Lessons I’ve learned from running 10,000 miles

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During my first ultra in Lake Tahoe

Today, I ran my 10,000th lifetime mile. That’s a pretty crazy milestone, especially for someone who still doesn’t really consider themselves an athlete. It’s also an opportunity for reflection, so here goes. [Also, for those curious, my training log is still available here]

I started running when I got to college in 2006. This was after three years of fulfilling my high school athletics requirement with yoga and tech theatre which, yes, somehow counted as a sport. I was inspired to run by a friend who ran the 135-mile beast called Badwater. Despite no prior running experience or athletic abilities to speak of, I crewed for him during this race, and realized that if he could do five back-to-back marathons in 120+*F heat, I could probably do six miles a day. Also, I thought by burning more calories, I could eat more ice cream [protip: not true].

I had zero confidence in my athletic abilities. In middle school, I played defense when we played soccer – but not goalie, because I didn’t want the responsibility of actually defending the goal. I was the second-to-last person to finish the mile run fitness test – the one girl behind me had a medical condition and walked the mile. As a result, when I started running, for a long time I didn’t talk about running at all. I didn’t read about running. I definitely didn’t think too hard about running or the reasons I ran. I didn’t run with other people, and wasn’t even comfortable doing so until about five years later. Mainly, I was afraid of doing anything that might derail my newfound interest in anything athletic. I was afraid if I overthought it, I’d uncover all the reasons to not to do it.

I started tracking my mileage in the middle of 2008, which was also the time when I ran my first marathon. It wasn’t an official marathon – in fact, it was just me, running around near a river for 26.2 miles with a bottle of water and some Gu gels. I didn’t realize solo-marathoning was a big deal – probably because I still hadn’t read anything about running. It just seemed like the next logical step in my training. A year later, I ran my first ultra in Lake Tahoe; with no altitude training, I came in 2nd to last. Two weeks after my first ultra, I ran my 2nd ultra – again, I didn’t know about recovery because I still hadn’t done any research about running. After another 50k a few months later, I finally ran my first real road marathon – San Francisco – in 2010. It was all downhill from there [but sometimes uphill. Lots of uphill].

I’ve now run 47 marathon-or-longer distances and covered a lot of training miles in between. I’ve also learned a lot. In classic consultant style, here are three lessons that stuck with me.

  1. A good run doesn’t make you a good runner. A bad run doesn’t make you a bad runner, either. While the academic definition of a “good” runner is one who runs really fast, the majority of us probably won’t be breaking any records any time soon. That means that we have to come up with our own definitions of success. For me, success is consistency – consistently getting out there, even when I don’t really want to, or it’s raining, or I’m tired. To me, a good runner is a consistent runner – one who runs when they say they will, and doesn’t create excuses in order to skip days. One good run doesn’t make you a good runner if you never run again; it just means you had one good run. A “bad” run doesn’t make you a bad runner, either – it’s just an opportunity to get out there the next day and try again. The key is just doing it.
  2. There are a lot of different types of runners; celebrate and learn from them. There are short-distance runners and long-distance runners. There are people who run once a week and athletes who train 10-15x/week. There are people who run one marathon – ever – and elite athletes who race 10+ marathons a year. There are people who love treadmills, and there are people who hate them. Some runners love Gu; some runners are vegan. Some runners like running naked – of electronics, while some like running actually naked. Some just keep their feet naked. My feeling is, if whatever you’re doing is working for you, keep doing it, and don’t judge those who do it differently.
  3. I am a runner. I’m a lot of other things, too. Probably one of the most difficult times in my life was a year and a half ago, when I had a knee injury. I don’t know that I’ve ever fully written about it on this blog, because it was a really difficult time for me [I did write about an earlier injury]. Running had been so core to my life, and my self-identity, for the past several years. When I went running on Sunday mornings, I called it “runner’s church,” because it was my way of getting in touch with myself and my environment. I even had my own Runner Heaven. Being injured – the prospect of never fully recovering, and never being able to run any appreciable distance again – really made me question how I defined myself and what was important to me. Importantly, it made me realize that while I am a runner, I’m a lot of other things too – a daughter, a sister, a girlfriend, a photographer, a sailor, a student, a sometimes-dancer, a wannabe chef, a reader, a behavioral scientist, a TA, am ailurophile – the list goes on. Running may be core to my identity, but, especially when I’m injured, I have to remember that there’s so much more to runners than just the act of running.

I may never add a 6th digit to my lifetime mileage. To reach 100,000 miles, I’d have to keep running 2,000 miles a year … until I’m 70. Or run this 3,100-mile race every year for 30 years. Or run the 1,000-mile Iditarod race three times a year for the next 30 years. That’s a lot of running.

If I’ve learned anything over the last 10,000 miles, it’s that there will always be faster runners. There will always be runners who run farther. There will always be runners who are just a little bit more extreme. But running isn’t about that. Running is about the personal satisfaction we get – from achieving our goals, being out in nature, and just giving ourselves some time to explore.

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2 thoughts on “Lessons I’ve learned from running 10,000 miles

  1. Pingback: 1/3rd of a 24 hour run: thoughts on failure | brbRunning.com

  2. Good for you. I am 6900 miles in, starting Dec.2008. Life throws a few curve balls, this year, I’m happy to average 1mile/day. Perhaps next year I will have more opportunities! Happy trails,Ben

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