5 Things I’ve Learned Growing Up with An Elite Runner

July 9, 2012

Running has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. It was passed down like a family tradition from my dad who was an elite track and field athlete. No, you’ve never read an article about him in Runner’s World or seen him in an ad for Nike. But before I was even born, he’d accomplished what most of us everyday runners will never experience. Like how it feels to run 400 meters in 46.8 seconds. Or to get a letter from the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Committee on the day of your high school graduation saying you’ve “demonstrated the level of performance to warrant consideration as a potential Olympian” and inviting you to train with them for the summer.

By the time I came along, I never even realized running wasn’t an option. It was never forced upon me or expected. I just always saw it as a part of life. I remember being 7 or 8 years old watching college cross country meets that my dad was coaching and thinking how cool all his runners were. I spent the better part of my adolescent and teenage years trying to follow in his footsteps.


This is me in middle school winning the 400 m. Why am I wearing black socks?!? Don’t you love the chalked on finish line?

If my dad was never a runner, would I still be a runner today? The only thing I know for certain is how much running has taught me about life and how much I’ve learned about life from running. I’m pretty sure that all started with my dad.

My dad and me in January 2012 at the famous Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta

Here are 5 lessons I’ve learned growing up with an elite athlete about how to be a better runner and better person:

1.  If you want to reach your goals, you have to do the work. I would’ve thought my dad coined the phrase “There are no shortcuts to anyplace worth going” if I didn’t know opera singer Beverly Sills said it first. Finishing a tough race or hitting a PR comes from making the time to do the work. That also means sometimes sacrificing things we’d rather be doing, like sleeping in or going out with friends. Going from good to great takes focus, dedication and discipline. But it also requires balance. It’s up to us to choose to make our goals a reality despite the competing priorities, never-ending opportunities and obstacles that will inevitably get in the way. There’s power in simply doing what we say we’re going to do and trying not to make (or find) excuses.

2. Find a mentor. My dad’s first coach was just as much a reason for his early success as all the miles he logged on the track. Finding someone who believes in you, who inspires you, who leads by example and is focused on helping you achieve your best self is a critical part of reaching your goals. Whether it’s simply to run a mile without stopping or to finish your fastest marathon yet, having someone who supports you unconditionally and guides you with experience, advice and motivation is huge. This might be a pace group coach of a local running club or a friend or family member who’s an experienced runner. Soak up their knowledge, pick their brain for tips, lean on them for support and thank them for helping you be the best you can be.

3. If you have a big race coming up, don’t do anything stupid. Like running through the sliding glass door of your house and breaking every toe on one of your feet during a game of touch football. Two weeks before the state championship meet when you’re ranked #1 in the state. Yep, my dad did that. His dreams of ending the season with a bang were dashed and his team lost because he couldn’t run. While most of us aren’t crashing through our glass doors (or winning big races), the lesson holds true: After all the work we put into training, we need to do everything we can to make it to the start line in one [healthy] piece. That means taking care of our bodies. Getting enough sleep. Eating healthy. And not doing anything crazy right before our race. Be smart and careful and take good care of yourself – not only the week before the race but throughout your entire training season.

4. There are ups and downs in running and in life. Measure your success on how much effort you put in and how much joy you get out of it – not just in winning or in heartbreak. After the broken foot/sliding door disaster mentioned above, the rest of my dad’s running career was plagued with injuries – a torn hamstring, a broken leg, food poisoning – and the list goes on. My dad found himself allowing the fear of failure and the pressure to win robbing him of the love he once had for running. If you run long enough, the reality is that injuries and disappointment often come with the sport – no matter how fast or slow you go. But it’s what we do to pick ourselves up afterward that’s important. We can’t keep looking back at what should have been or could have been. We must dwell on the positive, learn from our struggles and then let them go. My dad reminds me that running is a vehicle for developing what’s most important: our character, passion, work ethic and respect for others. A wise person once said, “Strength and courage aren’t always measured in medals and victories. They’re measured in the struggles we overcome. The strongest people aren’t always the people who win, but the people who don’t give up when they lose.”

5. Make sure you’re doing what you love and what you’re meant to be doing. When I was in elementary school, my dad was the athletic director of the high school he ran at and also coached cross country at a local college. He loved it and was great at it. It was his calling. And he stopped doing it because he thought it took away too much time from his family – us. But while balance and priorities are important, it’s also important to dedicate your life to doing something you love. Something that inspires you. That makes you happy. That uses your greatest passions and strengths to make a real difference. For most of us, we spend more time at work than we do at home while we’re awake. We have to make it count.


