What running teaches me about success and life


Sunday late morning, I went for a run in the Boise foothills. The path is familiar: an 8-mile loop with a short, steep climb.

I felt awful on Sunday—headache, tired, the works. I had planned to do at least 11 miles that morning but decided to cut it short with less elevation. Still, in spite of my pounding head and five hours of sleep, I knew I needed to run. As I laced up my shoes at the park, I looked out at the path in the distance and thought to myself, “I could run tomorrow.”

Over the next 3 miles, thoughts floated through my mind:

“I feel terrible. I should just head back.”

“If I do 6 miles, that’s still a good run. Yeah, then I could do 6 tomorrow and still get a good workout.” (In the back of my head: there’s no time for a 6-mile run tomorrow.)

“Maybe I should just turn back. All I want to do is stop right now.”

Still, I pressed on. Around mile 3, with just over a mile of incline left, I made a decision: I am going to be present. I am going to do this run.

You see, this is a battle I fight in my head almost daily. I don’t typically have an hour and a half of mental back-and-forth, but I do have moments nearly every day when I have to make the hard decision. I have to choose to keep running.

I don’t always make the right choice. I’ve jumped ship too soon; I’ve skipped workouts (literally and metaphorically). But in spite of my shortcomings, I’m still grateful for the lessons I’ve learned from running about success in life and business.

1. It’s going to be hard, and then it’s going to be amazing.

Right around mile five of my run, I started feeling fantastic. The weather was perfect. I was alone in the foothills, just nature and me. I could barely feel my headache anymore. It was hard, and then it was amazing. I’ve had the same experience in every “big thing” I’ve undertaken, whether starting my business, training for a physical feat, or writing a book. Each time, it’s been hard, and then it’s been amazing. Every single time.

2. Community is a driver for success.

You can be the lone entrepreneur, but what’s the fun in that? Community and connection is what makes the world go ’round. I’ve found that running with a group on the weekend keeps me motivated all week long. If I skip too many workouts, I’ll fall behind, and then I won’t be able to keep up with my friends.

In business, career, parenting, and relationships, it’s the same: surrounding yourself with a community keeps you accountable. For me, that means being part of a close-knit women’s professional group and separate business mastermind. How about you?

3. Gratitude is everything.

Gratitude has a consistent reciprocity to it. I try to focus on intentional gratitude daily, and it also pops up at unexpected times, overwhelming in its force. I experience a feeling of gratefulness during nearly every long run, an extreme, full-body, energizing sense of wonder and thankfulness. (Perhaps it’s just the runner’s high, but I call it my “gratitude moment.”)

It can be easy to feel gratitude in running; it’s not so easy to feel that way in the middle of a stressful project or toddler meltdown. What I learn from running—that sense of connectedness and calm—I try to bring to everyday moments in work and at home. It’s a daily practice, and like running, it’s worth it.

4. You’ve got to keep your fitness up all the time.

I have a life plan to be in half-marathon shape at all times. It’s easier than it sounds. Being fit just requires training up to that level and then maintaining it through consistent workouts during the week and one long run every weekend.

Isn’t it the same in other areas of life? In business, my goal is to be at the top of my field, which requires constant learning so that when opportunities come up, I’m ready for them. If I don’t keep my fitness up (in running or business), I’m almost guaranteed to miss out.

For a client of mine, fitness means planning several steps ahead of where his business is today so he can be ready for the opportunities that come tomorrow (and the next day, and the next). For a stay-at-home parent friend of mine, that means organizing her life proactively to make sure she’s creating the kind of childhood she wants for her children. What does fitness look like in your life or work?

5. Suffering reveals excellence.

Have you ever worked so hard at something that you’re exhausted at the end—you really gave it everything you had, and were left depleted, with nothing left to contribute? And wasn’t it magical?

Running has taught me that there’s beauty in suffering, to seeing what my body can do, how far I can push it, how hard I can work. I feel that way about work, too: there’s something incredible about putting everything I have into something.

The point of exhaustion is past pretense, falsehood. Suffering reveals excellence because we are giving everything we have in that moment, in those conditions, at that place, in that way. It’s not always tidy, and it doesn’t always fit our societal definition of what excellence looks like, but is there anything truer than laying it all on the line to do something really, really difficult?

Whether you run or practice yoga, dance or walk, hike or bike, I bet there are lessons you can apply from your sport like I did. Please share in the comments—I’d love to read what you’ve learned about success.

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8 Comments

  • Brandon Wright Reply

    Gratitude- after our time together last week, you have given me tips to become for focused on getting the results I’m looking for, I’m grateful for your time last week.

    • Stacy Ennis Reply

      It was such a pleasure, Brandon. Anytime. I’ll look forward to hearing about your progress and connecting again soon!

  • Aron Lupton Reply

    So true. Running is good for the mind and soul. Just today I went for a two mile run and I remember in the first few minutes thinking ‘I’m a little tired. My legs are kind of stiff. Maybe I’ll just do a mile.’ I average 1.5 miles a day right now on top of several smaller tasks that keep my easily distracted mind busy so running can sometimes be overwhelming, mentally, even though I’ve been doing it for nearly ten years now.
    One thing I can say about running, though, is it teaches me how to handle my life better. I say that because I have had to fight to not be a perfectionist my whole life. Of course I’ve had a lot of therapy for that and I think I’m doing really well. Life can be pretty hilly sometimes, and fortunately so can running, both in the literal sense, and the mental sense. No matter if I have to go running to help myself focus or calm down or what the challenge is though, I learn a lot from it. I learn that not only am I pushing myself too hard or not hard enough, or I’m teaching myself to be persistent on the track or on the field, I have learned to be more self aware and to pace myself, or to make time more for certain things in life, or to not try too hard and take breaks, as I sometimes can.

    • Stacy Ennis Reply

      I love the hill analogy, Aron! Thanks for sharing about your journey as a runner and human. 🙂 There are so many incredibly parallels between athletics and life, don’t you think?

  • Carolyn Robinson Reply

    Thank you, Stacy. I really needed this motivation. I’ve been in a real funk lately due to unexplained health conditions. Writing – on a schedule is nonexistent at this point and -writing period – I can’t seem to muster up the ability.

    • Stacy Ennis Reply

      I’m so sorry to know you’ve been struggling with health conditions. I hope you are feeling better soon and able to write again. Sending good thoughts your way.

  • Aron Lupton Reply

    Absolutely. So much insight all in one place. I’m so glad you wrote this Stacy, thank you!

    • Stacy Ennis Reply

      You’re generous. Thank you, Aron!

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