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OpinionColumnistsAmanda Fiscina

The lessons running taught me about life

Running on a track.

Running on a track. Credit: Amanda Fiscina

With Bluetooth headphones around my neck, GU gels stuffed into my pocket on the Verrazano Bridge, I looked like a runner as I began the 26.2-mile New York City Marathon in November.

But I was an impostor — and I wasn’t alone.

The number of races around the United States has increased 300 percent from 1990 to 2013, according to Running USA, a group that advances the sport, and 18 million millennials call themselves runners. On Long Island, registrations for the state parks summer running series sold out in hours.

This means there are many of us who aren’t elite runners nor naturally built to do this sport. Global Running Day is Wednesday and I wonder if it annoys experienced runners that they have to share the course with us.

I am grateful that they do because running has changed my life. I was not meant to be a runner. I’m the opposite of tall and lean. I hate sweating. I spent my childhood pirouetting around the house while my athletic brothers chased balls around fields. I even remember whining, “Do we actually have to run the whole way?” on dreaded “Mile Run Day” in fourth grade.

I randomly started jogging in college. I shaped up quickly, a combination of subsisting on minimal amounts of cafeteria food I hated and thinking four instead of three laps around the quad was a mile.

Three full marathons, six half-marathons and lots of 5k’s and 10k’s later, I have learned that there is no instant gratification in running. Runners need to make a plan and slowly build to the goal. During races, I have learned to trust my training, budget my energy and focus my mind to push through pain.

Beyond those obvious lessons, my first Long Island half-marathon made me realize I wasn’t the weak, unathletic girl I told myself my whole life. The Disney half taught me selflessness, that by raising money for Make-A-Wish, my miles had a bigger purpose. The Chicago Marathon pushed me to explore a new city entirely on foot, while the NYC Marathon gave me an incredible view of the city that means so much to me. The Hamptons half had me so in awe of East End nature that I didn’t even mind the mud. A brutally hot Jones Beach 5k, in which I earned a personal record, made me realize that you can do your best under grueling conditions. And the finish lines where family and friends always wait teach runners they’re never alone.

Patience. Goal-setting. Trust. Focus. Endurance. Confidence. Generosity. Adventure. Appreciation. Resilience. Love. Running changes lives, and, in the least way, physically. My mind has always raced; ironically, racing is the only thing that slows it down.

How fortunate that the sport became more for the masses; I never would have made it through my first few races without other beginners around. But now it’s hard not to get annoyed that some sign up without proper training or do it for fun to dress up, not knowing the implications of ignoring the “rules of the road.”

Runners who can ignore piles of laundry and tune out work emails during runs are my idols. I always squeeze running into my life rather than squeeze my life into a running schedule.

My advice for those who hate running is to get through the first three miles. It’s hard to get breathing right, arms in sync or headphones secure. But once you do, it is endorpin-induced bliss.

The same stick-it-out principle applies to new jobs, relationships and cities. Impostor or elite, on this road we call life, endurance far outweighs the aches that come with running.

Amanda Fiscina is a web producer for Newsday Opinion.