A few years ago when I travelled solo around the world I used to get asked all the time “What did you learn?” “How was it?” “Wasn’t it hard and scary to be by yourself?” Well sometimes. But aren’t all good things a little scary, a little hard?
And while it’s true, you learn a lot, do a lot, experience a lot, to be honest the biggest thing I learned was that “I can”.
That when things go awry, get messed, get uncertain, I can figure it out. That when I get knocked down or fail or run into problems, I can pick up the pieces and figure out how to put them back together. It is a privilege to be able to choose our suffering. But it is also this need to suffer and be pushed out of our comfort zone, to have to struggle, get knocked down and get back up again that let’s us know we can. And that learning to get back up again thing, learning to push past fears and being okay with being outside my comfort zone part is called resilience.
And while traveling built up my resilience, if I’m being honest, running is the real thing that has taught me resilience: running taught me resilience and traveling made me learn how to use it. More than that though, running still teaches me resilience, still allows me to practice using it and still forces me to build it up again and again. Or perhaps more than that, running is an opportunity to continue to push myself and to continue to build resilience.
In 2018, I’m striving to choose courage over comfort, be brave, take on hard things. I’m working to push out of my comfort zone to push over barriers, take on challenges and press into successes that I maybe haven’t reached before. And a big part of being able to do any of that is having resilience. I’m striving to build resilience.
Because here’s the thing: I don’t think the ability to run and run well comes down to physical talent and ability alone. The concept of mental training, mental stamina and sports psychology is nothing new if you have been in the running and endurance game for any amount of time. It’s a mind over matter thing. It’s about how much can you tame the inner beast in your brain that pushes you down and tries to convince you that your body can’t do more, go further, push harder? It’s about having coping mechanisms and inner strength to call upon when things get hard. Because we can do hard things. We just need to build up the resilience to get there.
“Sometimes you have to suffer and stumble and run in the heat.”
The only way to make something less hard is to do the thing that is hard; the only way to get better at running (mentally and physically) is to practice running. The only way to build up resilience is to do the thing that takes resilience. For me, lately, this looks like running outside when it is really hot out. I hate running in the heat. I resist doing it, and it’s harder for me than running in the cold or running at nicer temperatures. But suffering through runs at over 30 degrees, sun blaring down, sure goes a long way in building resilience. And so I’ve been running in the heat. I give myself a little pep talk before I go out the door, remind myself that it is going to suck, but that I can do it anyway, and then say, “suck it up Buttercup, here we go.”
And I go out and I do it, and I finish it, and I come back totally okay. Better for it in fact, knowing that I did it and got through it and that I’m just building resilience.
If you want to get better at running, you’ve got to do the things that suck, hurt, are hard and are met with struggle and resistance. You’ve got to choose to suffer, and you’ve got to take a little leap:
- Take Risks – When you are seeking to build resilience, doing the hard things means taking risks to make them happen. Whether you call it a risk, or taking on a challenge, it’s the thing that you are resistant to, scared of, don’t really want to do, but know that you need to do. It’s taking a deep breath, tackling that thing and then knowing that whatever the outcome, you took it on that ultimately builds up your resilience.
- Go Outside your Comfort Zone – And similarly to taking risks, you also have to push outside your comfort zone. Resilience doesn’t get built inside your comfort zone. It may be outside your comfort zone as in, you are physically uncomfortable – like in the pain of pushing a pace, or running in the heat – or outside your comfort zone as in something you are really scared and nervous to take on. Whatever the case, just like when you take a risk, the other side of that comfort zone is where you start to build up your resilience. And then each time it gets a little easier: and that means you have a little bit more resilience.
- Exercise your Inhibitory control – Matt Fitzgerald wrote a whole book on building resilience, overcoming obstacles in sport and racing, and pulling out the best of yourself, even in times when you are at your worst self. One of the big things he talks about is inhibitory control: the ability to override impulses and stay focused on a goal; being able to quiet the voice in your head that says “quit” or “it’s too hard/too painful.” etc. and to push past that to success. In essence, it’s that time in a race or during a run where your legs are screaming in pain and asking you to stop, but where you call on something deeper to remind you to keep going and that you can indeed keep going. While we all have the ability to exercise this inhibitory control, it takes time to figure out how to use it, when to use it and what it feels like to use it. (Go read “How Bad do you Want it?” and learn more!)
- Practice – If you want to get better at running, be able to endure it more, go longer, farther, faster, like anything, it takes practice. The more you run, the more you will build up your resilience, endurance and ability, and with time (and practice!), these all improve. Treat running like you would any other new thing, where you need to practice it to get better, and then commit to doing that often.
- Willpower – I hear all the time, that poor running success or poor race results are from lack of willpower: lack of willpower for training, lack of willpower for committing to running, lack of willpower in maintaining fitness. But here’s the thing: our willpower doesn’t exist in infinite amounts simply waiting for us to call upon it. Rather our willpower requires a very specific set of circumstances to function optimally, and when that doesn’t happen, it just doesn’t really show up. Take willpower out of the equation, and replace it with resilience: work on building up your resilience to push through on the days when you are tired and think that you don’t want to do your exercise; build up resilience to remind you that when you are struggling to finish your run and want to call it quits at halfway, you are stronger than that and can push through.
Are you ready to start building your resilience? What is your top tip for running with resilience?