Learn from the past, set vivid, detailed goals for the future,
and live in the only moment of time over which you have any control: now.
Growing up as an athlete, long-distance running for conditioning was a constant requirement. It was an awful experience I endured to achieve the various athletic goals I was pursuing at the time. As a young adult, I used long-distance running for my exercise. Again, it was a drudgery I endured in the pursuit of fitness goals.
In my early 40’s, I once again added distance running to my exercise regime, but this time I used a plan designed for marathon runners. After a year of following the program, adding distance along the way, I crossed “the threshold.” Running unexpectedly transformed from a painful chore to a joyful, meditative experience. I could not believe it.
I got into running, pushing myself to go further and faster with each workout. I set a goal to qualify and compete in the New York Marathon before I turned 50. Sadly, achieving this goal was not meant to be. Within a year of falling in love with running, my health began to decline.
In a span of weeks, I was unable to run and shortly after that, I could not walk without crutches. The reason for my failing health revealed itself with great pain and clarity. A disc in my back ruptured and an ambulance rushed me to the hospital for emergency surgery.
Still in my early 40s, I lost any hope of competing in the New York Marathon. As my body recovered from surgery, I tried what I considered “softer” forms of exercise. I grudgingly accepted hiking and yoga as “legitimate” workouts for me. Since then, I have focused on hiking, walking, and weight training, with modest amounts of stretching and yoga.
10 years after my back injury, I came to a surprising realization about the experience.
This past spring, I spoke at an international trade conference in Orlando, Florida. The hotel had five disconnected clusters of rooms that circled a large lake with a nice trail around it. For my exercise, I decided to walk the long way around the lake anytime I went to eat, join the conference, or return to my room.
I walked around that lake a lot over the course of three days. There were many other people on the trail, some who were walking and others who were running. I observed, over and over again, that the walkers looked happy, while the runners grimaced in agony. The walkers were communing with nature. The runners appeared to be conforming to obligation. The differences between the walkers and runners made a powerful impression on me.
For the first time I realized that my back injury was a blessing, not a curse. I felt fortunate to have running taken away from me. After my surgery, hiking became important to me. It was not just great for rehabilitation and fitness, hiking also gave me the opportunity to enjoy nature, clear my mind, and engage in creative thinking.
My speech was on the third day of the conference. When my global trade presentation ended, there was still fifteen minutes left in the session. I asked the audience if I could share a personal story about running with them.
I started by talking about the drudgery of running in my early years. I shared how I found the bliss of running in my 40’s, and how my back surgery squashed my marathon dreams. I explained how I settled for softer exercises during these past 10 years.
I talked about what I observed while walking around the lake for the past few days. And I shared how the differences between the walkers and runners helped me realize that my back injury was a blessing all along.
Standing before the audience, I told them that I was in the best shape of my adult life without the use of running. Then I told them what they all wanted to hear…
I give you permission to stop running.
The crowed cheered with excitement! After my presentation, countless attendees came up to me with smiles on their faces and said, “Walk, don’t run!”
I say the same to you. If you don’t like running, don’t do it. Select the forms of exercise you enjoy most and do them often. You’ll be healthier and a lot happier.
Image via Horia Varlan on Flickr