Sunday, 6 July 2014

10 life lessons I learnt from running

Okay, not from running (nowhere near that!) … let’s just say: ‘from jogging’ (since going at 6 to 6.5 kmph counts as jogging … right?).

I discovered this website recently which is chock full of all kinds of interesting tips for healthy living – something that’s not exactly my forte, but which I’m open to learning about. I stumbled upon an article on the website entitled ‘10 life lessons I learnt from running.’ Many of the lessons really resonated with me as a novice jogger, but also as a ‘consciously uncoupled’ person (I quite like Gwyneth Paltrow’s term, ‘uncoupled/uncoupling’  - sounds better than ‘divorced’ – and I think I’ll be using it often.). Each lesson is such a nugget of wisdom and I thought it would be fun to do a series of blog posts based on them. First, though, here are the lessons:

1.      Beginning is always the hardest part. Push yourself to keep going. It gets easier.
2.      Consistency creates habits, and habits create the results to want to achieve. (I think there might’ve been a typo here. I’m assuming the author meant ‘you want to achieve.’)
3.      If you want to get better, pain is unavoidable. Don't shy away from it.
4.      If you don't get out of your comfort zone, you'll never achieve your goals.
5.      People who do things better than you are your teachers, not your competition.
6.      Often, thinking you can't go on any longer is an illusion. You often can.
7.      Sometimes things don't go as planned. Accept it and move on.
8.      When you're going uphill and you want to quit, don’t. Move slower if you have to, but keep going. You will get there.
9.      Happiness shouldn’t be put on hold until you cross the finish line. Enjoy as much as you can along the way, even when the going gets tough.
10.   Don’t let your desire for improvement rob you of pride in small victories!

I read these 10 lessons and immediately thought: Whoa! Running (or, in my case, jogging) is truly a metaphor for life if there ever was one.

I’m going to try and draw out my own personal lessons within these lessons, one at a time.

Lesson One: Beginning is always the hardest part.

There are four girls in my family and I would describe all of them as athletic except me. I’ve always admired my sisters’ consistency when it comes to fitness. I have one sister that runs (rather than jogs) six days a week, almost without fail, including during pregnancies. I have never really been serious about fitness myself. I joined a gym once, about 13 years ago. It was a three-year contract and I only went consistently for two months. After that, I decided I’d never join a gym again. It just wasn’t something that I could keep up with, I thought.

2013 was a particularly demanding year for me, though. I had never been under so much work pressure in my life, and I couldn’t find the time to take some leave and just rest. I worked through Christmas and right after New Year’s. I didn’t get a chance to take time off until the second week of January, and even then, it was probably for only a week. I staggered into the year 2014 realizing that it was impossible for me to keep up this tradition of neglect. I realized that if I didn’t make myself do something different, I was going to be in big trouble sooner or later.  

I did some research and joined a gym again. The right kind of gym for me, though, this time. I already knew I loathed organized exercise, and so I couldn’t just go to any gym. I’d tried having a gym membership before, after all, so I already knew that the fact that I’d have to pay an arm and a leg for it wouldn’t be enough reason to get me to go. So, I joined one of those gyms staffed by personal trainers who give you their complete attention. One of those gyms where you don’t just waltz in whenever you want, but where there's a standing appointment between just you and your personal trainer. I sensed that this would work well for me not because I’d have to pay for the service, but because the whole ethos behind the gym aligned so well with my personality: I hate organized exercise, but I hate letting people down more. I’m time-conscious, and so if I know someone’s waiting just for me at 7 pm (for example), I’ll be there by 7 pm, come hell or high water. Plus, I wasn’t motivated enough to exercise on my own consistently. With the help of a trainer, I have to exercise at a particular level of intensity and for a particular length of time, whether I really want to or not. It’s been five months so far of being in the gym for an hour, three days a week, and, in the beginning, the only thing that kept me going consistently was the fact that I said I’d be there and I knew someone would be waiting for me.

