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Seven Life Lessons Running Has Taught Me

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at St. Andrews chapter.

When I was around fourteen, I decided to start running, sadly for the very common and boring reason of wanting to get fitter. I did what many people do: started small and very slow. Over time I built this up, through consistency and ups and downs, to where I am now – a place where I confidently call myself ‘a runner’. In the process of my running journey, from trail running in the blazing heat to road running in the pouring rain, I have had to learn some hard lessons, many of which have transcended running as an act of fitness, and play a part in how I view my life in general. I believe you don’t have to be a runner to benefit from these tips – and, in fact, many of you who read this might have learnt these lessons in some way already. But, since they could impact how you view life and the decisions you choose to make, as they have done for me, I thought they would be worth sharing: 

1.     Listen to your body  

When your head gets in the way, the best thing to do is listen to how your body is feeling. Tired? Rest. Achy? Stretch. This goes beyond just exercise. I’m sure some of you will relate to that moment when you’re studying so late into the night that your eyes begin to blur, and you find yourself nodding off at your laptop. At that point, your body is just stepping in, and the best thing you can do is listen so you don’t jeopardise how you feel the next day. Sometimes a break is the best thing you can do for yourself.   

2.     You can do hard things 

Sometimes when I’m struggling several miles deep into a run, and I know there are still many to go, I just repeat this mantra over and over in my head: ‘you can do hard things’. Often when we think we’ve reached our limits we still have more we can give – and this doesn’t just go for physical challenges, but also mental and emotional obstacles. When a task that you’ve started feels impossible or intimidating, and you feel you can’t do it, often you can; it just takes perseverance, determination and the drive to do it.  

3.     Don’t compare yourself to other people 

Particularly since coming to university, I’ve been surrounded by so many amazing runners that it sometimes knocks my confidence in my own running ability. What I’ve learnt to do when I begin feeling disheartened or frustrated at the speed of my progress or the level of my ability compared to others is to put things in perspective. I remind myself that I have the ability to run when others do not. I remind myself that no one’s journey will be exactly like mine and what works best for them might not be what’s best for me. These little reminders transcend running and are applicable to all areas of life – academics, social media, body image and so on. 

4.     You can only prepare for so much 

I have a quote; I’ve forgotten exactly where I read it, but it has stuck with me for years. It goes ‘you can never be ready, only prepared’. What this means for me is that no matter how much training or time I put in, at the back of my head I’ll always have the worry that I could have prepared better for a race. The truth is that this belief is merely a fantasy. There is no perfect level of ‘preparedness’ that will make you feel completely and utterly ready – if you just put in a little more time. This is true of exams or any form of assessment. You can prepare. You can make sure you have put yourself in a position to do well. But at a certain level, you also have to tell yourself ‘enough’ and be okay with whatever the result may be.   

5.     Don’t set goals that are too rigid

Time and time again I plan the kind of runs I want to do in a week, or even just what run I want to do that day and then Scotland throws a curveball at me and it suddenly starts hailing and 50mph winds pick up. In the past I have forced myself to stick to my plan, running in conditions that really weren’t good for me or for my running, just because I refused to be flexible in reaching my goals. This adherence to rigidity appears across life. We can’t control everything, and sometimes life throws things at us we weren’t expecting and ‘ruins’ our ability to achieve our goals. Instead of getting frustrated or upset, I have now learnt to adapt, to set flexible goals that allow for the spontaneity that life brings. This outlook has not only made achieving my goals easier, but it also sometimes takes me somewhere amazing, a place where I had never even thought of going. 

6.     Prioritising health includes prioritising your mental health 

Often I hear people tell me that they started running to improve their health – and most commonly they refer to their physical fitness. I used to be one of those people. Running, to me, was purely a means to an end – a way of getting fitter. But what many people who start running don’t realise at the start is the transformative effect running has on your mental health. Running helps give me space to process and reflect, or simply to not have to think at all. And I have had to balance these two sides of running – physical and mental – as it became something I regularly do.  Sometimes when I run I do it for my mental health, and this may mean changing how I run – such as running slower, with friends, alone or in less busy areas. This can be reflective of other parts of life, such as socialising, drinking or eating, where you have to strike a balance with what is healthy. Ultimately, staying ‘healthy’ includes looking after your mental health. 

7.     Just because you’re not the best at something doesn’t mean you should stop doing it 

This lesson is a hard one, particularly going from being the top of my class back at school, to a university full of people who were top of their class. Sometimes it can really knock my confidence when I run because I know for a fact that I am not the best runner. It is simply realistic to note that I will never be an Olympic marathon runner, but this doesn’t mean that I should quit running – in fact, far from it. I enjoy running, it makes me feel good – and deep down I also know that I’m not completely terrible at it. Sometimes in life you have to stop and really ask yourself why you’re doing something and what it is bringing to your life. I have had to ask myself this with not only running but also my university degree, where the decision I make has a significant impact on my life. I would just urge you to remember that just because you aren’t the best at something, that isn’t a reason to completely write it off – sometimes the other things it brings to your life are more important than being number one. 

I hope at least one of these lessons resonated with you or at least made you think slightly differently about some aspect of your life. I am not claiming that these lessons are unique to running – actually far from it – and I am sure there are many lessons from other sports that people could add. However, I do believe that running has for me and can have for others, a significant impact on how people view life and may be something worth taking up, even just to try. 

Josie Smith

St. Andrews '24

Josie is a fourth year studying philosophy. She is particularly interested in writing about health and well-being topics as well as the unique financial and business issues that women face. Josie feels so excited and grateful to be a part of an editorial that focuses on amplifying and empowering women’s voices.