If you were to ask me, “When did you decide to become a runner?” I couldn’t give you a definitive answer. I’ve always enjoyed taking long, slow walks, but at some point, I started trying to jog. At first, I would make it about a tenth of a mile before I would have to slow down, struggling to catch my breath. But each time I went out, I tried to go a little further or run a little longer. Eventually (and before I became fully aware of what was happening), I was running more than I was walking.
For the first time, running started to feel good.
After a while, I decided that in order to feel like I could call myself a runner, I needed a solid goal. I chose to do a 10k (6.2 miles), which was just enough of a distance to be challenging without being prohibitively long. I signed up for a race and gave myself about a year to train and prepare. During all that time running on park paths and treadmills, I had a lot of time to think about why I was doing this, and more important, why I enjoyed it so much.
The answers, I decided, have a lot to do with my INFJ personality.
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1. Running is the perfect solitary activity.
I need alone time like I need sleep: I can go without for a while, but there will be consequences. Running gives me an excuse to be alone for an extended length of time without having to explain that need to others. I put on my headphones, play some music or a podcast, turn on my mile-tracking app, and revel in the solitude for an hour or two.
2. …but it doesn’t always have to be done alone.
While solitude is certainly a big draw for me, motivation and guidance from other people who are equally excited about this new endeavor are just as important. I was lucky to have a friend training for a half marathon at around the same time that I was training for my 10K. We both used the same app, which allowed us to see each other’s activities and make supportive comments to each other. Knowing that someone else was cheering me on and checking on my progress helped me feel accountable, and it motivated me to keep going.
Joining a running group can also be an excellent option. This is where your Extroverted Feelingcan help keep you on track (because INFJs dislike going back on commitments). Plus you can deep-dive into learning and experimenting with different techniques along with other people who are enthusiastic and knowledgeable.
Of course, races are the ultimate running groups. Over 10,000 people participated in the 10k race I completed, which sounds like it could easily be overwhelming. Luckily, it was incredibly well-organized and managed, and since I had done my research, I had a least a little preparation for what to expect. Yes, while waiting for my group to start, I was surrounded by people, and that’s definitely something to keep in mind if crowds make you uncomfortable.
But once the race began and we started to spread out along the course, the number of people made me feel supported rather than crowded. I had enough space to move at my own pace, and seeing so many people enjoying themselves or cheering each other on made me happier than I had any right to be at 5:30 a.m.
3. Your biggest competition is your past self.
INFJs are known as perfectionists. But INFJs know that the real goal isn’t perfection, it’s constant self-improvement. When I run, I don’t aim to be the first runner across the finish line. Rather, my goal is to have a better run than I did the last time, whether that means improving my pace, increasing my distance, or simply feeling less tired during or after the run. Having these little goals, where I’m only competing against my past self, satisfies that self-improvement aspect of my personality.
4. You can help change the world.
Exercising for personal reasons (like losing weight or staying active) is sometimes not enough for INFJs. We like to know that our time is being used to make the world a better place, which is why running as a way to raise money for a charity can be such a good match for us. Anything from official sponsorship to signing up for local races where your entrance fee goes towards helping a community group can satisfy our desire to give back.
5. You can focus on the future, while staying in the present.
In general, I’m quite capable of keeping my mind focused on my long-term plans. However, when I’m in the middle of running, I’m almost forced to live in the present. It’s as if running has become a form of meditation, one that allows me to be present in the moment and in my head at the same time. I pay special attention to my breathing (using a specific, controlled pattern based on my steps), I stick in my headphones, match my pace to my music, and let the rhythm of all these things simultaneously energize my body and calm my mind.
I never thought I would, or even could, be a runner. Running has given me an awareness of my physical self in space — something that doesn’t come naturally, but helps to keep me grounded and aware of the world around me.
More than that, it’s something that gives me joy and a sense of accomplishment simply for making a choice to tie on my sneakers and head out the door.