Rules for Runners: 13 Keys to Success

Successful people rules that are pretty much the same in other fields.

Here’s highly successful photographer Chase Jarvis’s list of the rules he follows. I was struck by how clearly they apply to running. You can find the original article on Chase’s website: “The Hit List: 13 Things Crucial For Your Success [In Any Field].”

1. Get shit done. Chase says, “Pros do, make, ship, send, publish, post and deliver; amateurs sit around and wonder, or worse, scratch their arse.” This rule transfer effortlessly (or not) to running.

2. Educate yourself.  Chase says, “Education is incredibly active and it should be self directed in some capacity.” Again, very true for runners. It’s not enough to know that speedwork will expand our VO2max. Nor is it enough to find the speedwork that will work for us. We must further refine the application every day. And only the internal feedback of our bodies and hearts can tell us exactly how to do it. This is where fitness intuition comes in – doing nothing that produces really negative, grungy feelings.

3. Make your own rules. It ain’t enough to know the rules; we have to be incredibly active in applying them – our way. Be prepared, Chase says, to “fend off the naysayers, because if you’re doing something worthwhile there will likely be resistance to your way.” Same for runners. Avoid those who would use you, befriend you only to constantly measure themselves against you, and generally bring you down. Get them out of your life.

4. Want to be a legend? Effect change. For runners this is self-explanatory.

5. Want to affect change? Get to work. See #1. Same here.

6. Iterate. Chase is saying that good changes requires lots and lots of tinkering. Don’t expect to take the training program straight out of the book and achieve success. Every day is different, and every body is different. Listen to Ryan Hall:

Ryan’s former coach Renato Canova says: “The program should follow the athlete, it’s not the athlete who should follow the program. This is so huge because runners tend to get so married to a program that if they deviate from it they see that as a failure, when in actuality it is the program that should be adjusting continually for the athlete’s changing day-to-day needs.”

In Chase Jarvis’s words: “Genius, clarity, vision – whatever you want to call it – will come in fragments at inopportune moments over days, weeks, months, years. Be ready to catch each one of the iterations and push it out of you.”

Tinker endlessly. Value the moments of genius, but don’t cling to them, or grieve when they don’t come. They will come.

7. Look inside. This one’s dear to my heart, but then I’m a fitness intuition nut. Chase: “Understand that the best way to make something new and fresh is to look inside you. The answers are in here, not out there.”

8. Don’t underestimate the fundamentals. Know your craft. How many times have you suffered a setback and returned to the basics, to find that they put new life in your running? Chase: “You’ve got know the nuts and bolts of what you’re doing.”

9. Take a deep breath. This is a very busy pro photographer’s way of saying, “Recover.” Mentally, physically, spiritually. Dig deep into the roots from which your enthusiasm, your health, and your motivation come. Not one to mince words, Chase puts it like this: “So when shit is getting hairy, take a breath.”

10. Take delight. My motto! If it ain’t fun, it ain’t worth it. And “fun” includes some very hard stuff – in my ultra days I relished the all-day outings in the Coastal Range of Marin County.  And weekly hard speedwork with friends. And insanely hard experiences during races. Hey, I’m starting to wonder if Chase is a runner! Write this down: “Enjoy the process, because from moment to moment, the process is reason for the season – it’s all you’ve got.”

11. Seek out good people. I’ve never met a successful runner who didn’t beg, borrow, or yes, steal ideas from many sources. Chase advises us to cultivate positive people and kick the negative ones out of our lives. He tells not to “run around with turkeys. Negative energy is like a black hole for creativity and inspiration.” And, “Remember, you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.”

12. Find some quiet. I like this. It’s not just about finding quiet time away from running. It’s much more about finding that quiet place within us when we run. My friend naturalist Joseph Cornell says we can only commune with nature if we first get still inside. Same goes for the long run. In stillness there is a surprising amount of joy.

13. Help others. Yeah! My best races have all been the ones where I was working for a greater cause. For years I ran an annual ultra or marathon as a fundraiser for Living Wisdom School. It made the run vastly more meaningful. And it was lovely to know that with every mile I was earning $15 – or more – for a good cause. Chase puts it like this: “Most people who achieve success are concerned with helping others.”

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