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Side benefits

My running career started a long time ago.  First win, in
a low-key school's race in London's Richmond Park (1967)
Yet more walking for exercise this morning.  Just 5km around the streets of Copa and still some discomfort in my right arch, so not particularly encouraging.  I risked a 50m jog at the end of the walk and there was no real problem, so I'm still planning to resume jogging later this week.

While attending to some desktop chores today, I watched a DVD called It's Not That Hard, produced by an ultra-running friend, Ana.  It featured interviews with many Australian Ultra-runners I know, each of them explaining what they get out of trail ultra-running.  Many of the comments struck a chord with me.  Of course, long-distance running has the obvious benefit of improving health and well-being (except when you get injured!), but it also provides great lessons for life.

Knowing that you can accomplish physical feats and be significantly healthier than your demographic, through the application of planning, preparation and discipline, gives you a belief in your abilities that extends beyond running.  It has given me the confidence to take on formidable challenges in my private life and career knowing that if I apply the same principles I will most likely be successful.

The earliest race certificate in my
running file.
Another lesson has been that the more you train, the better you will get.  With respect to running, your body adapts to make you a more efficient and accomplished runner.  Your muscles build and fine-tune, your posture changes, your stride length increases and your cardio-vascular system becomes more efficient.  I know that my heart size and lung capacity are in the top few percent for my demographic, whilst my pulse rate and blood pressure match those of athletes many years younger.  Adaption, through repetition has even helped me overcome injuries.  Everybody has physical idiosyncrasies, some inherited and some through injury.  I believe that my body has dealt with past serious chronic injuries through subconsciously adapting my running style to reduce the impact on those injuries.  For example, my feet have splayed over time to deal with chronic Achilles injuries by marginally shortening the length the tendons need to stretch while running.  Training, repetition and adaptation have also benefited me outside of running - in work tasks, household chores, and such things as public speaking.

Most of the time, the planning and preparation is as rewarding as is success in the goal event.  All runners I know, savour much of the training that they do and the environments in which they run.  I have many more happy memories of training runs than I do of races.  Nothing beats the feeling of running well along a bush trail or strongly up a hill or with a group of friends.  It's important to enjoy these good times and not to be solely focussed on a target event, which may not always be as rewarding as hoped.  This "smell the roses" approach has increasingly influenced my life outside of running.  Retiring from work as soon as I thought I could afford it was, perhaps, the biggest instance.  (Not that I didn't enjoy my work, but there were many things on my bucket list.)  We all know people who have been suddenly struck down with serious illness, or worse.  There's a balance, of course, but I have definitely become an advocate of "live for today" as opposed to saving yourself for a luxurious retirement.

Maybe most importantly of all, dealing with the derailment of best laid race plans in my running career, has helped me build the skills and experience to deal with the vicissitudes of life.  Over a running career you learn that such calamities loom large at the time, but just become bad memories in retrospect.  Everything is cyclical in running, and in life.  There are cycles within cycles, and bad days are followed by good days, bad months by good months, and so on.  Perhaps the biggest lesson from running for me has been to keep things in perspective and have faith that you will get over those bad times and have more good times.