It’s 6 p.m., and I am running around the kitchen, putting the finishing touches on my family’s dinner. I ask Anna to set the table and Olivia to fill the water glasses. As I call my family to dinner, I fill up my water bottle and lace up my running shoes. I call out to my family, “Save some for me!”

And I head out the door.

I am very much in favor of family dinner, and I strive to maintain this sacred time more often than not. But this isn’t a normal evening, because each Tuesday night, I join other moms for a weekly running club.

Me, a runner?

With my water bottle, workout clothes, and Asics Gel running shoes (that I was professionally fitted for), I guess I look like a runner.

But not only do I look like a runner, my running coach and teammates tell me I am a runner. And after completing my first 5K race last summer, I suppose they are right.

I am a runner!

But how did I, a woman addicted to chocolate and allergic to exercise, get here? It hasn’t been easy.

Three Lessons I Learned While Learning to Run

Struggles, fears and excuses. 

I’ve always struggled with making exercise a regular part of my routine. Everything else took priority, and I made every excuse I could think of not to exercise.

Was it fear of hard work? Was it the dread of pain and discomfort? Was it laziness? Perhaps it was a combination of all of the above that stood in my way of taking that first step out the door and onto the running path.

For a long time, I was able to get away with not exercising. As long as I ate a healthy, well-balanced diet. But the older I got and more children I had, I accepted that exercise needed to become part of my life.

But how was I going to make exercise happen? As an analytical person, I can think about a decision so much that I end up doing nothing at all. And that’s exactly what I did about exercise. I thought about getting up early, before the kids and sunrise, to fit in a workout video. I thought about attending a class at our local YMCA. Many times throughout the day, I thought about going for a walk around my neighborhood.

But did I actually act upon any of these thoughts? Um, no, I didn’t.

What’s it going to take? 

Once I admitted that I wasn’t going to exercise on my own, I decided to join a group that would give me what I needed most: accountability. Not only did I pay to join the group, but I also knew I would have a coach who would notice (and call me on it) if I was a no-show.

The group I joined wasn’t just any exercise group. It was a running group. As someone who usually came in dead-last when we had to run the mile in junior high, the thought of choosing a running club seemed a little crazy. But my husband encouraged me, and so did a few close friends. Plus, I really liked that this group was specifically for moms at all running levels and abilities.

In late spring 2013, I drove to the park where my running group was meeting for our very first workout. I didn’t know a soul. We formed a circle and introduced ourselves—name, how many kids we have, how long we had been in the group, etc.

Much to my delight, I soon discovered that many of these women were “non-runners,” too. And no matter how many children we had, we were all looking for a way to carve out some time for our own health and well being.

That spring, it was cold and wet most days we set out to run. But I was impressed with how we showed up each week, rain or shine.

One day, in particular, I recall the weather being on the iffy side. We didn’t want to go too far down the path, only to have it start storming on us. So, we stayed closer to the parking lot and ran laps around the playground. It was cold and the light rain pelted my face, no matter what direction I was facing. I was uncomfortable and irritated. I just wanted to go home.

But at the same time, something inside of me wanted to overcome the discomfort. I wanted to embrace the challenge, rather than run away from it. And I did; we did!

Step by step. 

My running started out small, walking more than running, but with each workout, I increased my running and decreased my walking. And as the cold, wet spring turned into a hot and humid summer, I persisted through the feelings of not being able to catch my breath, as the thick, heavy air descended upon me like a weighted cloud. I recall sweat just dripping from my forehead and down my back, and wondering how on earth I would be able to drink enough water to rehydrate myself.

Slowly, over 18 weeks, I, and all of my teammates, had become runners. All at our own pace. Some of the women were crazy fast, and some of us were slower. But we completed our season on one of the hottest days of the summer, as we ran a 5K race, some of us for the very first time.

3 Things Running Has Taught Me

1) I learned the value of self-confidence. 

One of the things that was holding me back from exercising in general was a lack of self-confidence. I simply did not believe I could do it.

And while I have yet to fall in love with running, I have discovered that the hardest step really is the first one. The second, tenth, and hundredth steps were easier, because after each run, I felt strong, confident, and energized. I learned how good running was for me, not only physically but also mentally. It motivated me to challenge and push myself and not to be afraid to try. I didn’t have to be the perfect runner; I just had to do it.

