Top 10 Lessons Learned after 7 Years of Running

by Andi Thrush

Hello fellow runners. During this morning’s run my mind began reminiscing on the last 7 years of running. I fell and skinned my knees badly a few times over that period of time (literally and metaphorically), and I have learned many things along the way. There have been tears at both the high and low points. 

You may know me as the lady that creates keepsake rocks and awards for some of the local Berks County races. I am an average runner. You may know of my son Jonathan (not an average runner). My running journey restarted after he joined Muhlenberg’s track and field team in junior high. I had started losing weight and was inspired while watching him run. I told him once I got down to 180 pounds, I was going to start running. There may have been a part of him that did not believe that, but now it is seven years later and I am still running.

By the time I hit that weight, Jon was giving his first season of cross country a try. To this day he is still running at the collegiate level, and most certainly has his own stories to tell. He has had a number of setbacks over the last 3 years, but has managed to remain resilient and is making his way back. You can find us together sometimes at local races and trails when he is home during his college breaks. 

You can learn a lot over 7 years as a beginning/average runner (and much of it can be applied to many areas of our lives, not just running). Some of the lessons I learned include the following:

Find your “Why”: Why do you run? For me it began as a way to help keep my weight in check, and grew to include other health benefits. The most important being my mental health, because running helps me deal with everyday stressors. My son has seen me on some pretty stressful days, and he has gently nudged me out the door telling me, “Mom, you need to go for your run”. He is fully aware that running helps me a lot. Having a solid “why” is going to be part of the reason you go out that door to run every time. Even on the hard days where it is freezing cold, rainy, snowy, etc.  

Make it a consistent habit: Habit is going to be another reason you go out that door every time. To make this new habit as easy as possible to stick to, do it as regularly as possible. Get out most days (even if it is for a walk or bike ride for cross training), at about the same time each day. Attach it to another habit you already do every day (this is often referred to as habit stacking). For me, that was my morning coffee because I am a morning person. I learned from experience I am more likely to skip my runs if I try to do them after work. Everyone is different. Some do better getting their runs in after work or later in the evening. Do what works for you, but make it as consistent as possible. 

Find inspiration and motivation: Finding your solid “why” is an awesome foundation to build and maintain a habit such as running. Inspiration can help you at times. My son is my number one inspiration. Other runners are inspiring as well, and just looking at others getting out for their daily runs helped push me out the door sometimes. Motivation can be difficult and is fleeting, especially when dealing with things such as injury. Sometimes when I was injured and just trying to find motivation to get out the door to maintain the habit…times I could only walk or ride…I would attach another goal to it, such as hiding painted rocks for Berks County Rocks, picking up litter, or picking up debris left after a storm on trails. These really helped get me out the door during times when I would have otherwise thrown the towel in!

Beware of the dangers of social comparison: This can include comparing your pace, distance, and more, to those of others. Everyone is in a different place in their running journey. We all are different ages, genders, and have different knowledge bases, experience levels, etc. Early on I even found myself comparing my performance to my son’s, and have had the thought get into my head that others would expect me to run like him. He is 24 years younger than me and has had more guidance and help with his running. The list goes on.  You are your own competition. I have gotten better at keeping my eyes on my own lane, and am happier for it. You can be too! 

Find a running buddy: Jon was mine for many years. We went to races together, ran at local trails together (or I would ride my bike with him while he ran – the only way to keep up with him!). We talked about all things running on a regular basis. We helped each other out in various ways, bouncing ideas off each other, giving advice, sharing knowledge, etc. We celebrated the good times, and supported each other during the rough times (the best that we could). I miss him dearly, but I need to find a new consistent running buddy. Having one really helps along the journey. 

Listen to your body: The last 7 years of my running have been riddled with injuries. Ignoring your body cues, sticking to a training plan despite sickness or fatigue, not giving yourself enough recovery time, or pushing too far or too hard can do that. This has been a hard lesson to learn.

