Dedication To The Run You Love

Discipline is important, but you'll need more than that if you want to enjoy running for the rest of your life

Posted: 29 September 2004
by John Bingham

Extract from No Need For Speed by John Bingham (Rodale International Limited, £8.99). To order direct from Runner's World for the special price of £7.99 (inc P&P), call 0800 731 0622 and quote 55174-0.

Those who know me well know that I enjoy participating in marathons. I’m careful to say “participating” because I’ve never actually run a marathon (I use a run/walk method for long distances), let alone raced one. Still, for me, standing at a start line 26.2 miles from a finish line is the purest metaphor for living an active life. If I keep moving forwards, if I keep putting one foot in front of the other – in the marathon and in my life – I will see myself through to the end.

It hasn’t always been that way. For much of my life, I only believed in what I couldn’t do. I tried something, did it well enough to enjoy it, tried to get better, became frustrated by my inability and then gave up. The same is true for others, which is why I don’t trust the power of inspiration in and of itself. Being inspired is fine for a week or two, and being motivated might work for a month or so, but to make any lifestyle change last a lifetime you need dedication.

Dedication sometimes means doing what you don’t want to do. I hear people talk about discipline. Some think that I’m a very disciplined person because I lost so much weight and have trained for so many marathons. Nonsense. I think I’m about the least disciplined person I’ve ever known. Discipline is not my strong suit. But I’d go so far as to suggest that many of the elite runners I’ve met aren’t disciplined either.

What elite runners are, what I think I am, and what I am encouraging you to be is dedicated, not disciplined. I want you to be dedicated to a life of activity – to making better choices about food and to making the most of whatever physical talents and skills you possess.

Most of what I’ve learned about dedication comes from my career as a musician and music teacher. I began playing the trombone when I was eight years old, with no more talent for the trombone than anything else, but my mother had played the instrument, still had her old one in the attic, and lessons were free. That’s all it took to turn me into a trombone player.

For the next 30 years I defined myself by the sounds that came from my instrument. I made my friends and my livelihood with the trombone and only with the trombone. There was no contact with the outside world for me. My view of the world was always over the bell of the horn.

Throughout my performing career, I searched for the magic plan that would change me from a merely excellent craftsman into a truly exceptional artist. Working so hard to find the magic wasn’t the result of discipline; it was the result of dedication. I was dedicated to finding the secret that would reveal the mysteries of the instrument, to finding the answer that I knew all trombonists were looking for.

During those 30 years of practising scales and arpeggios, playing the same technical exercise for the 1,000th time, and putting my lips against the mouthpiece over and over, I never discovered the secret. But I learned that you can never tell how close you are to real improvement and you can never be sure what’s just ahead. Improvement for me as a musician always appeared unannounced.

Dedication versus discipline

It’s been the same for me as a runner, except that the little talent I had as a musician was far more than I have as a runner. Still, the mystery about when and where improvement will come is exactly the same. Very often there’s no hint that a breakthrough is a single run away. That’s why dedication is so much more important than discipline. It isn’t the run that you do or don’t do that counts. It isn’t the discipline to run three days a week that makes you a runner. It’s the dedication to run for the rest of your life that matters.

Part of my dedication comes from wanting to find the answers to a few simple questions. For example, no one has been able to explain to my satisfaction why running at a certain pace is easy one day and impossible the next. No one has explained to my satisfaction why I can run a marathon with apparent ease and later struggle to get through a three-mile run. Despite all the research and opinions, I’ve decided that no one really knows.

Doctors, coaches and sports physiologists explain that it has something to do with muscle fatigue and dehydration. They tell you about the effects of stress and lack of sleep. They describe how nutrition and blood sugar levels affect performance. But the truth is that no one knows.

I don’t either, but I’m dedicated to finding an answer. It’s one reason I continue to put on my running shoes. If I thought I could find the answer another way, I might try, but I’m sure that it’s only by running today, tomorrow and the rest of my life that I’m going to find the answer. Every day I run I feel like I’m a little closer to unlocking the secret.

What that means to me is that no single run is any more important than any other run. Being a dedicated rather than a disciplined runner means understanding that frustration is an important part of the combination of ingredients that leads to progress. For the dedicated runner, frustration is to be sought out and savoured, not avoided.

I learned this as a musician, too. When I heard other trombonists practising, I often thought they played much better than I did. I heard them playing and wondered how I could ever be that good. Hearing them caused me to doubt my own talent and desire.

I practised differently than most of them. When I practised, I sounded terrible. My technique was to concentrate on the aspects of my playing that weren’t any good. I finally realised that what I heard in other practice rooms was people playing what they already knew how to play. They were avoiding frustration.

