The Crucial Lesson About Success I Learned From Running

When I was in high school, my track and cross-country coach used to constantly remind us of how valuable running was. While we ran endless laps around the track, I didn’t particularly see the merit in his words. It felt largely miserable and tiresome at that time. He would remark about how we would learn to appreciate so many life lessons from running after high school was over. Now that it has been seven years since I graduated high school, I can say, in hindsight, he was right all along.

I first started running at 14 years old, and only because I wanted to get an A in gym class. Our grade was predominantly based on how well we completed timed runs, and being the over achiever I was, I naively decided I would start running to ensure that A letter grade. Initially, I struggled to even finish one block, but my desire to get good grades outweighed any misery I felt. Eventually, I became accustomed to it.

I never perceived running as a teacher. It was an activity I had to master in order to get a good grade. My original plan was that, once I achieved the grade I wanted, I would toss running aside. But of course, an overachiever possesses an insatiable need to be good at everything. It was only natural that I expanded my horizons to conquering new challenges, like track, cross country, and eventually, marathons.

Recently, I celebrated a decade of running by completing my tenth full marathon, and like all the other past marathons, I received a plethora of praise. I understand the kindness behind such praise, but I feel as if it’s misaligned. I find I am being applauded for the wrong definition of success. My friends and family will exclaim at the act of finishing the marathon, but I don’t feel like that is an accomplishment at all. There are many more life lessons from running than simply the good feeling that comes with finishing a race.

Scott Jurek notes this idea in his memoir, Eat and Run. Scott Jurek is arguably the greatest ultra marathon runner of our time. He won the Western States 100 mile race seven consecutive times, amongst numerous other accomplishments. Jurek is undoubtedly an accomplished individual in the typical sense — numerous running records and ultra marathon victories — yet he measures success differently. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from the book:

No one wants to win more than I do. What I’ve learned in ultras, though, is that where I finish is merely an outcome — even though I reach for it with every sinew and tendon and muscle of my being. What matters more than victory is what I do to reach it and how.

Have I prepared? Am I focused? Have I been treating my body with attentiveness, eating healthfully and with care? Have I been training properly? Have I pushed myself as far, and as hard, as possible? Those are the types of questions that have guided me in my career and that can guide anyone who seeks something. We all want the promotion at work, or the girl, or the guy, or the personal best in the 5k race, of course. But whether you get what you want isn’t what defines you. It’s how you go about your business.

This is the type of success I believe in as well. Success isn’t solely finishing a race, or achieving a certain letter grade or a job — those are byproducts of success. Success is the cumulative set of inputs we put in, the unseen hustle and dedication. I’ve been asked throughout my life, how do I achieve X, and my universal answer is always synonymous to this principle — success won’t be obtaining X, but everything you do in preparation. If you’re in school, it will be the focus and commitment you put into your studies on a daily basis over an extended period of time. If you’re training for a race, it’s the months of preparation, the accumulation of short runs, tempo runs, and long runs completed each week. If you want a job, it’s the continuous commitment to improving yourself and skills. It’s not just applying to occasional job postings, but improving each line of your resume, learning more of your field, connecting with mentors, and practicing every question imaginable for an interview.

A decade ago, my high school coach warned me that there would be a time when I finally understood the value of these life lessons from running, and I am aware of that value very much now. I see value in how I’ve come to understand success, with the emphasis on working hard and working consistently. The next time I finish a marathon, I won’t be proud of myself simply because I completed it. I will be proud of myself because all of the work I did in preparation for it. The early morning runs, the evening runs in the rain, the commitment to eating better and increasing my mileage each week to push my comfort zones — these are just a few of the inputs that define my true victory.

Aman is an IR/Econ alum of UBC, Fitzgerald lover & marathon runner. You can find her drinking too much coffee in the rainy city of Vancouver. She writes for online publications including Thought Catalog, Elite Daily  and Her Agenda. Follow her blog or Twitter for more updates. 

Image via Unsplash

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