Everything I Know About Running I Learned From ‘The Little Engine That Could’

Little Engine That Could

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My favorite book growing up was The Little Engine That Could.

I hadn’t thought much about the book until one of my last trips home. I found my childhood copy amongst the things that my parents kept from so many years ago.

In reading the book for the first time since childhood, I was struck by how much of my running career, and my life, is reflected in that Little Blue Engine.

The Little Engine That Could

In case you missed the children’s book classic, first of all, shame on you. Get a copy immediately.


The Little Engine that Could is the story of the Happy Little Red Engine. She is pulling train cars full of toys to the other side of the mountain for all the boys and girls, but she breaks down.

Then Shiny New Engine comes by, and the toys beg the Engine to take them over the mountain so that kids will have toys to play with. The Shiny New Engine says he is carrying important people and fancy dining cars, no way he would help ‘the likes of you.’

The Little Engine That Could

Then the Big Engine comes by, and again the toys beg the Engine to help them over the mountain. But the Big Engine also says no. He takes big heavy machines and important newspapers for adults to read over the mountain.

Then the Rusty Old Engine stops and again, the toys beg to be taken over the mountain for the boys and girls. The Rusty Old Engine says he is old and weary after working and needs to rest, so he can’t help the toys.

Then the Little Blue Engine comes by. The toys again ask to be taken over the mountain. The Little Blue Engine says that he is used only to move trains around the yard. He’s never been over the mountain. But the toys still ask for his help, they need to get over the mountain. The Little Blue Engine agrees to help, and the toys pile in.

The Little Engine That Could

The Little Blue Engine starts over the mountain. As he begins to climb the mountain, he begins to chant “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”

The Little Engine That Could

Spoiler Alert: The Little Blue Engine makes it over the mountain. All of the toys get to the little boys and girls. The Little Blue Engine is very proud

“I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could.”

The Little Engine That Could

 I Think I Can, I Think I Can

I try to be like the Little Blue Engine.

It can be so easy, so tempting, to stick with what we know. Be like the Shiny New Engine and stay in our comfort zone: “I do this, but I don’t do that.”

“I’m not a runner.” “I couldn’t finish a marathon.” 

But amazing things can happen when you just try and have a little confidence in yourself.

Can I get up off the couch and start running? Who knows, but unless I try I’ll never know.

I think I can, I think I can.

Can I run a marathon? Who knows, but unless I try I’ll never know.

I think I can, I think I can.

To this day, when running up a big hill (ok, I’m probably walking up the big hill, but the idea still stands) I find myself chanting: I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.

Just as important is to acknowledge your accomplishments: I thought I could. I thought I could.


Little Engine That Could


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Sara is a runner, running coach, writer, blogger, and a lover of all things written.

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