What Running Teaches You

Discover how strong you are mentally and physically when you get yourself up and running.


By B.J.


Running can be hard. Running can be intimidating. Just look at the sheer number of race distances out there--5K, 10K, half-marathon, marathon, ultramarathon, for example--and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. 

Then you have to think about pacing and speed, eating and fueling properly, finding the right running shoes, drinking enough water, temperature, treadmill incline, splits (negative splits, even!), humidity, chafing, and blisters. 

Running is scary. It’s not for the weak or the timid or the unsure. But that’s what makes running awesome. That’s what makes lacing up and taking those first few steps important. Because if you’re scared of running, if you’re intimidated or overwhelmed, and you run anyway, you’ve learned the #1 lesson running teaches you about yourself: 

You’re stronger than you think you are. 

Running requires two kinds of strength--physical and mental. And you have to train for both the mental side of running and the physical side. That’s easier said than done, though. 

Mental Training - Run the Mile You’re In. 

Whether you’re running a single mile or 100, the main piece of advice you need is this: run the mile you’re in. It doesn’t matter how long or how far you have left to go. You can only run right now, in the present. Take one step at a time. Don’t think about what’s coming up. Don’t worry about how hard you might hit 'The Wall' later. Don’t even think about what might be. Think about what is. 

Being a runner means that you’re mindful of your body, and that means dealing with whatever challenge is directly in front of you--this mile’s hill, that root you see in the trail ahead of you, the burning in your lungs, the pebble in your shoe. 

If you don’t focus on doing the current mile, the later ones won’t even matter. You have to make it to the later ones, after all. 

By being mindful of what your body is saying to you as you run, you’re going to be better equipped to deal with what comes down the road. Every race requires you to run a mile at a time, and the only way you can understand that is to do it. 

So the next time you go out for a run, don’t think about your overall pace. Think about your current one. Don’t think about your total mileage. Think about what mile you’re currently running. Don’t assume you’ll need a water break in 4 miles. If you’re thirsty, make adjustments to get yourself hydrated.  

Physical Training - Get a Plan 

Despite the common aphorism, practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. 

So find a training plan that challenges you, but doesn’t make you so sore you can’t move. If you can’t move your legs, you can’t be much of a runner, can you? That’s not perfect practice because you’re not training to sit on your couch because of muscle cramps! 

Any training program worth its salt will push you just beyond where you thought you could go before backing off and giving you a rest day. When you start back with the next step in the program, you’ll go farther or faster than you did the last time. 

The idea of progressive overload does not just apply to strength training, but all fitness--including running. 

The idea is simple. If you can do X today, you can do X+1 tomorrow. It’s easier to break down running when you look at it like that. If you can run 15 seconds today, you can run 20 seconds tomorrow. The increases are so gradual that you’re gaining strength and endurance without even realizing it. 

As you progress through a training program, whether it’s a smartphone app or with an in-person or online coach, you should see your your ability to run grow. It may be slow going--and you might have to repeat some sessions--but eventually. 

The longer you stick with a training program, the better you’ll be at it, and the stronger you’ll become. Combine that with the mental challenge of running each mile you’re in, and you’ll be rocking whatever distance you aim for in no time. 

So no matter how intimidated you are by running, no matter how overwhelming it may seem at times, know that by simply lacing up and heading out the door, you’re a lot stronger than you think you are.

B.J. is a certified personal trainer from the American Fitness Institute and holds a Master’s degree in English. He is currently training for his first marathon. He’s also a geek who has lost 155 pounds. He wants to teach other geeks and nerds how to live healthy, fitness-oriented lives. You can find more of his work on his blog Geek Fitness.

Main Photo Credit: lzf/; Second Photo Credit: Astrostar/; and Third Photo Credit: Brian A. Jackson/