And that’s really where the story of this blog starts. I LOVE running – talking about it, doing it, shopping for it, learning about it from others. It’s something that makes me really happy. It’s what I want to think about, read about, and write about in my free time. So I’ve finally decided to go for it … to share my uncensored adventures of what running teaches me about life and what life teaches me about running. I’m doing what my dad taught me – doing something I love. Thank you for being part of this journey with me.

Who inspired you to start running? What lessons have you learned from him or her? Are you doing what you love?


Robert Briggs

Nice blog. Like the honesty you provided. Keep it going. I am currently watching my wife start to blog as well and it seems like a great release. Best of luck to you with this new adventure and look foreword to your next post.


Robert, Thank you for your incredibly kind words. I’m excited to have you as one of my first readers. The one thing you can always count on from me is honesty … good, bad or unladylike 🙂 I’d love to check out your wife’s blog. Let us know where we can find her! Sending her lots of good thoughts! We’re all in this together. Happy running!

Dave N.

Great post. I just wish I had someone who could have inspired me when I was younger. I discovered running just 4 years ago, when I was 43. The joy I get from running is so unbelievable, I just wish I could have had that back when I was 13. Good for you, Jes, to have someone like your Dad show you the way!


I love hearing you talk about the joy running brings you. It is so true! There is nothing quite like the feeling of empowerment and triumph after tackling a long run or a hard run. Sounds like even though you didn’t have someone who inspired you when you were young, you have a LOT of inspiration you could share as a mentor for others looking to start running or keep running. Thank you so much for reading my blog and for your support. Can’t wait to follow your running journies!


I LOVE THIS! “running is a vehicle for developing what’s most important: our character, passion, work ethic and respect for others” Otherwise I couldn’t get up at 5am!


Glad that resonated with you Michaela! I’m still working on the getting up at 5 a.m. thing. I’m terrible at it but know I just have to do it to make the day longer. I could use tips from you on that! Thanks so much for reading!


Oh my goodness… I LOVE that story about your dad and the sliding glass door. He is such a great man…an inspiration to you and I know he has inspired many other young runners that he has coached. Thanks for sharing!!


Glad you enjoyed the story Emily. Thanks so much for checking out my blog and sharing with others! xoxo


Congratulations on making your dream come true. Now I know where you get your passion. From talking about starting the blog on the beach and now it has become a reality. You should be proud of your accomplishments. Love to you and Fran.


Thanks for your kind words Maria!

Tidy-Up Gal

Lovely story. I love that the tips are applicable to most things in life! Now the black socks though? 😛


Glad you liked the tips! And yes, the black socks … not acceptable during any era! Not sure how those made it into my 12-year-old wardrobe!


Awesome post. #4 really spoke to me! I definitely needed to hear that today. 🙂


So glad you found it helpful! Thanks for reading 🙂

Hayley @ Running Down the Runway

I can totally relate to your story as I attribute my love of running to my Dad as well! I grew up watching him lacing up his shoes, and heading out the door almost everyday, only to return well over an hour later. I remember him dragging me on runs and though I somewhat hated it at the time- it has developed into one of my passions!


I love it! Thanks for sharing your story! We are lucky to have had such great role models. Glad you are keeping his running streak alive 🙂 Happy running!


I’m glad I saw your tweet. Count me in as a new follower 😉


Thank you so much Amy! Your support means a lot.


Hey, Jes! So excited to this become a reality. Great to read about your dad – and our good friend! As you know, my dad ran the Peachtree Road Race for years, and that’s what got all of us started. It is definitely a passion that is passed along isn’t it? Love you, Jere


You and your dad are also one of the reasons I started running all those years ago. I’m so lucky to have had such great role models! Thanks for checking out my blog! xoxo


Such a great blog! I honestly felt like you were writing my story from my life, except my mom was the Olympic caliber runner athlete …breaking records in high school & went on to run in college & after I was born running & being active. Like you, it was just what I grew up around & what I thought everyone did in their free time 🙂 and growing up my mom was my high school track coach. I have gained so much from her & everything in this blog is all part of what she taught me & I think part of that runners mentality & dedication to life’s lessons that come with the miles put on our shoes 🙂 happy running & inspiring!