Those of you who know me personally will be aware that I’m a bit of a runner. Now, I’d be the first to admit that I’m not a very good runner. And I’m certainly not a very fast runner. But I do like to lace up my trainers and get outside for a trundle through the countryside. Running is a part of my life. And it has taught me a great deal. Not just about running, but about life as well.
So, in the spirit of openness, here are some of the things that running has taught me.*
1. Always have a goal
Yes, I know. This isn’t anything you couldn’t get from any one of a million personal effectiveness books out there. But it’s absolutely true and we still forget it.
Whenever I put on my trainers, I set myself a goal. It might be to run for an hour at a reasonably brisk pace. It might be to run up and down a particular hill X times. It might be to run a certain distance. Or it might just be to chill out and go for a gentle meander with the dog around the footpaths near my home.
(Before I accidentally give the impression that I’m some kind of ultra-fit marathon man, I should perhaps point out that I usually go for the ‘chill out’ option.)
The idea, of course, is that by setting a goal for each run, I’m making sure that my running contributes to some bigger picture. This might be the build up to a particular race or some other idiotic challenge I’ve set myself. Or it might be to just get a little bit fitter or to run one of my favourite routes that little bit faster.
But if I don’t set a goal for my run, I’m essentially just running ‘junk’ miles. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time in my life for anything with ‘junk’ in its name. If I’m taking the time to go out for a run, it’d damn well better be contributing to my bigger-picture aims in some way.
2. Plan to achieve your goal
There’s a well-known saying about planning as a means of preventing poor performance. And as someone who may, on occasion, have neglected the planning side of things, I can attest as to its veracity.
When I go for a run, I think about where I’m going, what the weather’s like and how long I’ll be out. I plan my route and, if necessary, take a map and compass. I may also take a snack, a first aid kit and my emergency satellite beacon (it can get a bit wild here in Somerset, you know).
I also make sure that I’m wearing suitable clothing, which may include waterproofs if it’s tipping it down. (Although this should perhaps also be a sign that I might be better off staying at home.) And, most importantly, if I’m going anywhere remote or off-road, I tell someone where I’m going and when I’ll be back.
My point is this. By planning ahead, I’m maximising the likelihood that I’m going to enjoy my run. And get back home safely at the end of it.
3. Break down big goals into achievable chunks
My favourite runs are the longer ones. Not just for the physical challenge that they bring, but also for the challenge that they present to my mental stamina. Running a mile is easy. Running a mile when you know that there are another 20 or so of them to come is a little more difficult.
So what I do is break things down.
In the rare instance that I’m running in a race, the next mile marker or checkpoint is always a great target. Especially if there’ll be jelly babies there. But I might equally focus on running for the next 15 minutes. Or up to the top of the next hill. Or, if things are not going so well, to the next tree.
And when I reach that goal, I’ll give myself a little reward. This might be a gulp of water or a couple of jelly babies (yes, I know, it’s an obsession). Or it might be a moment to catch my breath and enjoy the scenery. What I will not do is think about how far I have left to run.
And then I’ll head off towards my next achievable goal.
4. Be willing to change your goal if necessary
Sometimes, it becomes apparent that a goal I’ve set myself is not a realistic one. The weather may be too bad for the run I wanted to do. Or work may be so busy that I don’t have the time. Or I might simply be too tired.
Obviously, I could be all pig-headed and go out for my run anyway. But experience of doing just this on more occasions than I’d like to admit tells me that it’s rarely, if ever, the right thing to do. Charging on regardless is rarely the intelligent option.
Sometimes, changing circumstances mean that our goals have to change, too. Being able to recognise when we need to change our goals is an important skill. And having the courage to be able to do so is perhaps even more important.
* And no, before you ask, this isn’t just a cynical attempt to make my running shoe habit tax deductible…