Frustration is good for you

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.

It’s equally important to understand that where you start isn’t nearly as important as the direction you’re heading. If, like me, you’re overweight and out of shape when you begin a life of activity, you have much more room for improvement.

Knowing that a breakthrough is always possible can give your daily runs the character of a treasure hunt. When you step out of the door you can allow yourself to wonder if today is the day. You can allow yourself to look for, listen for and feel the small improvements that occur so often in the first few months of running.

You can allow yourself to accept your body’s invitation to discover the treasure in that day’s run. The revelation may be something as simple as finding a new way to tie your shoelaces so they stay tight. But every run has the potential to teach you something, to reveal something to you, to be the first time you ever felt a certain way.

I see this most clearly in races. Some runners call it race-day magic. It’s the extraordinary feeling that occurs when everything comes together. It’s the magic that happens when your training coincides precisely with your willingness to push beyond your comfort level on a day that will allow you to do that.

Experienced runners love to tell you about those magic days. For me, one of those magic days was when I ran a PB in the 10K. That day may be the most magic day I’ll ever have as a runner. It was the day on which everything came together at the same time. If I run for 50 years and never have another day like that, it will still have been worth it.

How do you stay the course if you’re just beginning? It’s easier than most people think. In the first few weeks and months, staying the course means avoiding the two most common traps for new runners: unrealistic expectations and impatience. Either of these traps can end your running career before it has a chance to begin.

Unrealistic expectations

I frequently receive e-mail messages that begin, “I know I should be able to run faster (or further or easier), but I can’t.” Other new runners write to tell me that they know they’re not progressing as well as they should be. Still others begin by telling me that “my husband (or wife, brother, sister, friend) says that I should be able to run further by now.”

As soon as I see the word “should”, I know these people are caught in the expectation trap. They’ve stopped being happy about the progress they’re making. They aren’t content simply to be on the journey to a fitter, more active lifestyle. They’ve stopped being the runner they’re trying to become and are trying instead to live up to some other set of standards.

These writers often tell me they know that they lack the discipline to get faster or run further. They’ve convinced themselves or, worse yet, allowed someone else to convince them, that they should be on some “progress timetable”. The timetable may be a vague, ill-defined one, or a schedule they’ve read or heard about. Whichever it is, they’re certain that they’re falling further and further behind every day.

Your running won’t conform to a timetable. It won’t adhere to a schedule that you put on the wall, write in a planning logbook or read in a training book. Your body doesn’t care what day of the week it is. Improvement comes over time. You’ll get faster and run further when you can – and not a day before.


Impatience and unrealistic expectations are similar, although not the same. Expectations are usually driven by something outside of us and are generally negative. Impatience is almost always driven by something internal and may come from a positive source.

Impatience takes many forms. The most common is an unwillingness to wait until you’re ready for a pace or distance before you take on the challenge. Impatience is wanting to reap the rewards of training before they are fully ripe. I know; I’ve been there.

It took me 10 months to complete my first marathon. I don’t mean that it took me 10 months to prepare for my first marathon. I mean that it took me 10 months to get from the starting line to the finish line of my first marathon. Why? Because I got impatient.

I’d been running for almost nine months. I’d finished a few 5Ks and 10Ks. I felt the changes in my body and in my spirit: I was becoming a runner. My only running companion at the time was a friend who was a lifelong runner and marathon runner. He was a few years older than me and had finished over 70 marathons. I took one look at him and signed up for my first marathon. I signed up without a training plan, without an idea of what running a marathon would require, and without a prayer of finishing. I was off the course by the seventh mile.

I didn’t lack the discipline I needed to train for a marathon. I didn’t lack the discipline I needed to line up and face the course. I had all the discipline I needed to finish. I know that now because I’ve finished 25 of them. What I didn’t have then was the dedication I needed to take the time to prepare. My impatience almost caused me to give up running. It almost cost me the activity that has given me so much joy. It nearly ruined my life.

It’s more difficult to wait patiently while your body and mind go through the changes necessary to be successful at any distance, whether it’s a mile or a marathon. If your impatience causes you to constantly push past your limits or if it causes you to force your body to do more than it’s ready to do, your running will become increasingly less satisfying. On the other hand, if you watch your body change and wait patiently for the next breakthrough, it will become a source of wonder and reinforcement.

It’s this mystery that keeps me going. Knowing that on any day I can be touched by the running gods in a way that takes me to a level I never dreamed I could achieve makes me want to run every chance I get.

When I talk to people who say they used to run but stopped because they were frustrated by their lack of progress, I feel really sad. I wonder if they stopped just one day before the magic might have happened for them. Dedication means not giving up and not giving in. It means not missing the discovery that you were capable of going beyond your wildest dreams if you had run just one more day.

