds you. It sets you up for life. It sets you up to be the best version of you.
Make New Friends
Well, that is just the perfect segway into this next part. Making new friends isn’t always easy. I would know. I’m not good at talking to people in a friend like way and as many of you know, I’ve recently had some things happen to me that makes it even harder to open up to people and make it seem like every word that comes out of my mouth is wrong and stupid. But its hard to go wrong when it comes to a group of like-minded people.
To me, the thing about running, regardless of if you are doing a marathon or training for your first 5k, is that it is the great equalizer. No one is great when they start. But everyone has to put one foot in front of the other. It doesn’t matter what political views, religion or anything else that you might have or not have in common. Even age seems to go out the window. Runners can talk about running for hours and never get bored.
Most places have at least one running group and they are either free or pretty cheap. I joined the Bucks County Road Runners and within the first weeks, I was meeting new people that were friendly, welcoming and eager to talk to me. And the prolonged silences were gone because when they happened we were all out of breath! Not only that but these kinds of groups create a sense of accountability, most of all of you’ve paid some cash for them.
Most of these will not only have the running events but also have socials after them. Having them on your calendar creates some kind of routine that can help you break up the just going to work and coming home struggle.
Not just that but you’d be shocked how doing the hard thing inspires those around you. Seeing someone that they are around every day taking on something hard and working hard for it is one of the most inspiring things in the world.
On the Opposing Side: Have Time to Yourself for Self-Reflection
Its the complete opposite of what we were just talking about but it is still true. I go for some runs with groups but some runs, I like to do by myself. There are so many noises in the world it’s almost impossible to find a time where we are just by ourselves. Yes technology has made our lives better but there are so few times when we are just…off the grid, by ourselves. When I run by myself I have a rule that thats my “Me” time. I still have my phone on me for emergencies but I tend to turn off my notifications and silence it. Sometimes I’ll have music or a podcast going but even with those on its a nice feeling to know that for this hour, its mine.
Sometimes this can be hard. People aren’t used to being disconnected. They aren’t used to being forced to dealing with their own thoughts or just having that time to think over things without all of the outside influences. Learning how to be by yourself is a very important and underrated skill, even if you might not like it at first. When I first separated from my husband, these were the hardest 30 minutes of my life every single day, thinking of all of the things that I had done wrong and everything that he had thrown away. But not dealing with problems, not working through your thoughts, doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
You’ll Stay Busy
Some people go to the movies, some go out, some people paint. The point is that having a hobby is a very very good thing, one that I think that we forget about. But its healthy. It’s good for a person to have something outside of work.
We all need a distraction sometimes and something enjoyable to relieve the stress. Taking time for ourselves can sometimes be just as alien to us these days as being inside our own heads. Most of all if we are moms or trying to build our careers. We think of taking this time as a selfish act. Its not. For a while it was hard to make time for activities like running because people looked at it as a sort of whilly nilly hobby. It’s not. In spite of the hardness of training and how we can come to work limping and complaining that our butts hurt, having a hobby is essential for our mental well being both physically and mentally.
Everything Else Seems Easy
Doing something hard is, well, hard. That’s the point. It takes a special kind of person to really get into this kind of chosen suffering. But that’s the point. You chose it. And it was hard. There were moments when you thought “why the hell am I doing this to myself”. There were times where you wanted to quit. I know there were because there were times that I felt the same exact way.
But I didn’t and you know what? I’m glad I didn’t. Not only did I get bragging rights because only less than 1% of the population has run a marathon, but I don’t think that I would have lasted through these last few months without the confidence and devotion that I learned from my training.
It’s not that it makes the hard life situations less difficult. But it teaches you that all suffering ends. Not only that but the routine that training has been built on gives you something to fall back on, keep normal. It’s something that you have control of no matter what.
People say that the hard experiences in life make us strong. Doing the hardest thing of my life was running and training for that marathon last year. Knowing that I was doing it for me, knowing that my soon to be ex-husband wasn’t there but I was still better, knowing that my friends supported me was so strengthing.