2) I learned the positive power of encouragement and support.

From day one, our group was a team. As we passed one another on the path, the women were always cheering one another on, saying “good job” or “keep it going.” Our coach was incredibly good at having the right balance of encouraging us and challenging us. She was always motivating us to go just a bit farther, without pushing us over the edge.

One day, I was really struggling with our workout. I was having a hard time setting a pace for myself and breathing regularly. Negative thoughts started flooding my head: “What are you doing, Sarah? You’re not a runner. Who are you trying to kid?”

I was overwhelmed to tears by how truly difficult it was for me to keep going at all, let alone to keep up with the rest of the group. After I walked a good half-mile, I thought I had pulled myself together, when I saw our coach jogging toward me with a great, big smile on her face. I started crying all over again. She walked the rest of the way back with me and was incredibly supportive with her words of encouragement.

She spoke truth to me that trumped all the lies in my head. She reminded me of how far I had come, how what I was doing truly was hard, and how important it was to focus on the positive rather than on what I couldn’t do yet.

My coach’s support and my team’s encouragement kept me going through the remainder of the summer and all the way to the 5K finish line. As I was nearing the end of the race course, I saw my coach running toward me once again. But this time, she was not there to walk the rest of the way with me but to RUN with me.

Her presence got me through that last bit of the race, and as I got closer and closer to the finish line, I saw a sea of purple and green shirts at the bottom of the hill. My fellow teammates, cheering my name, their faces shining and smiling! This time, I was crying not because I felt defeated but because of my overwhelming sense of accomplishment. I had completed a very intense 18-week running program and 5K race!

Eighteen weeks prior, I considered myself a “non-runner.” The thought of running a road race had never crossed my mind. My workouts started small and increased little by little. How amazed and accomplished I felt after my 5K! The fear and doubt had disappeared!

I could not have done it without encouragement and support from my coach and teammates. And for me, the valuable lessons I learned really could be applied to any area of my life that is challenging or that desires change.

3) I learned the awesome miracle of my own human body. 

God truly created the human body to be “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). During one of my last runs before my 5K, I was listening to some praise and worship music on my iPod. Lyrics of God’s amazing love, wonderful designs and awesome majesty flooded my ears and transformed my heart.

You are my supply

My breath of life

And still more awesome than I know ...

As I heard these words from the song Enough by Barlow Girl, I was in complete awe of God, supplying me with a healthy body, giving me legs that were running in stride to the beat of the music, blessing me with the very breaths I was breathing in and out.

How amazing the human body is! It really can do marvelous things. It can bring a new life into the world, it can fight off disease. Each of us has unique fingerprints and DNA. The human body’s list of awesomeness is endless, really.

I had always admired “those people” who were super athletic and could accomplish and endure much, like marathon runners for example. But on that particular run, I noticed that my body was doing something quite marvelous. I could feel the strength in my legs and the fast beat of my heart and sweat beading on my forehead. I could feel myself gaining momentum as I was in complete awe at how God made me to do marvelous things, too!

The song Fearfully and Wonderfully Made by Matt Redman only confirmed the awe I felt for God.

You gave me this breath,

You gave me this strength ...

There’s elegance in all you create

Your grand designs leave us amazed.

The wonders of the way we’ve been made

Speak of Your power, tell of Your grace.

As I ran, I could not think of anything else but to praise God for creating me to move! He gave me the ability; it was within me all along. And now I was finally able to believe in my God-given ability.

Life-long lessons. 

The process of becoming a runner taught me valuable lessons that can apply to both on and off the running path. It taught me about my own personal strength, my need for support and the miracle of God’s designs working in me. I know that I will encounter other obstacles throughout my life, things that will cause fear to well up within me, things that will seem challenging and impossible.

I pray that the lessons I learned while becoming a runner will help me face those challenges and obstacles head on!

“They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagles’ wings; They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

Have you ever faced a challenge in your life that you overcame or learned from? How have the lessons you learned from that challenge affected other situations in your life?

Copyright 2014, Sarah Damm