7 Surprising Life Lessons From Running Over 40,000 Miles

Sooner or later, every runner realizes that running is actually a metaphor for life.


It’s no surprise that there are countless quotes about this issue:

Through perseverance many people win success out of what seemed destined to be certain failure. – Benjamin Disraeli [Click to tweet!]

The most impressive people I know spent their time with their head down getting shit done for a long, long time. – Sam Altman [Click to tweet!]

Experience is the teacher of all things. – Caesar [Click to tweet!]

Ask anyone who’s run for decades and they’ll agree – running can teach you more about success than almost anything. You’ll learn the value of:

  • Long-term consistency
  • Tenacity and courage
  • Anti-fragility
  • Discipline
  • Planning (and plan execution)

These life values are rewarding and can make all of your endeavors more successful. In fact, years ago when I was interviewing for jobs, I was told that my running helped get me hired.

Being a runner actually helped land me a job! It makes sense, after all. Runners do what’s necessary to get the job done, even if it’s not something we want to do (a long run before dawn on a cold Saturday morning? Sign me up!).

Since 1998, I’ve run more than 40,000 miles (almost twice the distance around Earth’s equator). Running has positively impacted my life in so many ways that this article could be an entire book.

But instead, I want to highlight seven ways that running has taught me to be a better person, father, husband, business owner, and friend.

This should be fun 🙂

#1 Start Now, Get it Right Later

The best time to start a good habit was yesterday. The second best time is today.

Waiting for the “right time” to do things is short-sighted because in reality, there’s virtually NEVER a good time to start something new.

I learned this when my wife accidentally got pregnant (oops!). But it was the best thing that happened to our family.

I learned this when I joined my high school’s cross country team (I thought I could high jump…). But staying on that team was the single most defining decision of my life.

The most important thing is to start and you can worry about the details later:

  • How fast should I be running?
  • What are the best strength exercises for runners (actually, that’s an easy one)?
  • Should I figure out my VO2 Max?
  • Do long runs increase every week? By how much?

You can figure out all this stuff later. You can plan an entire season when you’re more experienced.

But until then, don’t let minutiae get in the way of taking action.

#2 Consistency Above All Else

Everyone loves to hear about overnight successes. But as actor Monty Hall once said:

I’m an overnight success, but it took twenty years.

Success in any endeavor – whether that’s running, building a company or learning the guitar – takes consistent work over a long period of time.

You’ve probably heard of the “10,000 Hour Rule” popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers. It maintains that to become an expert at something, you need 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.

Whether you believe this rule or not (it’s become controversial) is largely irrelevant because the point is that to become great at something, you need a LOT of practice.

Success doesn’t come in six months – or even a few years. It comes after 1-2 decades of hard work.

Did you just start running and set a monster goal to qualify for the Boston Marathon? Awesome! But just understand that it might take a very long time to get there.

That will give you time to put in the work, learn, and transform yourself. It’s worth it.

#3 Extraordinary Results Demand Extraordinary Work

Whenever I share a powerful success story (Alex is a great example), it’s common to wonder how these runners accomplished such extraordinary results.

But the answer is pretty simple: they put in a lot of hard work! And it’s not enough to just work hard – you have to work smart.

Work hard. Work smart. Both are necessary to achieve your big goals and realize your potential.

If you work hard and smart consistently for a long period of time, then that’s when the magic starts to happen.

That’s when you set personal best after personal best – seemingly with less effort.

That’s when you stop worrying about getting injured all the time (and put that effort into great training).

And that’s when you start crossing off bucket-list goals.

#4 Improvement Requires Learning

If you want to get good at something, you have to learn a lot about it.

Simple stuff, right?

Then why on Earth doesn’t every runner invest in a coach? Or attend a running camp or retreat? Or just buy a good running book?

If running is your passion, then celebrating that passion with an investment in your running education is well worth the nominal cost.

When I started running in 1998, I learned from my 20+ teammates and two coaches. Now, my collection of running books is slightly embarassing. Add that to my USATF certification and having 10+ of my own coaches, it’s no wonder why I can get my runners such great results.

And I think you can do the same for yourself. Focus on the fundamentals. Learn the basics. Study great coaches and runners.

Don’t get distracted by fads and you’ll soon be your own best coach.

#5 Just Because it’s Hard Doesn’t Mean it’s Not Worthwhile

About 47,308 times in my running career I’ve considered quitting because I was tired…

  • Tired of getting up at 5am to run 10-15 miles every morning before work
  • Tired of grueling track workouts and 80+ miles per week
  • Tired of injury after injury
  • Tired of working for months to have one good race
  • Tired of running for 2+ hours every weekend on my long run

And occasionally, I did briefly quit. In the fall of 2007 I took six weeks off from running to lift weights, drink beer and party.

And it was so much fun! But only for about a month – and then I was tired of very different things:

  • Gaining too much weight and being heavier than I  should be
  • Being fatigued for no good reason
  • Sleeping poorly
  • Not having a physical goal to work toward

I soon realized that running is VERY hard – and that’s ok! It gives us goals, provides us structure in our lives, and is ultimately more rewarding than a sedentary (and more boring, IMO) life.

So bring on the workouts. Bring on the high mileage. Bring on the pain of racing.

It’s just a lot more fun.

#6 Bad Experiences Teach Good Lessons

The sweet isn’t so sweet without the bitter. To grow as a runner, you need adversity.

Whether that’s the worst race of your life or a severe injury, these terrible experiences offer learning opportunities that shouldn’t be ignored.

After my 6-month (!) IT Band injury, I started to finally “get” injury prevention. I felt like Neo, seeing the Matrix for the first time.

I developed the ITB Rehab Routine and completely restructured the way I trained. This change prompted me to launch Strength Running in 2010 – helping tens of thousands of runners get faster and stay healthy.

And my own running took off like a rocket: I set annual mileage records in 2010, 2012, and 2013. I set a 5+ minute PR in the marathon with my 2:39:32 personal best. And most importantly, I only had one serious injury in more than five years of hard training.

But I never would have had this success (and Strength Running may not even exist!) if I didn’t have an abysmal marathon that led to the worst injury of my life.

So embrace the suck. Learn from it and use it to become a better runner.

#7 It’s Always Worth It

Struggling to find the motivation to get up and run before work?

Don’t want to finish the whole workout?

No matter how you’re contemplating quitting or cutting your run short, it’s always worth the effort to finish (unless you’re dealing with a running injury or have a very good reason to miss a run).

You’ll gain more fitness by finishing the workout. You’ll feel better physically after running. And you never know what adventure you may have that you never would have experienced if you had skipped the run.

In 2013, I almost skipped a run while in New Zealand. But I ran anyway, telling myself I’d just run for an easy 30 minutes.

That was a decision I’ll always remember because I soon stumbled on a gorgeous trail that went through a temperate rainforest, up a mountain, and ended with ridiculous views of Fox Glacier. The pictures are incredible.

The effort of that run was worth it. Just like every run.

After running for nearly two decades – and covering over 40,000 miles in the process – running has become a deeply ingrained piece of my identity.

Sure, it can be challenging. And tedious. And boring. And painful. And inconvenient.

But am I proud to call myself a runner? You bet.

And I hope you are, too.

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