Running teaches you many things, but the main lesson is that you learn on the road. With my few years of running, I have learnt so many lessons that I wish I had know at the very beginning, but reflecting back on everything now, I am happy with how the process has been unfolding. I am still on the journey and am most certainly am looking forward to the beautiful lessons I will learn next.

Even though I have been running for almost two years now, there are some, actually A LOT of mistakes that I have made that I wish to tell my young running self. We often gather so much information from a variety of sources; social media, more experienced runners, blogs etc… and apply everything we receive at once, leaving us overwhelmed and not know what is working or what is not working. We are all different, so the information and advice we receive may work well for others, but it may not work so well for us. Sometimes it requires for us to “learn on the road” to find something that is best suitable for us. And of course, this is a continuous journey and requires every day effort and consistency.

Here are a few lessons I have learnt and would tell my young running self throughout my time on the road. Obviously, this is not based on professional advice, but based on my own personal running experience.

  1. Doing too much too quickly
  2. Comparing yourself to other runners
  3. Not resting
  4. You do not need to prove anything
  5. Strength training is crucial
  6. It is okay to have bad runs

1. Doing too much too quickly: Instant speed and mileage is what almost every runner craves, including myself. I used to love (and I still do) gathering mileage, running without considering the negative effects that come with that. I also would envy those who were running at much higher paces than I was. So there I was, the novice runner, pushing myself to get to the same level as those who had been running for way longer than I have.

Which of course led to an injury. When I was recovering from the injury, I literally could not cope with how long the rehabilitation was taking and was not able to keep off the road, which evidently prolonged my recovery. Throughout the process, I learnt that all of this (mileage, speed and recovery) comes with time. Rushing the process only slows your progress down. Healing and improvement come if you trust the process, and that’s the mentality I began to adapt.

Think about how a plant grows, it first grows its roots before you see it sprouting above the surface. We can compare this with ourselves, some of us are still in the growth seasons whilst some are in harvest seasons. So if you are in the growth season, do not force harvest prematurely.

2. Comparing yourself to other runners: Doing too much too quickly was 70% a result of comparison. Comparing myself to athletes with a small physique like myself was one of my biggest weaknesses and it often lead me to feeling somewhat “inadequate” because I was not at that level. I would often forget that these athletes may have been running for way more longer than I have and others just have the natural talent on the road.

I slowly learnt that even though we may all share the passion of running, we are all very unique, and YOUR journey is very different from another person’s journey. It is not about just exerting effort and running a lot of kilometers per week but rather, it is about figuring out what works best for you and your body.

3. Not resting: I tend to feel so guilty when I take more than two days “rest” from running or being active. It feels like I am wasting time whilst I could be gathering mileage. But mileage does not matter if we do not actually recover from them.

I quickly learnt that rest is also training and a crucial part of recovery, it is you allowing your body to come up for air. “If you do not rest, your body will choose a day to rest for you” is what I always say, and this comes in the forms of injuries and falling ill. Working smart is the key.

4. You do not need to prove anything: Let’s face it, the running community puts a lot of pressure on us- to be great, to do better, to smash our goals. That’s all good and well, but if it starts to feel like a task or a burden, then it is time to reflect and remember why you are passionate about this sport. Remind yourself that you are doing this for you and not for anyone else. Not for your running friends, not for your coach, not for social media, but it is all for you. Once you take all the expectations away, you remember that you are running for the joy of it.

I have slowly allowed the journey be propelled by the purest passion and love I have for the sport. All the noise may get into my head, but it crucial to take away those distractions and remember why I am doing this. And it is way more sustainable and enjoyable that way.

5. Strength training is crucial: I was always way too busy or too tired for any form of strength training. Making time for running was difficult enough, and initially, I am also doing some form of strength right? Boy was I wrong! My idea was, to run faster and longer, you need to run faster and longer- which is not entirely true. This led to me sustaining so many injuries and being somewhat stagnant in my running.

If only I knew the that cutting my mileage down and adding in strength would completely change my running, I would have done it way sooner. Once I began doing this, I realized that I could accelerate my progress with strength training and started seeing so much improvement in my speed.

6. It is okay to have bad runs: I used to always be severely upset when I had a “bad run”. It is almost like I had failed and would go nowhere with this running thing. All these thoughts would flood my mind after each and every “bad” run. I then realized that I needed to change my mindset towards my running and I knew that this would certainly require a lot of work. The more I gave myself permission to fail, the more I started to succeed.

Just like we do not always have good days, we equally will not always have good runs. Not every run will give you your fastest time or the best feeling and that is completely okay. Take away the pressure of having a perfect run and just enjoy the road- regardless of your time and pace.

Overall, experience is the best teacher, and I have learnt this throughout my time on the road. It most certainly is not a destination but a continuous journey. Your job, is to show up and put in the work, improvement will come, running is the best sport that gives back what you put into it.

written by

Mbalenhle Gumbi

Educational Psychologist from Johannesburg

Age group: 29
Club: Adventist Athletics Club

My Disciplines
Fitness Half Marathon Ultra Marathon Marathon Strength Training

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