Note: this is the first in a new series of posts on how running makes us better people through developing traits that serve us well in broader aspects of life. It is these characteristics that make us better family members, employees, and members of the communities we live and work in.
Words you often hear associated with running are fitness, endurance, and strength. But perhaps a more all-encompassing term would be stamina. The differentiating feature of stamina is that it is multi-dimensional, and thus a more useful capability to develop and harvest. The US Marine Corps mentions stamina (under the trait of endurance) as a key leadership trait, and the Tom Peters group refers to mental, physical, and spirtual stamina as key requirements for inspiring others as a leader.
The importance of stamina hit home for me early this school year. One day, I asked my first-grade son what he had worked on at school. He answered that he had worked on stamina. Knowing he did not have physical education that day, I asked him what he meant. He answered that they were working on being able to read for a longer time. And this was confirmed by the weekly note home from his teacher, wherein she listed “stamina for reading” as one of their objectives for the week. In another note a few days later, she emphasized that the main purpose of their daily homework for the year would be to develop the stamina for such activity (note that we live in one of the highest-rated school districts in Ohio, so we have full faith that our teachers know what they are doing). It immediately struck home what a valuable and enabling capability stamina is, so important that it becomes one of our earliest educational objectives.
Of course, stamina is first and foremost a physical trait. Running and other forms of aerobic exercise obviously increase it, which in turn increases your ability to perform the activity for longer periods of time. But perhaps more beneficial is how this physical stamina helps us function better at home or in the office. As we have strayed from our agrarian roots and now find ourselves often desk-bound by work responsibilities (or in writing blog posts), our natural tendency is for fading stamina, lower energy levels, and lost productivity, especially when we do face physical tasks such as household projects. Up to a point, running gives more energy than it takes, leaving us recharged to tackle our responsibilities.
Running also develops mental stamina, especially when done in the form of demanding training. Often the toughest part of any pace-specific workout is maintaining concentration on holding that pace. With work duties, just like with running, it is the short spurts of highly focused effort that makes us most productive. However, when dull repetition is required (be it from sitting in a meeting, studying, or performing manual work), the ability to occupy our minds for two hours or more during long runs provides the necessary discipline that translates well to rote work. It takes a creative mind to maintain interest in the face of monotony, and running for long periods gives us the ability to exercise this form of stamina.
Finally, running builds our emotional stamina. Like any pursuit that stretches our limits and abilities, it has its ups and downs. We have to learn to moderate the highs to avoid overdoing things, and to overcome the lows to be able to “get back at it,” or develop an appropriate recovery mechanism. We often fall short of our goals because we tend to make them more and more aggressive, so we develop our coping skills, typically around deepening our determination for the next cycle. Life is full of challenges and setbacks, and running provides more than the escape. It provides the stamina and confidence to know that “this too shall pass” and to begin looking forward to “the time beyond”.
So next time you are out on the road (or on the treadmill – talk about developing mental stamina!), relish the fact that you are building a widely useful capability that will serve you well in the rest of the roles you are going to play that day. And maybe seek to stretch your stamina just a little bit further