Five lessons you can learn from running

Initially it can take time, dedication and commitment to fully embrace and later enjoy a new activity no matter what it may be. With running, whilst at first the prospect of starting out only capable of jogging and walking intermittently may seem off putting but with the perfect mixture of devoting the time needed to run alongside a genuine willingness and determination, it can soon become part and parcel of daily life at an alarming pace. A weekly run soon becomes two, three miles becomes four and as an activity enjoyed either individually or with others, competitively or even recreationally, running regularly can teach you a lot about exercise and as well as yourself. Two years on from taking up running properly, I can say with great confidence that without running I perhaps may not have known as much as I do about myself and many lessons have been learned through running.

If you are considering taking up running in the New Year, whether that be to gain a greater understanding of yourself both mentally and physically, your own response to setting challenges and overcoming them or to simply just learn about and enjoy running as a wider phenomenon, I can assure you that there are many advantages to incorporating it into your New Year exercise regime. With this in mind, @ASelbyInfo looks at the five things that he (and I suspect many other runners) have learned through running. Meanwhile have your say by commenting below or tweeting me with the greatest lessons that you have learned through running!

Run with your feet but don’t forget the mind games

It might be both your legs and feet that ache after a run but one must also consider the significant mental strain that running can often produce and how much it can take to conquer this Game of Groans. From the minute running is leisurely introduced into an exercise regime up to seriously training for races or practicing much more regularly at longer distances, even the most experienced of runners face mental challenges time and time again. At first it can be a case of tricking yourself and your mind into believing that all you want to do after a long day of working or studying is to go out again and push your body to its limits during a run. This then quickly becomes a matter of convincing yourself to increase your running speed, incline or target distance after becoming comfortable with one. Likewise finding the motivation to both wrap up and go running during the cold winter months or in the hottest of temperatures during the summer when everybody are chilling out elsewhere can be also be a significant mental challenge.

As your legs then begin to ache and fatigue takes over, it is your mind which again plays a vital role when running and can often, quite literally, help you go that extra mile. When things are going right as you hit your stride and reach a pace that you may have been previously uncomfortable with your mind can be your greatest ally. On the flipside, it can also be your greatest enemy as you hit the wall mid-run and therefore training your mind to act on and overcome the many challenges that you face through for running is for me, just as important as training your legs and maintaining your fitness levels. If you can acknowledge what your mind is saying and more importantly believe in yourself; that you can indeed overcome the challenges of an extra mile, a faster pace or just one final push in a race then you may well be surprised at the outcome. A strong work ethic and significant commitment to practicing regularly is one thing but it does however need to be coupled with an acceptance of how important your mind can be whilst running. Not every run may be the same or even as good or bad as the previous one, but the next time you may run much slower than planned, maybe somebody overtakes you in a race or you just simply don’t believe you can reach a certain target, listen to your head as well as your legs, focus on the positives and make your jog, run or sprint the best it can possibly be.

If you fail to prepare, you most certainly prepare to fail

Used as a throwaway remark in all walks (or runs in this case) of life from trivial matters such as failing to revise and prepare homework as a student to skirting around fine details with a clear lack of planning on occasions later life, this can often be the case when running.

Running can be and regularly is both as spontaneous and as ad-hoc as the individual wishes it to be with runners often adapting their routine or individual run based on how far one is capable of running on a given day or run itself. Now this is all well and good when you have the time and the inclination (especially if you decide to go up hill) but you cannot always rely on spontaneity when running and therefore some degree of planning is key. Take new runners for example, whilst a positive attitude goes some way to feel mentally prepared, what good is such inspiration to run if their trainers or running regalia isn’t suitable to do so? Purchasing a comfortable pair of running trainers is therefore key and if you can find your perfect fit by planning ahead, then you can count on them being one of the best investments you may make. The price, brand or design, in the grand scheme of things are immaterial, and whether the brand does or does not match the rest of your running clothes or even if they are purchased for a high-end price or end up being a bargain buy, what does it matter? The most important thing is that you feel comfortable and capable of running in your trainers and planning ahead and making the right purchase makes that possible.

Do however make sure to take time in considering your purchases as running material do not always come cheaply and is in many cases can be an investment. To ensure you don’t get caught out during a run, always take the time to plan ahead by doing such things as checking the weather to if a coat will be necessary during a longer run and get to know your route correctly before leaving. For me there really is nothing more frustrating than having to spend considerable time mid-run, sheltering from a storm or asking for directions whilst out of breath or even sweatily trying to navigate Google Maps on your phone – certainly not a cool look to have! With the many ways you can now accurately check the latest weather forecasts and plan your routes road by road to the nearest kilometre, all it sometimes takes is a little bit of preparation to make a difficult run that bit easier.

For hosted running events, always make sure to plan accommodation and travel before purchasing entry to a large half or full marathon because, as I was last year with the 2016 Great North Run, you can be caught out with the price of both even if you are lucky enough to earn a coveted spot in the race. Likewise make sure your phone or iPod is fully charged and that your Spotify playlists are properly arranged or your chosen podcasts are completely downloaded – that way you have no excuses to break off from a run earlier than planned!

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Age is just a number – anybody can run!

Perhaps the most eye-opening experience for me whilst running has been the shock but also a genuine delight seeing those both old and young running in races or recreationally with friends. As where in professional football once you reach a certain age you deemed as ‘past it’ and past your best with an expectancy for older players to hang up their boots once they reach a certain age, running is the opposite. Different to numerous high-profile team sports, running is clearly one of, if not the most inclusive activities that you can continue practising no matter your age. Clearly running is a physical form of exercise based on conditioning and high fitness levels and to suggest somebody over the age of 50 may win the London Marathon would be slightly misjudging the competitive and challenging nature of the sport.