An exercise for joy

When you’ve been running for a while and the initial jolt of inspiration has worn off, pay attention to your feelings and moods about running. On days when your run feels harder than others, give yourself this pep talk: “This run will feel hard so another run can feel easy. I may not be able to run as fast or as long as I had hoped today, but that’s OK because it’s the process of running that matters, not the destination. I can learn something from every run, even the difficult ones. What can I learn from this one?”

Extract from No Need For Speed by John Bingham (Rodale International Limited, £8.99). To order direct from Runner's World for the special price of £7.99 (inc P&P), call 0800 731 0622 and quote 55174-0.

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Discuss this article

Having spent most of yesterday and today sulking about my running Spans pointed this article out to me.

I have one word to say... well three!

Thanks Spans!



My butt is now posed and ready for the kicking it deserves!!

Posted: 04/10/2004 at 14:53

[bares bottom next to Pix's]

Me too.
Posted: 04/10/2004 at 14:56

hang on you just done Loch Ness now go away this is my butt kicking!!

But if you like it!!

Seriously I was on the verge of jacking in running for 4-6 weeks then building up to FLM having got very frustrated with no improvement so I am the runner The Penguin mentions!

This rang true so much it's made me stop and think - and I'm still thinking!
Posted: 04/10/2004 at 15:00

erm I dont think it IS about kicking your butts - quite the opposite really - more about relaxing into the journey however long that takes - its not the 12 week plan but the lifelong commitment

very good article tho

hes so right about dedication not discipline -discipline can become a stick to beat yourself up with - dedication comes from having a passion for something that allows you to make the commitment

and "unrealistic expectations and impatience too" -
too much too soon , too fast too far

"Impatience and unrealistic expectations are similar, although not the same. Expectations are usually driven by something outside of us and are generally negative. Impatience is almost always driven by something internal and may come from a positive source.

Impatience takes many forms. The most common is an unwillingness to wait until you’re ready for a pace or distance before you take on the challenge. Impatience is wanting to reap the rewards of training before they are fully ripe. I know; I’ve been there."

so dont beat yourself up and kick your butt Pix - chill out a little and dedicate yourself to the long run !

Posted: 04/10/2004 at 15:16

bune I need a butt kicking as I wasn't looking at the larger picture I was sulking and ready to chuck in the towel because I laked that dedication I had lost the plot and was not looking at the wider picture (cliche city!)
Posted: 04/10/2004 at 15:23

"unwillingness to wait until you’re ready for a pace or distance before you take on the challenge"

That's me alright.

Yes, I finished the marathon, but every time I do one, I promise myself "I'll train harder/better/longer for the next one" and then go about it all the wrong way, and I end up frustrated half way round because I *know* I could be doing better - even though I should be thinking "Wow, even walking this distance is an achievement".

Maybe not so much a butt-kicking needed as a reality check!
Posted: 04/10/2004 at 15:32

erm but Pix - you were having a bad day ( and it was very hot and congested at FLite - i was there!)

i think you might be right to have an alternative few weeks training before your marathon training starts in earnest - so you are rested and fresh to running - then just concentrate on going the distance - dont worry about speed - you want to be able to keep going for as much of the 26 miles as possible and complete it as comfortably you can - doing too much too soon will burn you out and youll end up injured and disillusioned and not get to the start let alone the finish

Posted: 04/10/2004 at 15:32

<and no i dont run marathons but that dedication etc applies to my other lifelong sport -it took me nearly 20 years of playing and dedicated training to achieve the things i wanted and they came when i least expected!>
Posted: 04/10/2004 at 15:35

Hi Guys I read that article and thought it was good to.I found the following tow things very relevant.

"The most common is an unwillingness to wait until you’re ready for a pace or distance before you take on the challenge".

IMO you do need to start with a small race (5K)and do it justice before you move on to the next distance.

Don't worry about other people expectations. I think we all worry to a certian extent that we won't be fast enough or finish last or whatever. Just be happy with the progress you are making.

Posted: 04/10/2004 at 16:04

Hands up - guilty of that too!

What was getting me down though was I am doing the same times as when I started running but I can run further
but still the same time only before I was walk run and now I run which means I must be slower!
Posted: 04/10/2004 at 16:26

EP, I can't believe that if you are now running the whole distance that you used to run / walk before, that the time is the same.
There has to be something wrong ie the timing or the distance.Even if you are running 0.10 of a mile more it will make a difference.Do you keep a spreadsheet of your runs??

Posted: 04/10/2004 at 16:47

yep I have done - but not so much lately as I have been following a heart rate plan and so not recording the distance.

