The Most Important Thing I’ve Learned in 45 Years of Running

Or, What My Mom Taught Me About Inertia.

By Scott Douglas

My mother wasn’t thrilled when I started running as a teen. Cautious and practical by nature, she chafed at how much physical and mental energy I put into something unrelated to getting good grades or making money. “Everything in moderation,” she would tell me, to which I would reply, “Well, that can be taken to an extreme.”

Yet this sedentary standard-bearer for a don’t-get-carried-away approach to life is one of the main reasons I’ve run almost every day since March 1, 1979.

One day while home on winter break from college, I stood by the door, dressed to run, and stared out at the freezing rain. And stared, and stared, waiting for it to abate. It didn’t. I asked myself whether one day off would really matter. My mother walked into the kitchen and did a doubletake, a reasonable gesture given that it had been more than half an hour since I’d said I was heading out. She gave me a look of slight disappointment, and then said, “You know you’re going to go. So just get out there and get it over with.” Her words pushed me through the door and onto my 14-mile loop. I spent the run wondering why I’d made such a big deal of things. After all, you can get only so wet.

I wish I could say that one experience provided lifelong immunity against inertia. But no—I occasionally struggled to put this body in motion through my early 30s. I would get home from work exhausted and, rather than activate my body and mind with gentle transitional motion, lie down. “In another hour I’ll feel ready to run,” I would tell myself. When I eventually got going I always felt worse than if I hadn't procrastinated.

Real progress came only after too many instances of writing “flat and apathetic” in my log after these delayed runs. Ever since, when the urge to self-coddle rises, I channel my mother. I know I’m going to run. So I should just get going and see what the day brings. If the run isn’t a peak experience, so be it. It’s still better than one that didn’t happen.

 This lesson has led to much of whatever passes for the successes in my life. There will never be a perfect constellation of physical readiness, mental eagerness, and environmental conditions. That’s true for running, riding, and other outdoor activities, and it’s true for work deadlines and personal projects. The next hour will have its own challenges. So just get going.

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