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Walking, Jogging & Sprinting: Some Observations and Life Lessons


06Jun 2010

Recently, I went to our state high school track and field championship meet — it is a wonderful spectacle — thousands of student athletes, coaches, friends and family members in one stadium. Vibrant colors are displayed in the uniforms, supportive T-shirts and baseball caps, and tents (to keep the students out of the sun). Lots of sunshine, sunscreen and water bottles.

The Saturday morning before I went to the meet to watch a friend run in the sprinting events (100 meter, 200 meter, 4 x 100 meter relay), I went for a jog by my house — which meant I was running on a dirt road with pot holes and “washboard” on the road. In the evenings, my wife and I often take walks together down the road, as well.

And I started thinking about the differences between walking, jogging and sprinting — both physically, but also in life.

Sprinting. Sprinting is cool. It is flashy. In track, the sprint events are the high profile events. At the highest level of competition, the winner of the 100 meter dash is known as “the fastest man in the world”. And man, these guys and gals can fly. They are smooth and they move with beauty.

But the events only last 10 to 50 seconds, depending on the event. “Crack”, goes the starting pistol. The athletes fly down the track. And then it is over. Someone often gets hurt — falling at the finish line, or pulling up gimpy with a pulled muscle.

Jogging. Jogging — or in track, the long distance races (1600 meters [the metric equivalent of a mile], 3200 meters or the 4 x 800 relay) — are less flashy. For some, they are boring. Young women and men steadily running around the track several times. There is a little excitement and jostling for position at the beginning of the race. Many times there is an exciting finish between two runners sprinting for the finish. (And many times there is no excitement, given the large distance between the runners.) The runners are exhausted at the end and require quite a bit of time to recover from the race.

Walking. In most track meets, there are no walking races. At longer running events (2 mile races, 10K races) they may have a two mile walking race, but they aren’t very common. Walking just isn’t much of a sporting event for most people. It is boring to watch for very long. It isn’t as physically demanding for the individual — so most athletes pursue other events.

Let’s discuss some observations and lessons for daily life that can be derived from the characteristics and differences between walking, jogging and sprinting.

Sprinting is flashy, takes a lot of talent and preparation but isn’t used much in daily life. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the need to sprint (literally, to run as fast as I can for a short distance) very often. Jogging is more for trying to keep in shape. But mostly, I walk.

In life, there are people I see from a distance or occasionally meet who seem incredibly cool. They are mega-talented, have a lot of style, and they seem to have the world by the tail. They go at a fast pace and are high profile.

But as I watch them over the long haul, many of them don’t really have staying power. They are a “flash in the pan” — bright lights & a lot of energy — but they are gone tomorrow. And often, their careers are short.

If I get in the mode of trying to sprint at work — moving real fast, making quick decisions, trying to impress others, and being primarily focused on image — I burn out fast. I don’t really get that much done. And I burn a lot of resources that require substantial time to recover. And often, I make mistakes.

Jogging takes a fair amount of effort and the distance people can jog varies greatly. Some people are in better shape than others (obviously). But even among runners, their stamina differs greatly — and you can’t necessarily tell by just looking at them.

In life, individuals differ significantly in how much emotional, mental and relational energy they have. And people’s level of personal discipline varies significantly, too. There are a lot of people who don’t have a boat-load of talent, but through commitment to get good training and daily personal discipline of doing what they need to day-in and day-out, they get a lot of work done (or develop stamina to run long distances.)

But jogging, and working consistently at a fast pace, takes energy and commitment. It is easier to walk (or not do anything), and in life, it is easier to “hang out”, do leisure activities, and not pursue goals. That is why — both for those who run long distances and those who get tasks done — joggers usually have a goal and work a disciplined plan to get there.

Most of life involves walking and walking allows for other things to be done at the same time. The majority of our life involves walking — around the house, at work, while shopping, etc. And we know walking is good for us physically. By definition, walking means you are going somewhere (versus being stagnant and passive.) In career development, I tell my coaching clients one of the major mistakes people make is to “not be going anywhere” — they are passive and waiting for something to happen.

One of things I like about walking is that I am able to do something else at the same time — think and reflect, pray, talk with Kathy, or just enjoy nature around me. When I jog (or on the rare occasion I may sprint for a short distance), my focus is on the physical activity. I am not thinking about much else.

The same is true at work or in life. If I am going at a normal walking pace, I am able to think and reflect, interact with others and enjoy the world around me while I am working. I get things done but I am not exhausted at the end of the day and I have energy left to do other things. And yes, it seems like it takes longer to get tasks done at this pace versus when I am rushing, but like the hare and the tortoise, I probably come out “ahead” at the end.

Steve Prefontaine, one of the preeminent long distance runners in the 1970’s said:

“Life’s battles don’t always go to the strongest or fastest man, but sooner or later the man who wins is the fellow who thinks he can.”

What are other lessons we can learn from these three activities? Think about it this week as you are walking.

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