As an example though my 1st ever 5K took 36 mins 2 yrs ago, a time I repeated this year, my last 5k (in the horrendous heat of the Flora Light) took 41.30
Posted: 04/10/2004 at 16:50

Yes but there is an answer for your 41.30

"the horrendous heat".

Weather conditions play a massive part in the time you take as well as how you feel on the day. The heat, the cold, the rain etc will all affect your time. About 2 months ago, probably the same day as you, I went for a run on the sunday morning and it was burning. I stoped after I had done half the distance I had intended. It was not worth trying to kill myself doing it. Had it been a race I would have kept going but my time would have suffered badly.

My suggestion would be to include in your log the weather at the time as well as the distance even if your following a heart plan. Don't worry to much about times at the moment just aim to enjoy and complete the distance you have set yourself and just do it gradually.
Posted: 04/10/2004 at 16:58

Pix - my run walk is quicker than my running - because - i can walk fast and because if im running i have to keep it slow to stay aerobic

and yes it is frustrating but in the long run training adaptations may just be very slow for some of us

i think heart rate training is a long term thing - i was surprised that i didnt make much of an improvement over 6 months - but i wasnt really consistent enough ( not dedicated to it) and i was surprised again when i started back playing hockey a couple of weeks ago - how 'unfit' i was despite being able to run very slowly for 40-50 minutes continuosly

the amount of training you were doing may have been ok for someone who was more advanced but i think on top of all the other stuff going on in your life you were asking a lot of yourself

improvement doesnt come quickly and a lot goes on in the rest phase rather than the training days - if you are training on exhausted then it will be hard to push ahead and make gains

and unfortunately -i dont think you can increase stamina for distance and increase speed significantly over the same period - its too much expectation - so its one of the other unless you are a very gifted runner

Posted: 04/10/2004 at 17:18

A beautiful article with resonance far beyond running.

I have read it three times now and find it deeply "dedicational" (as inspiration is not the thing these days!).

Posted: 19/10/2004 at 16:35

Glad i read this article... helped to remind me that my love for running isnt related to the number of miles i have/ havent done in a week.
Posted: 06/03/2005 at 01:53


I've read a few of your posts about your "lifelong sport" for which you have trained for 20 years. I'm intruiged to know what it is. Apologies for being nosey.

As for the article, a very good one with some "home truths" in there.

I have to say that at present I'm prevented from running as much as I would like due to a heavy workload from a course I'm doing.

So, the runs I do get to do (2 or 3 10k's per week) are highly anticpated and cherished. As I use them to unwind I just run steadily and I find this really relaxing. In fact, when I have more time after easter, when my course finishes, I'm thinking I'll just keep to a steady pace but gradually increase the number of runs/distance.

In the past when I've tried "serious runners" training I've always ended up injured.

A sort of Forrest Gump approach I suppose.

Posted: 06/03/2005 at 07:57

really cheered me up, this article - slow is what I do, I love running so I'll just keep on - because not only am I the least disciplined person I know, I don't even like the word "discipline" - dedication now, that is something else!
ps I started running at the age of 58 and I'm now 61 - how much regard should I give to age when I am training?
Posted: 25/03/2005 at 00:37

What a great article.
Posted: 22/04/2005 at 17:43

Great article but why does everyone seem to run faster then me and further? I can do it in the gym on the treadmill but get me outside and I've lost it. Any suggestions?
Posted: 30/05/2005 at 21:28

Jennifer, I am sure I don't run faster than you or anyone -further is not such a problem for me ( but it was when I tried to run fast) - I run to time now, not distance and not speed- I've stopped worrying - result,less tense- run better; more fun!
Posted: 01/06/2005 at 10:49

I've been guilty of everything in the article this week. Ran a great 5K on Sunday and since then everything has been downhill(if only). I tried another 5K today, had to stop and walk several times, couldn't get the breathing right at all and I'm suppose to be running a 10K next Sunday.( some hope).Frustrating is not the word for it.
Posted: 02/06/2005 at 20:10

Great article - loved dedication means not giving up and not giving in and most people's problems come from unrealistic expectations and impatience.

Posted: 02/06/2005 at 20:44

I've recently bought both of this guy's books, they are really good reads for people like me who are just starting out on the road to "running for your life"!
Posted: 11/06/2005 at 00:21

this article is fantastic and am going to buy it and read it from back to back.......

it is so true what he says about dedication is what will pull one through the good and not so good runs!!!!!!!!
Posted: 08/10/2005 at 14:44

just got my book "No need for speed", can't wait to get started on it!!!!!!!
Posted: 11/10/2005 at 20:17

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