Yet you could however put a good bet on millions of regular older runners throughout the world that are equally as good as fellow runners who are half of their age – seasoned veterans within their own right with both a clear love of running and an even clearer ability to continue reaching 5km, 13 miles or 26 miles in very respectable times, no matter what their birth certificate may say. And with many events now offering classification standings filtered by age looking specifically at those in different age brackets including in many events a list of the fastest runners over 40/50 years old, there does meanwhile remain a degree of competition for the older runner. As a league within a league, age is just a number for runners with competition still prevalent no matter what your age is and thit typifies why running is both so widely loved and widely practiced worldwide.

If the impressive number of older runners that continue to sign-up for competitive events, year on year around the world is anything to go by, then the simplistic nature of putting on your trainers, planning a route and heading into the unknown clearly hasn’t lost its appeal with the older generation just yet and doesn’t look like it will do with future generations anytime soon. Whilst I can dread and regularly complain about a planned run, often choosing not to bother citing the slightest of excuses to my own mind as justification for not going, I do in many ways hope that I personally continue running and competing in events up to a repsectable age. As well as the numerous positives that come with this degree of exercise by running in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and keeping fit as you get older, albeit perhaps not quite as strenuous as that of my younger years but I do quite like the idea of rocking up to an event in 40 years time with the legs of a 63 year old but the mind, attitudge and capability of a 23 year old and still being able to complete a race.

Then again I was going to go for a run tonight but after a long day at work, I also quite like the idea of watching the football this evening whilst eating the last of my Christmas chocolate and therefore not going for a planned run this evening… The mind games strike again! In all seriousness when it comes to running I encourage you to take the time to put age into perspective. No matter whether you are old or young, whether you run for 10 minutes or 1 hour or whether you sprint, jog or walk most of the way, ultimately the minute you lace up your shoes and have the determination to go for a run is the minute you continue to be classed as a ‘runner’. No matter what you may think, age becomes irrelevant as you put one foot in front of the other.

How to enjoy exercise rather than just enduring it

Despite the challenges that running regularly produces, it is so surprising at just how quickly the running bug can be caught. For an activity that I used to dread every time the immortal words were uttered at the start of Physical Education lesson ‘Today we are doing cross country running’, after forcefully introducing into my gym routine in an attempt to lose weight and get fit, it soon became an integral part of my weekly exercise routine. For me running offers the an opportunity both to de-stress and to use the time to gather ideas for articles such as this as well as catching up the many sports podcasts I try and cram in every week; listening at the same time as doing something productive. Running is also a great way of building strength and resistance, an invaluable opportunity to meet like-minded people (often future friends) and a catalyst of change amongst many , many more more – regularly inspiring people to lose weight, maintain their fitness levels and set fitness related challenges and goals which they may not have done previously.

Whatever your motivation may be, running transforms itself from merely being a form of exercise to something that you enjoy doing, not just a pastime or a hobby but can for many, even become a way of life. Depending on how susceptible to the running bug and how engrossed you become, you need only to go a couple of events to truly appreciate its wider appeal and how it can mean so much to do many. From running around work or other commitments during the week to devoting weekends travelling, staying over and participating in an event elsewhere, a runner’s quest for complete satisfaction can often be a race that they never fully complete.

If you are reading this as non-runner and find a lot of what this is article is saying difficult to believe, I would encourage you to give running a try as I really do think you’ll be surprised at just how quickly you begin to enjoy it as more than just exercise. Even as an activity that you gradually introduce to into your life, not only as a springboard to further exercise but also a way of seeing the world on your feet as opposed to through a car window, running can be an enjoyable way of looking at both your surroundings and your thoughts a different way and ultimately, running is a very refreshing and extremely rewarding form of exercise.

There are no right or wrongs in running

Although it is competition which can sometimes make you a better and perhaps somewhat more competitive runner, but you quickly learn that there are no golden rules in running. Irrespective of how important they may be to the individual, split timings and overall standings after a race may well be a barometer of your fitness levels and of course either a great achievement or maybe even disappointing reflection of your race depending on what your targets may be, but in the grand scheme of things, there are no rights or wrongs to running as everybody is different. For every runner that stresses the importance of running the full distance before partaking in an event, conversely there are many that are both more than happy with a target figure in mind and a willingness to let the adrenaline of the big race make up for the miles they have missed out in training.

Subsequently one of the major benefits of running unlike other sports is that you are able to run when you like, with who you like and most importantly how you like. Neither is it essential to drink a certain amount of water, take on board a specific type of gel or type of food mid-run nor is there a standard style of running that you should follow. And just because somebody is able to run 10km or a marathon in a certain time doesn’t therefore mean that you must have to either.

In a digital age, although we can all be culpable in some ways of creating a climate of comparisons through hashtags, race pictures and screenshots of recorded run times, it is always worth remembering that there are no rights and wrongs in running. In all walks of life it is sometimes unavoidable to compare and even criticise and whilst running may be no different, for me the making of a good runner is realising that not only is each person different but more so that there is in no way any expectancy to do anything in a certain way. More often than not during a race, you can always bank on a runner that speeds off right at the very start only to be caught up much later on. Likewise there are those who prefer such an approach in search of a particular time or personal best and often achieve their goals without issue. With this in mind, whether it be preparing for a run, resting after one and merely how you go about running when exercising, remember there are no right and wrongs and certainly no rule book to abide by. Just always do what is best for you and try not to compare yourself with fellow runners however difficult that may be!

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