What’s your metaphor for life? According to Oprah, it’s running!

Yes, according to Oprah Winfrey, running is not only a good metaphor for life or an appropriate metaphor for life, it’s the greatest metaphor for life.


For Oprah, who famously ran the Marine Corps Marathon back in 1994 (when she was 40), the experience of crossing that finish line (and losing 72 pounds during training) gave this very successful woman the same sense of awe and personal satisfaction that running gives any of us non-elite runners who achieve similar goals. Not goals of being the fastest – although obviously we want to do our best – but the fact that we can finish something we hadn’t thought possible, not in a million years. And that’s where running as a metaphor for life comes in for those who’ve run, reinforcing the meaningful life lesson that we seem to need to keep relearning: if you put the work in, the results will come. For the biggest challenges we face, successful outcomes result from having a strong desire to see the goal through and the perseverance to get there.

There’s another lesson that running offers as a metaphor for life, and that’s the importance of running your own race, not trying to run “someone else’s race”, not trying for the impossible. In a recent personal reflection published in the Globe and Mail, Running has taught me some important life lessons, Audrey Danaher describes how she was encouraged to run at her own best pace. If you try to start running too fast or too long before you’re in condition, trying to keep up with others, you’re harming your chance of success. The same principle holds for anything you want to try that’s new to you. In other words, don’t set yourself up for failure; run your own race, metaphorically speaking, in all aspects of life.


In recent blog post in Pointless Overthinking blog entitled Running: It’s Not About Actual Running, Todd Fulginiti describes that same overwhelming sense of accomplishment when he completed his first half marathon. He nails it in identifying why so many of us experience this sense of awe as we cross a finish line, especially the first time:

Running isn’t really about running. It’s about doing things you didn’t know you could do or were reluctant to try. It’s about realizing that you can do difficult things well.

As many of you will know from previous blog posts through the years, starting to run long distances as a retirement project brought me impactful personal lessons very similar to those of Oprah, Audrey, and Todd. After a lifetime of identifying as a total non-athlete, I learned that I really could accomplish a significant physical goal with determination and perseverance. Running at my own best pace.  And I will never, ever forget the utter sense of awe and joy that engulfed me as I crossed the finish line in Central Park at the conclusion of the NYC Marathon back in 2011, when I was 65. Running my own race.  So for me, although I hadn’t really thought about it before, running is a good metaphor for life.   Perhaps not the greatest, as Oprah suggests, but a very good one.

Of course, not everyone can run.  Not everyone is able to attempt physical challenges of any kind. Regardless, the lessons offered by running are applicable metaphorically both to challenges we choose to take up and those challenges life presents us:

  • Run your own race (don’t feel pressured into doing something the same way others are doing it);
  • Find your own rhythm, your best pace (pursue your goals and responses on your own terms, within your own abilities);MetaphorRunning-Expectations
  • Don’t underestimate your abilities, ever;
  • Find enjoyment and personal satisfaction in what you do, always.

What have you taken particular satisfaction from in your life that could serve as a good metaphor for life?  I’m sure there are many. 🙂

P.S. I can think of another metaphor for life myself, but I don’t want to spoil the challenge for any of you. Country Girl might think of the same metaphor I have in mind! 😉


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31 Responses to What’s your metaphor for life? According to Oprah, it’s running!

  1. 3ESTE says:

    Running is great. Gives you a lot energy any you feel fresh all day. It’s great to do it in the morning

  2. Roy McCarthy says:

    For me, running definitely IS about the running. It’s not a metaphor for anything. It gave me a new and enduring boost when I was in danger of slipping into an unhealthy later life. And now I’m very aware that my running days will come to an end sooner or later, but I love the statement – “One day I won’t be able to do this any more – today is not that day.” 🙂

    • Jane Fritz says:

      You’ve convinced me. Running is just running, and every run is a treat. Unfortunately for me, “today” was that day sometime in mid May, but I pushed it for as long as I could and remain eternally grateful.

  3. As a classically trained ballet dancer I continue to dance well into middle age. I modify as needed, try not to compare myself to others, and have added less exacting dance styles to my repertoire. I think our body types and personality draw us to different sports, art forms, and hobbies. The music of dance is a key component to my enjoyment. Running for me is boring and feels like it is breaking down my body. I prefer power walk with occasional jogs and sprints. Hats off to you, Jane!

    • Jane Fritz says:

      A classically trained ballet dancer, wow! Most of us can’t imagine ever having been able to follow in your footsteps, but can most definitely appreciate the beauty of the movement, the athleticism, and the commitment to training required. It is the commitment part that is somewhat similar to those who find their joy and satisfaction in running or whatever else works for them. My hat is REALLY off to you, Evelyn!