Be open to different ideas:  I grew up in a time of black and white, right and wrong. “Do it right or don’t do it at all.” This running journey is helping me become more open to different ideas that may not be considered “the norm,” or differ from those which are stuck in my own head. Over the years I have heard about training according to time spent running, not distance. For example, instead of running a certain amount of miles per week, you would run a certain amount of time per week. I had such a hard time switching my mindset after running with GPS for so long, and seeing so many training plans based on specific distances and paces. About a month and a half ago I ditched my GPS watch. After so many injuries, what do I have to lose? Plus, my goal has switched from training to run faster 5Ks, to running for endurance over longer distances. At this point in my running journey I find it freeing to run without GPS. Whatever area in your life you are experiencing difficulties, be open to different ideas and try them out. Don’t be afraid to play around with them, adjusting as you see fit. There is often trial and error with this, and that is ok. You don’t know what will work for you as an individual until you try, because there is rarely a one-size-fits-all solution to any given situation.

Get back up and have the courage to try again (be resilient):  The first time I fell and skinned my knees so badly, I was visiting my parents and was running along a main street nearby. Blood was trickling down my leg and I was embarrassed (cars were slowing down and people were watching), but I jumped back up and started running again. I finished the planned distance for the day. The children at work were concerned about it the next day, asking if it still hurt. I told them only when they bump into it (and that happens a lot working with preschoolers!). It took about 6 months to completely heal. The last 7 years of running have been a roller coaster ride for sure, with tears of joy and frustration. All those tears helped build my resilience. I have fallen a few times and have learned different things each time.  We all face setbacks, obstacles, and challenges at some point, including injuries, sickness, etc. When you fall down in life or while running, learn from it, get back up, adjust accordingly, and have the courage to try again. There will be ups and downs–roll with it.

Break free from your labels/old identities: One of the most important things I learned is that I am not stuck to my old identities/labels. I was the last one picked in gym class in grade school. I tried other sports such as basketball and field hockey. At a young age, others made it clear they did not see me as an athlete and because of that, I gave myself that label as well. I had it stuck in my head that you were born with the ability or not, and I was not born an athlete. I have learned since then that in any area of life, if you work at it you can learn and improve, and I broke free from some of my old labels. Even if you are sitting here thinking to yourself “I can’t run a mile” (or whatever distance you are considering…whatever pace you are aiming for…whatever goal–running or otherwise–in your life), break free and take the first step. The moment you take the first step, that part of your journey begins and your identity changes. Get out of your comfort zone. You can do it, but you have to believe it, and sometimes this means breaking free from the past. Oh, and you are never too old to do so!

In that light, expect the unexpected…no limits: We are all capable of so much more than we imagine! If you had told me 25 years ago that I would be running 5Ks in 20 years, I would have probably had a good laugh (this goes back to labels/identity) and walked away without a second thought. Now here I am wanting to build up to a half marathon! I never expected many of the things that have happened in the last 7 years. 

If you find it difficult to get out the door and go for your run, assess your “why” and the consistency of your habit of getting out for your run. Show up. Fail, get back up, and learn. Find inspiration from others and cheer them on, but make sure you are focusing on your own growth. Expect the unexpected, keep an open mind, and never place limits on yourself…just try. 9 times out of 10, you will surprise yourself!

There is so much more I could include, but that can be for another time. So now what? I am slowly building up to a half marathon. In the new year I would like to do more on the social side, such as volunteer more and participate in group runs. This is way out of my comfort zone…another label placed on me when I was voted “quietest” of my senior class in high school because I was shy and tended to keep more to myself. Oh wait, I still do!

Before hitting my 10-year running anniversary, I would like to do a cross country race and a color run. Perhaps even an obstacle course style race. All the while being open to the possibilities and opportunities that may happen, because you truly never know what life may throw at you. Life and running are journeys, so enjoy the ride!

Best wishes to you all. Until next time, happy running!

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