It's So Much More Than Just Running

It's So Much More Than Just Running

"It's so much more than just running..."

    A simple yet effective phrase to describe what running means to me. Often times, people who do not run, view running as "just running." Even when someone first starts in this sport, including myself, they may view it as "just running." It is difficult to put into words how much more this sport is than "just running", and I feel that it takes experience within it, to start to comprehend why.

    When I first began in this sport at about 13 years old no one could have prepared me for what was to come. I only did middle school cross country and track, because in elementary school the yearly jogathon was life or death. Growing up, I was always outside exploring and playing sports, so running just felt like something I was already doing. So, it is safe to say that when I first started, I certainly viewed the sport as some casual, fun, "just running" type of thing. Middle school running was a good time, I enjoyed it but still didn't feel the love for it that I felt like I needed to. Its funny, I ended up quitting freshman year to focus on basketball before eventually realizing in the summer before my sophomore year that my place was with running. Thankfully, that decision ended up being one of the greatest decisions of my 21 years.

    That summer I was reintroduced to running, at the same school (Tulsa Union), but this time at the high school level. I put in some decent mileage, which paid off with some rapid improvement in the fall and spring. During that year I began to find some real enjoyment with running, going through the motions of training, chasing prs, and growing closer to my teammates. The summer going into my junior year was where I really started to take things seriously and grow as a runner. That year was met with some higher success, and a true love for the sport grew. Unfortunately, Covid took my outdoor track season away, which really stunk. Despite this setback, training continued into the summer. My senior year was successful, but definitely had it's fair share of trial. I left the track after the 1600m race at state content and at peace, ready to move on to college running.

    My semester at Oklahoma Baptist University was a tough one, which ultimately played a role in me quitting competitive running and leaving the school.

    So, this brings me to my current status with running. I do not run for a school, nor do I race that often. In fact, my mileage is very inconsistent and there are some weeks where I hardly run at all. I mostly pick and choose what I run, whether its an easy run or a workout, or sometimes an easy run that turns into a workout. The freedom of choice with my running has been great for me. When I look back on my time as a competitive runner, I realize how much healthier my relationship to running is now, then it was throughout my competitive running days.

    In high school, my running had a deep affect on my life and mental state. I would pour myself into workouts, giving everything while still consistently feeling like what I was doing was never good enough. I'd run some really impressive races or workouts, but the pressure I put on myself was overbearing. As I began to really see an uptake in my abilities as a runner, so did the pressure that comes with that. It can be easy when experiencing pressure, to forget that often times the pressure is from ourselves. I remember getting caught up in the feeling that everyone had expectations for me and if I didn't outdo or at the very least meet those expectations, then they wouldn't like me as much and I would be deemed as a failure. This is where the self inflicted pressure can become unhealthy. I'm a firm believer in the power of pressure, we need pressure in our lives and I view it as a gift, but it is important that we do not allow it to grow to a harmful level.

    After I quit running, I had a lot of time to truly reflect on my time as a competitive runner. In fact, although I'm two years removed, I'm still reflecting. As the days go by I continue to develop a deeper understanding of just what running has truly done for me and many others, and what is actually important within the sport.

    I'm not here to say that your times or placements don't matter at all. They do. How you perform matters, and thats regardless of what skill level you are at. But as we progress through running, it can be very easy to start to place all of our value on our times and placements. We may get caught up in our performance and think that everyone cares about how we perform, which is untrue, and we fail to see the actual good that is happening before our eyes.

    This is where I bring in my 3 pillars of what matters in running... lessons, memories, and people.

    I feel that running gives back what you put into it. If you want lessons, running will give you lessons. You want memories? Running will give you memories. What about people? Running will help aid you in meeting some amazing people that can greatly impact you. Runners realize this at different times, and for me to comprehend what actually mattered within my running, it took a lot of mental and physical turmoil before ultimately, quitting running and having to find myself outside of the sport to start to see the true importance of running in my life.

    Lessons wise, running has taught, and continues to teach me a lot. Most of the lessons that I have learned in my life so far have come from running. Obviously, theres the clique lessons like perseverance and discipline, which are undoubtedly vital to one's life, but it's the lesser talked about lessons that really show what running can teach.