  4. Amy C says:

    Running is the one thing that I’ve been able to do into my 60s, as well as swimming. I know a lot of people bike as well, but since I tried the clips and had a big fall breaking my elbow, I’m falling back on the two things I enjoy most. The fall was a big lesson for me as well, in accepting that there are times in life when we will fall and suffer injuries, of our own doing or from others. It helped me not to take it personally, knowing that it is all just part of the human experience. Thanks! Amy

    • Jane Fritz says:

      I’m glad to meet another running enthusiast. I’ve finally had to stop thanks to a complaining hip, but I wouldn’t have wanted to miss a minute I got to spend on the trails. Keep enjoying what you can, when you can and while you can. 😊

  5. Rose says:

    You’ve made running sound like a perfect metaphor for life. I tend to like to the ‘adventure’ or ‘journey’ as metaphors for life.

  6. Margaret says:

    Your post reminded me of the importance for me to achieve at my own pace and in the way that suits me. In several ways really – community action; politics; getting fitter; blogging(!) – especially when ‘the way I should do it’ doesn’t work for me.
    So your point ‘the importance of running your own race, not trying to run “someone else’s race”, not trying for the impossible’ is extremely poignant for me.
    I detest that parental, judgemental word ‘should’! 😏

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Margaret, you’ve summarized perfectly the true meaning behind the phrase “run your own race”, and hence how it serves as a metaphor for life. I relate to all your examples of what’s important to you, too!

  7. I’ve never been a runner or much of an athlete. My metaphors come from the artistic/creative side of life, like writing. To me, editing is standing before a large block of marble and slowly chipping away until something beautiful and refined emerges. It takes as long as it takes. The journey is personal and unique.

  8. Wonderful post, Jane! Wow, that’s quite an accomplishment — NYC Marathon at 65! I love and can relate to your summary of lessons to remember. As for running, the cartoon you chose pretty much sums me up 😁.

  9. I think taking up any sport, yes even golf, at a later stage in life can be a great metaphor for life. I starting playing in my mid 50’s and most of the time really love. I had been athletic most of my life until felled by FM and CFS in my mid 40’s. I was encouraged by my wife to try golf and quickly became hooked. It is definitely not the physical challenge of a marathon but it is very challenging mentally to maintain focus for very brief periods of time over a 4 hour period. Focus and positivity are the main ingredients of good golf.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      What an excellent example, Wayne. Concentration on focus and positivity in golf instead of succumbing to frustration and fatigue in golf – or in anything else – is surely what a metaphor for life should be all about.

  10. At this stage of my life it’s about putting one foot in front of another during a daily walk. And oh yes—I wrote a book. The writing is a metaphor for running the race. The promotion of it is the finish line. I have t made it that far yet. I seem to be running in place for now . . .

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Julia, you are so right, writing really is a metaphor for running a race. Instead of “put on your sneakers, open the door, and put one foot in front of the other,” it’s “think, plan, put bum in seat, write.” And it works, with that all important perseverance!

  11. Excellent post, Jane! I took up running in my late 40s and trained for/ran half-marathons into my 50s. I had to learn to run my own race etc., just as you noted. I had a couple of mini-strokes in my 50s and never got back to running again but the lessons learned have stuck with me. A full marathon at 65? You are amazing!!!


    • Jane Fritz says:

      Not really, I just followed the same strategy you did in your 40s and 50s, Deb – putting one foot in front of the other. So sorry to hear about your health crises; weren’t you glad you HAD done that running when you did?! I agree, those surprising feelings of accomplishment and lessons learned stay with you. 💕😊

  12. Wynne Leon says:

    Love this post, Jane! My favorite metaphor is climbing – but it has a lot of similarities to running. One foot in front of the other, there are ups and there are downs, just remember to breathe…

    The NYC marathon — wow, so impressive. I love knowing that — it adds to your very long list of amazing things you’ve done!

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Wynne. Oh my, yes, climbing would be an excellent metaphor for life. It’s like doing a marathon but with hugely increased physical danger!! But I can imagine the metaphor without having to actually do the climb, and that is a very good thing! 😉

  13. “What screws us up most in life is that picture in our head of how it’s supposed to be”- so true! I’m still working on my first full marathon and it’s taking much longer than I had hoped (calf issues, schedule…). Your NYC run at age 65 is inspirational! Thanks for referencing my post 🙂

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Needless to say, I loved your post. Going for a marathon, eh?! Now you know why it’s the perfect retirement project; training runs take LOTS of time, especially when you’re running “at your best pace”, which is a lot slower than most in my case. And injuries seem to abound; that’s your body asking, “what the heck are you doing?” But the feeling of accomplishment is simply grand. Good luck … and make sure you’e enjoying yourself.

  14. Excellent metaphor, even for those of us who have creaky knees. I would put writing a novel in the same category.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Writing a novel is an excellent example of a metaphor for life, Laurie. A worthy goal, finding your own rhythm, perseverance, and huge sense of accomplishment. And in both cases, the bottom line is “just do it”! Gardening might work as well.

  15. LA says:

    Well said! And of course, well run.

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