I hit 39,000 lifetime miles during my run this morning. (It took me almost exactly 13 years to run that many miles.) And so I give you ... 39 lessons learned from 39,000 miles.
1. I think the “secret” to why I am a successful high mileage runner is I did not rush into running long distances early in my running career. Running is a sport that rewards those who are patient. It is not really a sport for those looking for immediate gratification. For the first few years of my running life, I ran moderate mileage and focused my attention on excelling in the shorter races – up to about 10K. It was not until I had been running for four years that I began running even half-marathons, let alone began to tackle even longer distances. It takes time to build your bone structure, time to build up your tendons, muscles, etc. These things don’t happen over night; they happen over a period of months and ultimately years. I absolutely credit not rushing into running longer distances for why I have been successful running high mileage for many years with relative lack of injury.
2. You will never truly appreciate running until it is taken from you. Understand and embrace the concept that running is a gift. Appreciate it. It can be taken from you.
3. It’s about wanting to make the time. It may mean running at the crack of dawn, but if running is a priority to you, then you will find, or make, the time.
4. You don’t really need fancy technical clothes. You can run just fine in a cotton t-shirt.
5. The old Adidas ads from the late 90s early 2000s about runners being different … Very true. Runners are different.
6. This is an unfortunate fact, but it is very true. Runners can get sick. Just because you are young, or have a resting heart rate of 35, or can run a 2:45 marathon doesn’t make you immune to having a heart attack. Or being diagnosed with cancer. If your body is telling you something is wrong, do not ignore it. And do not let doctors dismiss you because you are seemingly the healthiest person they’ve seen that day. Delays in diagnosis can be fatal.
7. If you do happen to win the bad luck lottery and you get cancer and you are a hardcore runner, then you should make sure to ask your oncologist, “Doc, can I keep running?” If he answers you by saying something to the effect of, “If I told you not to run, we both know you’d just run anyway,” you will know you have found the right doctor.
8. Always keep a sense of humor about your running.
9. No matter how right you are, you will never win against a car. There’s a phrase: “Dead Right.” You don’t want to be “Dead Right.” Run defensively and assume every driver you encounter is inattentive and a moron. Let them prove you wrong.
10. Ninja night running is not cool. It’s dumb. As a runner, I’m much more aware of pedestrians than the average driver, and even I’ve nearly run down people who insist on wearing dark clothing with just a tiny bit of reflective striping. Wear bright colors, wear a headlamp, wear a reflective vest if you’re running in the dark. Give the drivers at least a chance to see you.
11. When you race or are around other runners, be a good citizen. Look before you spit or blow your nose. Don’t just stop dead in the middle of the course for your walk break. Don’t throw your cup of water into another runner’s path. Don’t cut in front of others in the chute if they are tearing off tags for placement. Be a good sport. Cheer and encourage the other runners.
12. If you’re not competitive or don’t enjoy races, then you don’t need to race. You’re no less of a runner.
13. Take pride in your running, but don’t become a haughty arrogant arse towards others if/when you’re successful.
14. It’s a race. It’s ok to run as hard as you can. And yes you’re supposed to try and out kick the other runners at the end (if they get mad at you for it, they’re the poor sport, not you). Just don’t sandbag just so you can launch a big kick at the end. And don’t hotdog it. That’s being a poor sport and that’s lame.
15. Runners like routine. But runners need to be adaptable and flexible too.
16. Non-runners don’t care about running. They think running is boring. You should generally avoid talking about running with non-runners. Also, resist the urge to try and “convert” people to running. If a person expresses an interest in running to you, of course you should try to encourage them and help them. But don’t become some sort of running evangelist.
17. Non-runners who do take an interest in running will frequently obsess over the health of your knees. They will also be liable to tell you that you are too skinny. It is best to simply change the subject and try not to reason with non-runners.
18. If you are a woman runner, you probably will at least occasionally encounter unwanted attention from “men.” I use the term “men” loosely because real men don’t hoot and holler at women and treat them as objects. The best advice I can give you is to ignore them. They want attention, and if you flip them off or interact with them, you’ve given them what they want. I have found running first thing in the morning avoids most of the problems.
19. Running is not always an easy sport to love. Sometimes running needs to sleep on the couch for awhile.
20. Learn to distinguish the difference between discomfort and pain. The line between them is often subtle. Running fast or hard causes discomfort. Real, actual pain means something is wrong.
21. If you run, then you are a runner. It’s really that simple. I promise.
22. Enjoy and take pleasure in the successes of your friends who also run. You more than anyone else knows what it takes to improve at running. And running is better enjoyed that way, really.
23. Never stop learning about the sport. Even someone who has been running for many years can learn stuff. Read about running and learn something about physiology so you can train more effectively. Be willing to try different things and mix up your training.
24. Never start a running streak if you have an obsessive personality. The streak WILL eventually control you.
25. You will make mistakes as a runner. Everyone does. That’s ok. Just try not to repeat them and try to learn from them.
26. Take the opportunity when you have it to learn from more experienced runners.
27. Your body is not a machine. There are a myriad of factors some you control, some you don’t control, that affect how you run on a daily basis.
28. Sometimes you will just have a bad run. Everyone does. It’s ok to try and figure out why, but if you can’t figure it out, don’t obsess over it. Just move on and try again tomorrow.
29. Make running a part of your life, but don’t let it rule your life.
30. The shoe company will change your favorite shoe. And not for the better usually. It is inevitable. That’s why it is always good to have a few shoe models that you like.
31. Mud. Every runner should occasionally get muddy. It’s good for the soul.
32. We’re each an experiment of one, especially when it comes to stuff likes what to eat or drink when running. You need to find what works for you.
33. There will always be someone who is faster than you. And even if you are the fastest, your time will pass.
34. Motivation and drive ultimately has to come from within.
35. I worked with a vet at a racetrack in high school. I learned that horses are beautiful, but they also are big and many of them are quite, uh, how can I put this nicely … dumb. When encountering a horse on the trail, always give it a very wide berth and don’t make any fast moves.
36. Yes, you can run in the winter. Yes, you can run over snow and ice. You just have to slow down. And be careful. And be smart. And be flexible.
37. You will not melt if you run in the rain. If it’s chilly, dress a little warmer (5-10 degrees cooler). Put on a baseball style cap. And just go. That said there are few things more miserable than doing a run in a 35-40 degree driving rain. You have my permission to run on the treadmill at that point.
38. Hills are good for you. Seek them out. However, know that if a hill has a name, it’s probably going to be a BIG hill.
39. Runners run for different reasons. Your reasons may change as your life changes. That’s ok.