Running (Into) A Beginner’s Mindset

A year ago, a friend asked me to fill in last minute.  She had put together a relay team for the Baltimore marathon. One of her teammates had another obligation, and my friend wasn’t about to run two legs of the marathon herself.  (That would have meant she would have run a half marathon).

Six miles? You want me to run six miles, with no training, and no time to train?” I asked.

“You don’t have the run the whole thing,” she reasoned with me.

Running has never been my favorite sport; but I wanted to play hero, so I jumped in to help out.

(Quick note: the longest run I had completed before she asked was a 5k, three years before, and that was rough.  A 5k is 3.1 miles, about half the amount she was asking me to run.)

Nervous about the run, I found myself downing espressos and dark chocolate (at a coffee shop across from the transition area. I don’t even drink coffee, but the coffee and chocolate that morning were sure delicious)!

Let the Race Begin

By the time my teammate got there, I was abuzz with energy!

Coffee and chocolate are probably not the best pre-race nutrition, but they sure seemed to help me!  

From the moment I got the baton in my hands, I started cheering for everyone on the course as I ran my own leg of the race. Hooting and hollering as I passed dozens of people, I started thinking I must be an awesome runner.

Then, I looked up. I noticed the word “full” on the back of a runner I was passing. I realized that while I was doing a grand total of 6 miles, he was running the full 26.2 miles.

Talk about humbling! Thankfully, I wasn’t going for any kind of a record. I just wanted to complete the darn thing and advance the baton as quickly as I could.

I certainly had enough caffeine to propel me through the finish line of my leg of the relay! (They gave me the treacherous uphill portion of the race. Those who have run the Baltimore marathon know exactly what portion I’m talking about).

Remembering this race was just for fun, I kept right on cheering… all the way to my finish line.

With all of the relay teams trying to find each other, my teammate had been listening intently to the announcer’s voice, hoping to hear our number.

No need — I was cheering loud enough for everyone (three blocks away) to hear.  She had no trouble figuring out when I had arrived.

I had a blast!

Possibility is Emerges

Soon after I handed off the baton, I thought back to the people I’d seen running the full marathon, and heard myself wondering, “could I run a full marathon?

Six miles vs. twenty-six point two miles… I mean, they’re basically the same thing, right?

Then, I thought back to four years before.

I had decided, for a variety of reasons, that I wanted to do a swim… a big swim.

In just fifteen weeks of training, I managed to go from having a fear of keeping my face in the water, to swimming three miles in the open water. If I could do that, then certainly I could run a marathon, right?

A 40th Birthday Gift To Myself

With my 40th birthday coming up, I decided that finishing a marathon would be my gift to myself. I picked the Philadelphia marathon (based on high praise of the race from runner friends).  I picked the non-profit that would benefit from my run, and I just started running. The freedom was exhilarating. All I needed was a pair of shoes and the willingness to put some miles in.

“Maybe try a half marathon first,” one of my friends suggested.

“If I run an actual half marathon, I’ll likely never run a full,” I thought, clueless about the distances involved in training for a full marathon.

Half Marathon For the First Time?  No Sweat!

It never occured to me that I would have to run up to twenty miles as a part of my training. So, when I completed my first half marathon, by myself, on a trail just north of Baltimore, I made nothing of it.

No cheering, no celebrating.

I got in the car and said, “Next,” imagining the immense knee pain that would be involved in doing a fifteen-mile run the following week.

Celebrations With Strangers

Let me step back a moment and tell you that when I was learning to swim, I celebrated every tiny milestone… Some of those celebrations would even happen in the grocery store line, often with a complete stranger.

“I’m just learning to swim,” I’d say, which always seemed to get their attention. People seemed to know, better than me, what a challenge it is to learn how to swim as an adult.

Then I would share how I went three strokes without stopping to breathe. This was a big accomplishment for me, and I was so proud that I had been able to do it.  I would also share my fundraising goal, which almost always led to a donation on the spot. I think my enthusiasm was contagious, and it was very cool to get such a warm reception. Learning to swim was challenging, but it was also fun, because I let it be.

Running, on the other hand, was not nearly as much fun. Not only did I run by myself, but I shared very little about the challenges or my progress. Rather than finding a coach and a running community, I decided to go at it alone. That is, until I couldn’t take the pain in my knees anymore.

Feedback For Newbies On the Running Path

Then, I reached out to a physical therapist (PT), who looked at my running gait, gave me some pointers and exercises to strengthen my glutes, and did some manual therapy to loosen up my IT bands and the ligaments surrounding my knees.