IT WAS HARD in the beginning – really hard for someone at my fitness level. I had to take a fitness test at the very beginning, and out of that test emerged the worst report card I’ve ever gotten in my life. I was ‘poor’ at everything and on every level.

It was a whole different ball game at this gym. I wasn’t allowed to just take a leisurely walk on the treadmill like I might do at home. The ‘warm-up’ speed that the trainer puts me on at the gym used to be my ‘high intensity’ speed at home! I hated that, and I would protest, all the while still doing what I was asked to do.

Beginning is just so inconvenient sometimes. It hurts. I mean, like physically. I would hurt because I just wasn’t used to all that exertion. Beginning – starting again – can hurt in other ways, too. I’ve mentioned before how I relate to Efuru’s sentiments about starting over. As she put it: ‘So here I am. I have ended where I began[.]’ I just understand the weariness of it all. With divorce (or ‘uncoupling’), a beginning is actually a RE-beginning. Understandably, no one wants to bother with all that – especially not in mid-life. At first, it’s like having to do your homework all over again: annoying. You slaved over it all weekend, only to find that something went horribly wrong and it somehow didn’t get saved on your computer. You think about all the hard work you put in the first time, and you’re not sure you have what it takes to do it all over again, just as conscientiously as the first time.

Unless you’re particularly adventurous, having to learn new things can be uncomfortable. It’s a lot like starting a new job. Even if it’s in your area of expertise, we all know it takes anywhere from six months to a year (if not longer) to find your feet, to really wrap your head around your new responsibilities, around the new work culture, around the office politics. Adjusting to divorce is very similar. It takes a while, and no part is harder than the beginning. But if you push yourself to keep going, it does get easier. I’ve written elsewhere about how it probably took two years (post-separation) before I got my smile back. My ‘easy’ smile, I mean. The kind of smile that you share with the world in spite of yourself, without even thinking about it. My point is that I got it back.

When I first started out at the gym, I couldn’t jog for more than two minutes straight. And I’d huff and puff as dramatically as a dragon when the two minutes were up.

‘Aren’t you afraid I’m going to have a heart attack?’ I’d ask the unperturbed-looking trainer, in between puffs.

He would laugh. ‘Nope. I’m trained in CPR and there are lots of doctors on this floor, so don’t worry.’

When will I ever be able to jog for 30 minutes straight? I would wonder. If I can barely do 2 minutes, how will I ever do 30?? If I can just get up to 30 minutes, non-stop, I’ll finally consider myself a ‘real’ jogger.

Thirty minutes just seems ‘respectable’ to me somehow.

About 3 months in (or maybe a little less), the trainer was in the unusual position of having to focus on two clients at a time one day. He put me on the treadmill for about ten minutes and then turned his attention to the other client. I got up to eight minutes and was suddenly bored. The treadmill just seemed slow that day. So I upped the speed and jogged a bit harder. The trainer noticed and decided to leave me alone to do my thing, uninterrupted. I ploughed through until I got up to twenty-five minutes, then I felt like I couldn’t go on anymore.

He stood behind me and clapped slowly, looking pretty shocked. ‘Go and write this down as the day that you really impressed your trainer,’ he said. ‘We’re done for today.’

‘What? Really? But we’re supposed to work out for an hour.’

‘I am demanding nothing further of you today. You’ve worked really hard. We’re done.’

I felt very proud of myself and couldn’t wait to tell my sisters. I jogged for 25 minutes non-stop! Yay! I, who couldn’t jog for more than two minutes several weeks ago! It was like magic, really. Like joke-like joke. Me of all people??

Whether it’s about divorce, getting fit, or anything else in life: just keep on doing what you know to do without over-thinking it, and one day, you’ll fly. 


  1. You know that feeling when you see a post that you could have written and you just want to kiss, bow down to and clap for the author? Yeah, that's how this post makes me feel. Thank you.

  2. Love your name, 'Joiedevivre.' Thank you for leaving such a kind comment. I'm so glad to know I'm not the only one that struggles with all this.