Is it ‘hard’ or is it ‘challenging’?

The other day I was talking to my sister about her recently-returned running struggles, trying to coach her through how she’s been feeling lately about running.

And I asked her to clarify something for me:

When you have a “bad” run, is it because it’s hard or is it because the run challenged you? 

I think that’s a very important distinction when it comes to running, a conclusion I only recently came to myself. (as for my sis, she’s struggling with something that this girl overcame last year and I *know* my sister can overcome it too…so c’mon, give her your vote of confidence today, mmk?)

I used to always categorize a run as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ depending on how ‘easy’ or ‘hard’ the run felt. But it wasn’t until recently, when I find myself hitting my running stride, that I’ve been categorizing the majority of my runs as ‘good’ – but not because they are easy (they are never easy), but because each run is a challenge. Sure, there are moments where I feel like my legs are humming right along without *as* much effort as normal, but 9 times out of 10, I’m pushing it, struggling and slogging through those miles.

But it’s at the end, when I’m huffing and puffing and catching my breath, that I look back at each mile I ran and I’m happy. It was a good run. Because it was a challenging run.

I’ll let you in on a little secret:  Running is not easy for me. Not at all. Every day, every run, tests me physically and mentally. It’s draining. But it’s worth it. This is why I run. Not to achieve as many ‘easy’ runs as I can, but to achieve as many good, challenging runs as I can.

Because really, isn’t that why so many of us have a love/”hate” affair with running? Because it’s challenging. It’s work. It’s an experience I’m endlessly grateful I get to have, especially when I know that others either aren’t able to run at all, or are sidelined with injuries right now.

So next time you lace up and hit the road? Try not to categorize your run as ‘hard’ and instead approach every run as a challenge, a good challenge you’ll happily take on any day of the week. Because you (and I) can.

(editor’s note – for those of you that do not run for whatever reason, this mindset totally applies to any workout that challenges you, not just running. Just thought I’d call that out. :)) 

45 thoughts on “Is it ‘hard’ or is it ‘challenging’?

    • Aw thank you for swinging on by! Love that!

      Is this your first marathon? I’m contemplating my first one next year and the thought of running farther than 13 miles is equal parts scary and exciting. I wonder if that’ll change the first time I’m faced with a 13+ mile training run, huh? 😉

      • this will be my very first marathon…just finished my first half a few weeks ago…so i know i can go to 13, it’s just those long runs AFTER that that scare the living daylights out of me! i’m fortunate to be stationed in germany and have chosen paris in april as my first full…i will definitely be keeping up on your posts and i hope you do the same. let me know what race you choose!

  1. running is not “pretty” by all means, but it sure challenges us to endure. And if we can get through that, then maybe we can get through other things in life that are enduring.

  2. I think that running is hard (or challenging) for everyone. I’m willing to bet that a lot of the runners out there, myself included, find that running does not come easily. Because it doesn’t! I think it’s important to remember that. I always feel like it should be easy, but if it was easy, everyone would do it, right?

    • Bingo. If running were easy, the entire world would be out running around like gazelle’s all day. But that’s what draws me to it, that it ins’t easy, that not everyone can do it, and that I work at it every single time I hit the road.

  3. There is nothing easy about running, at least not for me. But I think that’s why I continue to do it. I just read this quote and thought it was fitting for this post:

    ““Frustration is the first step towards improvement. I have no incentive to improve if I’m content with what I can do and if I’m completely satisfied with my pace, distance and form as a runner. It’s only when I face frustration and use it to fuel my dedication that I feel myself moving forwards.” ~John “The Penguin” Bingham

  4. You’re not kidding Jess! I have been, for a while now, categorizing my runs not as good or bad, but by how challenging they are. Even on a recovery day when I can’t get my legs to move any faster than a slow run, or a fast jog, when the miles are logged, they’re logged, and you did it.

    And as far as sis goes – I KNOW she can do it too, I’m here rooting for her the whole way.

