Lessons in Self-Compassion Learned on Long Runs.
Training for a half-marathon was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and I learned many lessons about life and running throughout the 4 months leading up to the race. For context, I was a brand-new Doctor of Physical Therapy Student, in a new city, who had just completed her return to run program after an injury. I had just worked up to running a mile consecutively when, with a little bit of peer pressure, I found myself signed up for my first half marathon.
I drove to Decatur for the first time to get a new pair of running shoes from Big Peach and found myself lacing them up at the Old Fourth Ward Skate Park every Saturday, ready to face a new mileage each week. Starting off was a struggle. Each new distance felt daunting and pushing myself was hard. I felt slow, and I still felt the occasional twinge of my previous injury.
I felt defeated every time another runner passed me and elated when I passed a different runner. I felt frustrated when my watch revealed a pace slower than my goal. But after a few weeks, and lots of self-reflection on my runs, I found peace and then joy by just running my own race.
I realized that the person who passed me might have just started her run, maybe she’s doing a tempo run today, or maybe she has been running and building her endurance for years! And that person I passed – they might have been on mile 15 of their run or coming back from an injury. Or maybe, we were all just running our daily distance, at our own pace. Comparing my run to another person’s wasn’t going to make my run better or worse; the only thing that could change my run, was me.
Once I let go of comparing myself to the other runners, and focused on my own progress, I started having more fun in my runs. And I don’t know about you, but I do a lot of life pondering during my runs. I then began to think about how comparing where I was in my life to others, wasn’t helpful either. I couldn’t compare my life and perceived progress as a graduate student, to the life that my friends who had started careers with paying jobs had, because we were running different races.
Even though it’s been several years since I first had these thoughts that helped me through half-marathon training and PT School, I’ve found these lessons to be good reminders. These “revelations” may seem pretty obvious, but it is so easy to get down on ourselves when comparing our situation to someone else’s. We feel like we’re failing when we see someone post about the house they bought, getting married, their job promotion, or latest vacation, thinking “I should have, or do, or be that”. These feelings can range from jealousy, to self-deprecation, and spiral into anxiety, and are ultimately not productive.
So be kind to yourself, in life and on your runs. You’re on your own journey, your own timeline. You’re going to make it to the next big mile-marker, the next water station, and the finish line. It doesn’t matter where your friend, your sister, your co-worker, or that random person you follow on Instagram is in the race, or what their splits are. Listen to your body and your heart: Take a break and re-fuel when you need it. Lean on your support system and ask for help. And celebrate that this is YOUR race and your life – it is unique and beautiful and full of ups and downs and learning experiences.
I’m proud of you for running your own race!