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Running Sucks. And I Love It.

Written by Alli Cost, Occupational Therapist and Movement Coach.

As we prepare to head into the cooler fall months AKA running season in NYC, it is the perfect time to head outside and hit the pavement. For many people the thought of running conjures up strong feelings one way or the other. Whether this was established in your high school gym class, or from completing obsessive training miles in an attempt to finish a race – rarely is someone neutral on the subject of running. You either love it or you hate it…

Running sucks. And I love it. The dichotomy in this statement reflects life more accurately (for me) than any whimsical poem. I once read an essay on how to select a husband/wife that said “Choosing whom to commit ourselves to is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would most like to sacrifice ourselves for.” This adage applies to most of the decisions we make about how to spend our time – including running. You choose things to do based on the amount of discomfort you’re most willing to tolerate. This does not negate the positive, but rather reinforces it with an understanding that it’s worth the effort. Joy isn’t separate from suffering: it’s braided together to create authentic experiences. The same can be said for running.

Goals don’t make changes. Daily habits do. If you sign up for a race but don’t train, it’s not much of a win. Yes, ‘crossing the finish line’ is glamorous and impressive, but the day-to-day grind is what we should actually applaud. Focus on doing the thing you need to do today, and do it. Do it now. Not later. Not tomorrow. Now. Repeat tomorrow.

If you focus on who is behind you, you will likely trip over something you didn’t see right in front of you.  When we’re consumed with comparing ourselves with others and judging where we came from, we miss what’s ahead of us. Yes, it can motivate you to go forward, but focusing on what’s behind you will not make you go faster. Distraction destroys momentum. There is forward movement only when you look forward.

Uneven terrain makes you stronger.  A life spent on smooth manicured roads is pleasant.  But a rugged path creates strong ankles, great balance, and better views.  Life is hard. You will inevitably hit an obstacle. If you aren’t able to adapt or support yourself, you will fall down and break. Embrace challenges as opportunities to be more awesome. The bumpy road is fun if you allow it to be fun.

Speed cannot make up for bad form.  Getting somewhere fast is a great motivator for continuing onward. It also provides the false perception that you know what you’re doing. Being ‘a natural’ at something doesn’t mean you have extensive skills or sustainability. The best athletes go back to basics and work on their form daily Even as a movement therapist, I take regular anatomy classes to build on the knowledge that exists outside of my natural abilities. Grow those strong roots of foundational skills so you can grow strong upwards without getting lost in the details.

Sometimes you need to train for a race, even if you know you’re not going to win it. I run half marathons that I don’t ever expect to win. It’s not about being the best. It’s about meeting a goal while growing mentally & physically stronger. I want to know I can be better on race day than I was 12 weeks earlier. There are a lot of people on this earth, and you are likely not going to the best in the world. But you can always improve and be the best YOU possible.

Run with people who are faster than you.  A tribe is more than a social network. It is accountability and different perspectives. When running alone, you can convince yourself you’ve gone far enough. If running with a group, you’re probably going to push yourself to go as far as they decide. When your running buddy is waiting for you at 5am, you feel guilty sleeping in so you get up. On your own, that snooze button gets pressed over and over. You slowly transform into the people you spend the most time with. If they are positive, motivated and goal oriented, you will develop these qualities too.

The most significant improvements in my athleticism and my life came when I embraced the paradoxes. Dedication is not possible without flexibility. It is this flexibility that molds suffering into purpose.  Find your passion and embark on the hardships with joy.