Ultimately, the pain persisted, as swelling engulfed my right knee.

“This is dumb. Quit now. Just quit. You’re hurting your body,” said voices within and around me.

With fear fully audible, I found myself questioning every workout, unable to enjoy any of it. Finally, I went to the orthopedic doctor, got some x-rays, and learned that the arthritis in my knees was enough of a reason for the swelling.

“You can still do the run, Misti,” Dr. Zooker said, “This is not a show stopper. You’re just going to be in pain.”

A New Thought Emerges

With information and pain mounting, I stopped and asked myself again, “What’s the difference between training for this marathon and learning how to swim?”  What did I have, or not have, that made swimming different than running?

This was the biggest difference: beginner’s mindset. In swimming, I knew that I knew nothing about swimming. I didn’t even know how to put a swim cap on. With running, I thought should already know how to run.

As a result of having a beginner’s mindset in swimming, I had gone in search of some critical pieces of the puzzle to assist me in my goals:

  1. Coaching. Simply put, I couldn’t swim by myself. I didn’t know how. I needed a coach.
  2. Community. Since coaching sessions almost always happened in a group setting, I got the benefit of sharing mutual challenges and support with others. With running, I can high-five every athlete I pass, but it’s just not the same as being a part of a group. The one time I ran with another person, it was unnerving. I kept finding myself worrying that I wasn’t performing up to par, even though I knew I didn’t need to worry about such things.
  3. Celebrating. With swimming, each tiny improvement felt like a massive deal, and I found myself celebrating my accomplishments. With running, I said “Next,” after completing the half marathon without an ounce of celebration. That is, until a mentor demanded that I write myself a note of appreciation. (If you’ve never done this, try it. It’s pretty awesome.)  
  4. Sharing. With swimming, it didn’t matter who you were.  Even if you were someone I ran into, randomly, in the grocery store line, you got to hear at least a snippet of my learning-to-swim-as-an-adult story. Most people loved hearing about the journey, and each time I shared, I became more excited. With running, however, I barely shared my learning-to-run-as-an-adult story. I think that was mostly because I never thought of myself as a newbie to running.

Thinking I should already know everything about running, I ignored the suggestions to get involved with a training group, or seek help with learning proper running form. I didn’t want to adjust my schedule to run with others, nor did I want to pay to be a part of a group (side note: there are plenty of free groups in Baltimore). I just wanted to get out there and check this off my bucket list.

So, as I step back and re-evaluate my goal, I’ve begun reaching out to experts.  I’m currently in a place where I find myself wondering if the time I have between now and the marathon is enough to get my knee healthy enough to run with good mechanics.

Humbled By Running – A Beginner’s Mindset

It has been a humbling experience to train for a marathon. It has taught me about how important it is to keep a beginner’s mindset.

And the lessons here apply in a variety of areas of life, including business.

The moment I think I should already know, I fail to do some really important things, including:

  • Asking good questions,
  • Connecting with the right people,
  • Listening to feedback from my body and mind ( as well as from others around me),
  • Adjusting as I learn, and
  • Giving myself the opportunity to thank those who help make my goals possible.

On the flip side, I also know what’s possible when I do keep myself open to being a beginner, including the:

  • Excitement of learning,
  • Joy of meeting new people (struggling, and succeeding together),
  • Fun of sharing in the journey,  
  • Thrill of progress, and
  • Pleasure of thanking others for their help along the way.

When you begin any endeavor with childlike curiosity, while remaining open (and listening) to the guidance you receive, each challenge becomes not only possible, but joyful. By reducing the pressure of expectations, and allowing yourself the pleasure of having a beginner’s mindset, the journey of progress is inspiring and fun.

As I publish this, I don’t know what I will do.  Will I run in this marathon? Will I have to forego my goal?  I don’t know. And it’s humbling not to know, but it’s also a crucial part of having a beginner’s mindset, and is an excellent reminder to me that it’s okay to be new.

Have You Ever Been Humbled?  

Have you had a similar experience? Has the experience changed the way you approach challenges? It’s a joy to hear your storiesplease share yours in the comments below.

Also, if you found this post helpful, please share with your colleagues, boss, employees, friends, clients, and even your family.

Here’s to your greatness,

Misti Burmeister

Misti Burmeister has been helping companies and leaders create a culture of trust for more than 15 years. Help your team reach its highest potential at