10 Lessons I've Learned From Running

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When I think back on my past as a dancer and cheerleader it feels like another life. I feel so far removed from that (huge) part of my story that sometimes I forget altogether. Running feels so fiercely like a deep, integral part of who I am that it’s hard to imagine what my life was like without it. I have so many fond memories from the dance studio and my days cheering on the sidelines of games and both sports taught me so much. Dance taught me to be disciplined and cheer taught me how to be a leader, among other things, but both sports also place a lot of emphasis on looks and because of that I can’t help but feel a negative tug whenever I think back to those days.

Dance in particular taught me to focus greatly on my appearance – from having the “ballet body,” to spending hours on end in tights and leotards in front of a giant wall of mirrors, from being required in lyrical and jazz to only wear a sports bra and spandex so they could correct your form, to comparing yourself to all of the other bean poles at dance competitions. It’s crazy looking back because I can remember so clearly how insecure I always felt. I picked myself apart in front of that giant wall of mirrors. I compared myself to the hundreds of other girls at conventions, always feeling less put together, like maybe my body wasn’t truly a “ballet body” after all, like my costumes and outfits weren’t as flashy or trendy. We were all passionate about dance, so why did it always seem like looks played such a major role? Why were we judged (literally by the judges) on appearance and costume? Dance taught me so much, but I wish I had uncovered my love of running at an earlier age. I wish I could’ve gained the strength, self-confidence, body acceptance and true happiness that I’ve gained through running years ago.

Running has been my biggest passion for more than two years now and has only gotten deeper through marathon training. With the marathon only a month away (almost exactly!!) and with hitting my longest mileage of training yesterday, 22 miles, I’ve been spending a lot of time lost in my thoughts, reflecting on this process so far and how my life has been so greatly changed by running.

I have to be completely honest, I got really choked up after I hit 22 miles yesterday (no, not because my body ached all over). I can think back to my first couple long runs of this training process and how nervous I was for this run. I’ve anticipated this moment for months and having finally accomplished it, I feel amazing. I feel so proud and full of joy. I can’t even begin to describe it!!!

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During those 22 miles I really started thinking about everything that running has taught me:

  1. Running has given me true self confidence. I was never completely insecure, but I definitely didn’t have the confidence I have now. I used to care so greatly about what others thought of me. I would never leave my house or dorm without makeup on and my hair done. I would over-analyze texts form people, their comments in class, etc. Now, I love the place I’m at in life so much that all of those past insecurities have truly disappeared. I don’t care who sees me without makeup on and bedhead, I don’t let other’s opinions of me get me down and I don’t overthink. I own who I am and I feel strong in who I am, and I truly believe it’s because running has given me such a purpose, given me something to be proud of and given me something bigger to focus on outside of myself.

  2. Running has taught me to love my body. I always was self-critical of my body, and I truly believe it’s because of my years as a dancer and the emphasis it placed on appearance (not saying dance is bad in and of itself, it’s not, I just believe it affected me negatively). As a runner I now focus on my strength. I love my body because of what it can do, not for what it looks like. I love my body for the thousands of miles it has carried me. I love my body for its ability to wake up and run 22 miles and feel good.

  3. Running has taught me to be strong, both mentally and physically. I was never “weak” per say, but I never was a very tough-skinned girl. I used to complain of having a low pain tolerance and would be brought to tears pretty easily if I got upset, stressed, etc. On the physical level, running has made my body stronger and I feel that it can withstand so much. It amazes me each week that I can run so far and wake up feeling completely fine the next day, minus a bit of soreness. On the mental level, running has taught me that I can push through hard things. If I can mentally withstand 3 hours of running nonstop and still come out of it happy as can be, then I can withstand more than I ever thought possible.

  4. Running has taught me to be disciplined. Last year, after seeing the same professor in the gym every morning for almost an entire year, he gave me a compliment I’ll never forget – “you are one of the most disciplined people I have ever encountered.” I had never thought of it that way, but it’s true. I’m not always motivated, but I’m disciplined. Through repetition and dedication, I have turned waking up early to start my day the best way possible, into a habit. This has seeped into other parts of my life and has created such a positive work ethic in my school-life, work-life, etc.

  5. Running has shown me what true passion is. I’ve had “passions” here and there, but nothing quite like this. The passion I have for running is the kind that makes me jump out of bed at 5am so undeniably excited to get out there. The kind that makes me run with the goofiest, biggest smile on my face (you should’ve seen me during yesterday’s run… I think people driving by thought I was crazy). The kind that makes me want to read about running, write about running and talk about running all the dang time.

  6. Running has helped me heal. Running was the biggest savior when my friend died my freshman year of college. It gave me somewhere to channel my anger, grief and overwhelming sadness. It is still the thing that helps me through the hard times, the sad times and the confusing times. It’s what I turn to when I need clarity and a clear mind.

  7. Running has taught me how to work hard. Running in general has taught me to put in the necessary work, but especially during marathon training. Having a training schedule and sticking to it during school is no easy task and running for hours on end some days before a full day of classes is exhausting (in the best way). But this hard work? It’s what makes it worth it. It’s what makes me better. It’s what makes me stronger. So I keep putting in the work because I want to improve and I want to push myself. I try to put in this same hard work in everything I do.

  8. Running has taught me to never give up. And with working hard comes never giving up. There are points in my runs where I feel like I just can’t do it. But I’ve realized it’s much more mental than physical. I know what my body is capable of; it’s just a matter of making sure my mind is all-in. My mental strength, as I mentioned above, has gotten immensely stronger. As easy as it would be to stop a few miles early, or even just half a mile early when I feel mentally exhausted, I don’t, because finishing strong each and every time is so gratifying.

  9. Running has taught me to listen to my body and give it rest. Because of running I have to listen very carefully to my body’s cues – is that just soreness or did I pull something? Is this a time to keep pushing or a time to rest so I don’t hurt myself seriously? I used to simply push through any pains, but because the thought of not being able to run for long periods of time makes me sad (like really sad), I’ve learned to tune in and give my body the rest it needs.

  10. Running has taught me to love early morning me-time. Before I started my 5am wake-up calls to get in my runs and lifts before class, I wasn’t really a morning person. Now, mornings are my favorite time of the day. Even on rest days I get up early because I love having quiet time to think, sip my coffee and get mentally prepared for the day. Being a morning person has truly helped me be so much more productive and purposeful with my days.

Running has truly changed my life and marathon training has changed it even more deeply.

I don’t go a single day without being thankful for my ability to run and for all of these lessons that this sport has taught me. So thank you running for making me who I am today.

XO nat

Related: In It For The Long Run: My Top 10 Long Run Must-Haves, Run The Mile You're In (Even During The Longest Runs), Conquering 26.2: An Inside Look At My First Marathon Experience