9 Things I Learned From Running

I love running. But that hasn’t always been the case.

Not so long ago, I was awfully out of shape. As a smoker, my exercise regiment consisted of playing football on Thanksgiving and getting dragged out to go hiking 3-4 embarrassingly labored times per year.

This all was working just fine for me. At the young age of 36, it hadn’t dawned on me that my body needed maintenance.

But then one day, I went out for a jog.

I figured, what’s the big deal? It’s just running?

I made it about two blocks before I was bent over in pain and a pool of sweat.

It wasn’t long after that that I quit smoking and started training for a half-marathon. In the process I learned how to run more than two blocks without fainting. That was to be expected. But I also learned a bunch of other surprisingly cool stuff.

1) How to set and reach a goal. There’s an arithmetic to running and it’s really simple: miles + more miles = a lot of miles. So, when I decided I wanted to run “a lot of miles,” it wasn’t very hard to find a plan to get me there.

I wanted to run 13.1 miles. That meant two plans: a C25K (couch-to-5K) plan to get me off my butt and a 12-week half-marathon plan that consisted to 3 “short” runs + 1 LONG run per week to get me to the finish line.

Mt Wilson Trail Race 2011

Mt Wilson Trail Race 2011

2) How to compete against myself. I am not a great runner. Even at my best, I am nowhere close to winning a race. Nowhere even remotely close. But instead of being discouraging, this fact is actually liberating. I know I’ll never “win”. So really the only reasonable measure of success is against my own standards: Did I beat my previous PR (personal record)? Did I finish strong? Did I enjoy myself? Did I avoid injury?

3) How to compete against other people: There’s one buddy of mine that I run the same race with every year. I had beaten him for 4 straight years and, even though I never rubbed it in, I was very happy with myself.

Then, last year, the previously unimaginable happened. He beat me, soundly.

And that was the best/worst feeling. I was genuinely (for real!) happy for the guy. He’s had injury trouble and finally was able to train well and get in good shape for the race. But it also felt terrible to lose, which inspired me to get focused on doing better next year.

4) How to turn down the noisiness of my mind: My brain buzzes constantly. A torrent of anxiety, music, memories, genius, obsessions and random absurdities. I can’t turn it off.

But something funny happened somewhere during a long run, my mind got quiet. The only thoughts I had were: breath in, breath out, left foot, right foot, repeat. Wow. It was like what I think meditation is supposed to be like. Bliss.

5) How everyone can be a runner: The thing is, it doesn’t matter how fit or talented you are as a runner. If you follow the arithmetic of a good training schedule, you will be able to complete almost any running distance. I learned this from my own experience. And also from seeing several friends and family accomplish long distance events after having never believed it was possible.

6) How to pay attention to my body: I am not in touch with my body. I don’t know when I’m tired or hungry. I ignore aches and pains and symptoms of sickness. I drink too much and eat terrible food. But running (once I was running several times a week) naturally brought a somatic consciousness to me. It started with paying attention to my feet and lungs while I ran. It evolved into paying attention to when and what I ate (it really makes a huge difference). And also learning to pay attention to when something hurts because that can turn into a lingering injury.

7) How to push myself: There have been many, many times during a run that I have felt like quitting. Feeling tired, out of breath, side aches. But the beauty of running is I can always tell myself, “one more step.” And “one more step” is almost always something I can do.

Tap N Run 4K Beer Run

Tap N Run 4K Beer Run

8) How runners are really cool: I know, we don’t look so cool with our dolphin shorts, utility belts and ugly neon-orange shoes. But I have met some of the most welcoming and warm people through running. It’s like everyone knows that this shit is hard and so everyone respects each other for doing it.

9) Patience: The most important thing I’ve learned from running is this: A person can suck to high hell at running and, with patience and dedication, still accomplish amazing things. I could barely run a block when I started. A few months later, I was logging 10-15 mile long runs every week.

This last thing, Patience, is what I’m trying most to bring to writing. And really, all 9 of these lessons-learned are important to me.

It’s harder though because writing doesn’t have convenient 12-week training plans with guaranteed results. And writing is also intrinsically so much more important to me. But still, I gotta give running credit. If it weren’t for these past few years hitting the pavement, I don’t know if I’d ever have the guts or confidence to really try to make it as a writer.


Anyone out there also a runner? What has lacing up your trainers and hitting the road taught you?



  1. Heather M. · June 12, 2014

    I wish I was a runner. I can sprint, and that feels great. But distance kills me. My mind goes on and on and all I can seem to focus on is how much further I have to go, or how my ankle hurts, or how my knee hurts, or how I can’t breathe, how I need water…Every excuse to get me to stop. So, right now I am working on my fitness and coming back to running later, when I have a little more stamina and can actually work up the nerve to push myself.

    • Juan Zung · June 13, 2014

      Yeah, running was really brutal for me when I started. I think that’s why it’s such a big deal to me now.

  2. Millie Ho · June 13, 2014

    Insightful post! Have you read Murakami’s “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”?

    Running has spiked my productivity. Aside from drowning out the excess noise (#4), I developed an overall better sense of well-being. There’s ample evidence to suggest that running cures a wide gamut of mental inflictions, which writers that live in their own heads are not immune to.

    Good luck with running and writing. I know you’ll somehow make it work! : )

    • Juan Zung · June 13, 2014

      No, I have not read Murakami’s running book… yet! But I really should get to it.

  3. michellejoycebond · June 13, 2014

    Hey. I started running in college but only recently began running in races (only 5Ks so far). I’ll definitely run a half marathon one day though–probably next spring. Now I’m trying to get more of my friends into it. 🙂

    • Juan Zung · June 13, 2014

      Definitely having a friend (or several friends) to run wit makes it all the more fun. It also helps keep you on track if/when you start feeling a bit lazy!

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