What were some these lessons?

  1. To be courageous when things get tough.

    Courage can be difficult for a number of reasons, and while other moments in our lives can teach us this lesson, and the ones below, running played a major role in showing me what courage in the face of trial is all about. Running is incredibly difficult at times, and is a great tool to build courage, so that when we are faced with future trials whether in our running or our personal lives, we are more equipped to face those moments.

  1. To win with class.

    For me, running was my first true taste of winning within a competitive sport. I played basketball in the past and had won plenty of times before, but there is something different about winning the individual title at a meet. With that success though, I had to learn what it meant to win, and to win with class. I am a strong believer in never being Mr. Nice Guy out on the course or the track, but it is always important to be friendly when it isn't race time. Running taught me the correct way to respond to winning, and how to practice gratefulness for the ability to even win a race.

  1. To lose with class.

    I will admit, there were times when I certainly did not respond to losing in a way that is positive. Never towards a competitor, but mainly towards myself. Whether it was obsessing over the fact that I lost, or an array of curse words in an environment where I shouldn't carry myself that way. Losing is hard. It sucks, especially if you are as highly competitive as I was, but it takes losing to know how to respond to losing. First, obsessively beating yourself up about it isn't healthy. Second, it is okay to be frustrated with yourself, but it's important to show that frustration with class in order to be an example to your peers.

  1. To lead by example.

    The power of leading by example will take you a long way as a leader, runner, and person. It's one thing to speak about something, but to actually act on that something adds another level of leadership influence. For example, if you expect your peers to give their best on a track workout, then you must give your best. Running teaches us to lead by example and to act as we say.

  1. To stick up for myself. 

    Running made me tougher. The consistent mental battles that running provides us has that power. It starts small. Something as simple as just making it a few extra steps to the line, which helps us prepare for the next mental battle. These small battles build up one another, and allow us to be prepared for the next, possibly tougher mental battle that you'll certainly face within this sport.

    As I began to win the little mental battles within my training, they built off of one another and helped me to be more equipped for the mental battles that come from racing. Winning these battles gave me more confidence in myself, and helped me to realize that I can stick up for myself. That you're tougher and stronger than you may think you are.

  1. That my words carry value.

    As I began to realize the increasing influence that I had on my fellow teammates, running showed me how our words carry much value. What we say can directly influence someone's life in a positive or negative way. It is so important to take this into account when speaking to anybody, whether thats within the sport or not.

  1. That life is so much more than my performances in running.

    I found that during my pursuit of higher success within the sport, I found myself getting so caught up in my performance, that it was difficult at times to realize that life is so much more than my performances in running. Once you begin to really put your all into this sport, it becomes a major aspect of your life. There is no avoiding this, so its all about how you welcome it. Overall, performances do matter, but your life is much more than just your time or placement, and it is vital that you do not lose sight of this.

  1. That at the end of the day giving your best effort is all you can really ask of yourself.

    Running taught me that my best effort is truly all I can ask for. Whether you won or lost, if you gave it everything, it is meaningless to beat yourself up in your outcome. Even if your performance was underwhelming for where you may have thought your abilities were as a runner, some days you have it and some days you don't. Your best is all you can ask for. Every race is a learning opportunity.
  1. Comparison is both a positive and negative aspect of competition, and it takes trial and error to find the healthy balance.

    Comparison is a difficult concept to tackle. On one end, you've got the comparison is the thief of joy side of things. Then on the other end, you've got the comparison is a necessary step towards improvement and larger success within competition. For me, my current views on comparison sit somewhere in the middle of those two sides.

    Comparison can most definitely be the thief of joy. If we happen to get so caught up in comparing ourselves to an opponent, teammate, professional runner, etc., then it can be easy to lose sight of the progress and accomplishments that we have already made. With that being said, comparison can also be positive. It can be a method of motivation for you to better yourself, comparing yourself to someone better can push you to be better. Which can raise your competitive nature to another level.

    There is a healthy balance between these two sides, and I think that balance is dependent on the person. It can certainly be different for everybody, for me, it was found by comparing myself to who I was in the past. Have I bettered myself since then? How far have I come as a runner? These are healthy questions to ask ourselves. Like I previously mentioned, I do not think that comparison is necessarily bad, but I do feel that there is a fine line between positive and negative comparison, and in order to walk that tight rope, it takes growth and experience.

