How Running Taught Me the Meaning of Life

“How running taught me the meaning of life.” Sounds dramatic, doesn’t it? And yet, so much has changed in my life since my husband Tyler and I started running.

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when I couldn’t run for more than 30 seconds at a time. If I’m being completely honest, I only used to run (always reluctantly and always on a treadmill) because I thought it would make me lose weight and look fit.

Run in a race? Why would I do that? Why would I pay money to run down a crowded street, getting jostled around by a bunch of sweaty people, just to end up with sore legs and a t-shirt? I didn’t even like t-shirts!

Then, a few years ago, Tyler and I casually started watching documentaries and reading autobiographies about ultra-runners. Our initial reaction was, “Hmmm…that’s pretty cool.” But the seed had been planted. Before long we were running in our dreams. One morning we woke up, looked at each other, and said:

“Did you just dream about running one of those ultra-marathons?”

“Yep. Did you?”

“Yep. So…should we try it?” Days later we signed up for our first 50K.

It took some time to work through the kinks, but after that first trail race we were hooked. Now I love running just for the heck of it, but I also crave those races – especially the ones that push me WAY out of my comfort zone. The less likely I am to finish, the better.

I could go on for hours about why I enjoy running now, but there’s more to this story than simply, “I didn’t used to like running, but now I do.” It’s also about the lessons I’ve learned along the way. It’s about the ideas I’ve come up with while running. It’s about the confidence it’s given me. It’s about accomplishing things that I never thought were possible. It’s about the impact running has had on my relationship with my husband.

So here you have it:

The Meaning of Life

(for today, at least)

“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” -Sir Edmund Hillary

I can’t…It’s too hard…I wish I could be as good as her…I wish I looked as good as her.

These destructive thoughts swirled around in my head for years…and years…and years. I was a perfectionist. I was always competing, always trying to impress, always trying to be the best. Doing things “for fun” was impossible. I couldn’t stop comparing myself to others, and when I didn’t measure up (which was often the case), I was ashamed and embarrassed.

Here are two lessons from running that have helped me overcome my lack of confidence and that incessant desire to compare myself to my peers:

Spend more time outside. The minute I step inside a gym or a studio – where the fluorescent lights are buzzing, and people are everywhere – it becomes a competition. I can’t fully relax, I can’t fully focus, and the desire to COMPETE and COMPARE starts creeping in.

When I step onto a dirt trail in the woods, it’s just me, Tyler, and Mother Nature. I don’t care how dirty, sweaty or red-faced I get. I don’t care if I fall or cry or have a complete meltdown. Maybe I’ll laugh, maybe I’ll sing…maybe I’ll do a cartwheel just because I feel like it.

Out on the trail, nothing matters for those few hours. It’s just me and my husband – two little specks in the world, doing exactly what we want to be doing in that moment.

Give it a try. Take your next workout outside and feel the sunshine (or snow or rain) on your face. Enjoy working hard in this beautiful world we live in.

Make yourself your biggest competition. For me, this means doing things that are so hard (for me) that my goal is simply to finish. Maybe it’s a longer or tougher race than I’ve ever done before. Maybe it’s trying something completely out of my comfort zone (like signing up for an Ironman when I didn’t own a bike and I could hardly swim).

When conquering your personal limits is the goal – rather than conquering other people – you gain absolute control over the result. Nothing is more empowering.

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela

Do things that make you feel uncomfortable. Do things you’ve never done before. Run farther. Walk farther. Try a new yoga class. Do one more rep. Make a recipe that looks delicious but complex. Dance at the next wedding you go to. Try just a little bit harder.

How will you ever know what you’re capable of if you never push your limits? As the great Master Shifu said in Kung Fu Panda 3, “If you only do what you can do, you will never be more than who you are.” (Kid’s movies these days are much deeper than they used to be…)

Pushing ourselves to and past our limits together has also deepened me and Tyler’s relationship. We’ve seen each other at our best, and we’ve seen each other in our most raw and vulnerable states. We’ve helped each other overcome pain and frustration and despair to succeed. Sometimes we talk for hours while we run. Sometimes we run side-by-side in silence. We’ve learned so much about each other through this journey, and the bond we’ve formed is stronger than ever before.

“As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Here’s the real kicker: This website exists because of a run. (Okay…a few runs.)

I was in a comfortable corporate job with wonderful people, wonderful benefits, and no real incentive to change my situation. And yet, I wasn’t happy. I knew I wasn’t doing what I was born to do, but did that really matter if I made decent money and I wasn’t completely miserable? After all, I could always do what I loved on the weekends…or maybe after retirement.

Then Tyler and I started running…and running…and running. I discovered the amazing feeling of spending the whole day outside, trying my hardest and slogging it out until the job was done. I started to crave more sunshine, more action, more adventure, and more limit-testing. I needed nature and sunshine and freedom. I gained confidence from falling on my face, getting back up and still succeeding. I pushed my boundaries over and over until I no longer believed that any boundaries existed.

Soon I learned that my corporate job was being eliminated as a result of my company’s acquisition. I had a choice to make: I could interview to keep my job, or I could leave. If I left, I could look for a similar job elsewhere. Or, I could take a big, fat, terrifying risk. I made a choice that I never would have made before I started running: I took the big, fat, terrifying risk.

I decided to become a yoga instructor, start this website, and sign up for my first Ironman. (Might as well shoot for the stars, right?) Every aspect of this decision was hashed out between me and Tyler during our runs. We discussed my yoga dreams, we planned out the website’s design and goals and pages. (We always do our best brainstorming on runs.)

Finish the Ironman? Done! Succeed at my new career ventures? Only time will tell. But now I know that if I fall on my face, it won’t be the first time.  And if the world didn’t end the first time I fell on my face, it likely won’t end the next time.

I also know that I’m heading in the right direction. If I close my eyes and imagine my ideal version of myself, I’m getting much closer to it by taking these risks and running (literally) down this new path.

Maybe someday my dreams will all come true and Tyler and I will have a tiny home in the mountains. I’ll spend my days running through the woods, teaching (and hopefully inspiring) others, and encouraging people to get outside and get active. Maybe it will be a slightly different version of this dream. What I do know from the bottom of my heart is that this is my path, and that running brought me here.

“I would rather die of passion than of boredom.” —Vincent van Gogh