    • So true – even those runs where you’re like “these legs are NOT gonna move today are they?” are *still* good runs in my book because I pushed through them and I challenged my body in a new way.

      LOVE your support of my sis, she can totally do this. She’s got you as her role model, afterall. 🙂

  5. I love love love this. Sometimes when I a having a bad day or i did a poor job,I or my husband will reframe regular life like this – it was a “challenge” and that is so much the better way to look at it. I love applying that to running. Or sometimes just letting it be what it is. It just was what it was and that is ok too!! I totally agree on your little secret btw, it is a challenge to run each time, no doubt about it!

    • Totally love your husband’s ability to turn something negative into a positive – a bad day wasn’t a bad day, it was a challenging one. It taught you something new. Tomorrow is a new day and it’ll be a good, albeit challenging one too, but you learned. And you’ll learn again and again and again.

  6. Great, great post! I HATED running and I never thought that I could be good at it. When I first started I wanted so many times to throw in the towel. But once you hit that first mile, then two, you begin to feel the reward of it. With all the hard work comes milestones. One of the things I love most about running (and working out in general) is that it gives back to what you put in.
    Loved this read Jess!

    • YES! It’s all about little rocks, little milestones with running – because it’s those teeny tiny milestones that add up to one giant reward at the end – a challenge that you conquered, especially when it was a challenge you never thought you’d ever get “good” at to begin with!

    • Thank you Tina – and thank you for the twitter shout-out last night, you made my day 🙂
      This distinction is truly what makes me keep going back to running for more and more and more and MORE. In fact, even though today is my rest day, it’s SO nice out and I’m itching to run just because I’ve grown to LOVE the challenge so, so, so much!! Much like you have, I suspect!

  7. aww sis! can’t believe I didn’t get to read this till now! I love what you say and thank you for the shout out encouragement and everyone’s comments here to encourage as well. I guess it is true…running isn’t easy for anyone. If it was, they are super bionic 😉 There is a huge distinction between being hard and challenging. Easy to say it is ‘hard’ but really, if it’s ‘just’ challenging, that is GOOD!!

    • If you didn’t notice, I totally wrote this one for you sis. I wanted you to see that we ALL struggle with running and it’s not EVER easy for anyone, not even for M who runs like a “gazelle” in your book. 😉 Running is the challenge that we love to hate to love. Embrace the challenge sis, you got this!

  8. I always think of my long runs as a battle and you must be prepared to go into a battle. My armor is my knee bands and my spibelt filled with fuel. I fight from start to finish and while I don’t always feel victorious, often slightly battered, I am proud of myself for taking the challenge.

    • SO true, what a great way to think about it. I try to look at those long runs as my time to push myself, but also my time to be “me” – not focused so much on the miles that lie ahead, but on being in the moment and treasuring the challenge, and the meditative aspect of running.

  9. There are challenging runs and then there are hard runs. I ran a challenging 1/2 marathon and it exhausted me, but this morning my 5miler was hard, and just hated it and wanted it to end.
    It could be semantics, but a challenging or a hard run tests your will power and discipline 🙂

    • But the difference is – even in that “hard” 5 miler, you pushed through and got it DONE and that is where the challenge lies: in pushing forward when the run is both hard and challenging. If that makes any sense 😉

  10. I love the idea of turing the word “hard” into challenging. I have faced a number of “hard”/”challenging” runs during my ramp up after injury…there are days when my legs are just plain dead & I’m exhausted…but I challenge myself to get out there anyway. But I think it’s OK to have “hard” or “challenging” runs. Not every day is perfect, if it was easy, everyone would do it 🙂

    • I think it’s the days when you get out there and get it done even though you know it’s going to be a struggle the second you set foot out the door that teaches us that endurance and soldiering on that’ll carry us through on race day (or any “day” you might be ramping up for). And then the days when the run or workout just feels so happy make up for those super “challenging” runs where struggling happens.

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