  1. And lastly, the true determinant of success within the sport is not all on times and placements.

    There is a such thing as performance success in this sport, and I don't want this to come across as me denouncing that. I feel that your times and placements are an aspect of your overall success in this sport and that shouldn't go unnoticed. With that being said, like I have previously stated, it can be easy to get so caught up in our times and placements that we forget that success in running is not just on how high we place or fast we run.

    For me, my measure of success within this sport is the lessons I've learned, the memories I made, the people I built relationships with, and a little bit of times and placements. The lessons are large in quantity, but the ones that I felt needed to be focused on have been shared above. The beautiful part of the lessons that running provides is that even in my post competitive running life, I find myself still learning new ones and reinforcing the lessons that I've learned through the years.

    The memories I've made in this sport are too many to detail. Whether it was the bus rides, the meets, practices, team dinners, moments outside of practice or meets, etc., all are moments that I cherish. In fact, many of my fondest high school memories are from this sport, and I wouldn't have had it any other way. This sport brings so many great memories, but some bad ones too, and thats part of what makes it special. Those bad memories, if you allow them too, often turn into lessons, which prepare us for the next battle that life provides us.

    This brings me to the people. Running has, and continues to bring people in my life that have influenced me continuously. I still talk to my high school coaches often, and still seek their advice from time to time as well. I'm very grateful to have been blessed with some great coaches, who have been able to mentor me as not just a runner, but a person as well. If any coach is reading this, I cannot stress enough, that connecting with your athletes past just running, will impact them tremendously.

    Many of my best friends have come from running. By the time I was a senior, I was fortunate enough to have three other seniors that I had been through thick and thin with in this sport, to graduate with me. Despite all going to separate schools and taking different avenues in life, we are all still very close. Throughout my time running in high school, my all time favorite moment is when one of those guys qualified for state in the mile with me our senior year. That is a testament to the people that running can bring you.

    When I was a senior, mostly everyone around the state knew each other and were friends. This was a great time, as I was constantly competing against my friends. I would encourage anyone to befriend your opponents and meet people from other schools. It can really help grow your love for running and build some really great friendships.

    Also during my senior year, I started going to a local Tulsa area based track club called Jenks America.

    (Now, before I describe how much impact the people in this club have had on me, I want to preface that track clubs are a controversial subject amongst high school running, and I'm not taking a stance on either side of that debate. At the end of the day it's important to do what is best for you, and for me, attending an after school track club my senior year was a good decision).

    Not only did this track club help improve my running, but the people that I met are the real positive outcome that this club has had on my life thus far. Not only did I get to know other high school runners around the state, I also got to know post collegiate runners and hear their own journeys within life and running. A few of these individuals have become mentors for me. That club has provided me with friends around my age, but also people older than me, that help me figure out the uncertainties and craziness that life brings us. To add, the very title of this essay, "It's so much more than just running," is a quote that I heard on a cool down at the club from a man who was not only a very good runner in his youth, but also an Iraq War Veteran.

    To learn from my coaches and mentors that I've met through this sport, has provided me with more positivity and benefits than I ever thought I'd receive from running back when I first started. And as I've began to get older, with my post competitive running tenure growing larger, I find that one of the ways that I can still make an impact on this sport is by mentoring other runners. Whether its a buddy of mine wanting to start running, kids at Jenks America, or from time to time current high school athletes at the school that I went to, I find that if they ask me to, providing them with the advice and lessons that I have learned along the way in this sport plays directly into the "its so much more than just running."

    One of the beautiful parts about running is that it provides this undeniable effect to bring people together. Whether its the shared suffering or the fun times, if you allow yourself to be open to strengthening relationships within the sport, it will certainly give you that.

    To conclude, running is truly a gift and a special sport. I hope that these words are relatable, and encourage anyone to practice gratitude in our running. To be grateful for the opportunity to even run in the first place, as it can surely be easy to take for granted. I urge you to remember that there are other aspects of this sport that provide so much value, that have absolutely nothing to do with your times or placements.

Thanks for reading,

   - Shawn Rutledge