Why I Run (and Why You Should, Too)
The photo is of me finishing my first race, a 5k fun run. At the time I weighed around 300 pounds. Photo by John Alexander.
Running has helped me to find something I did not realize I was looking for: respect for myself. I have spent a good part of my life striving to accomplish things that would garner the respect of others. What I really was looking for, though, was a way to respect myself. When I run, whether it is 10 feet, a mile, or 10 miles, that is all me. One hundred percent of my effort, and my accomplishment, comes from within. I can’t take that away from myself. Getting a medal at the finish gate of a race is just fine, and it’s fun to look at and show other people. But then it goes into the sock drawer. Medals are nothing compared to the feelings of self-worth and capability that come from getting out and moving, for having done something that a couple of years ago was far beyond my abilities. Running teaches me important lessons about myself.
Maybe you have another type of cardiovascular physical activity that holds the same potential as running. I can think of two: swimming and cycling. It’s no accident that people who do one of these three activities are more likely to also do one or both of the other two.
At no point in my life would I have predicted that running would be one of my regular activities. I struggle sometimes to view myself as a runner. I have what I believe to be valid reasons to not run.
- Even when I was a child I did not like to run. It was something that I would do with some incentive, but not something I would choose to do routinely.
- No one in my family was athletic. We didn’t even like to watch sports, what to speak of participating in them.
- I have short legs. Shorter than you are thinking. No, even shorter.
- At earlier times in my life when I have been pushed into running it has led to pain and injury.
I could probably create a more extensive list of plausible reasons (excuses) for not running, or for that matter, participating in any physical activity. I am really good at coming up with excuses.
So why run? I’m not particularly good at it. I am a slow runner. For me, running is not about pace, but about distance and challenging trails. I’m not out to win any race, and it is unlikely that I will ever come out at the lead. I am not really interested in out-competing anyone.
I took up running after I had lost about 100 pounds of body fat. I was looking at others who had reached the same sorts of goals that I had taken on. Running had been a critical part of their program. It was their outward demonstration of what they were accomplishing. They looked like they were having fun doing it. And at some point during their wellness journey, they had been just like me. I wanted to know them. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to become a version of myself that belonged in that group of guys.
So I started running. And I began to realize what a tremendous mental barrier running (or any consistent physical activity) was for me. For me, running was a like a wall that I could not get around or climb. In my mind, I believed that I could not run.* I believed that I could not become a runner.
When I started running I did not have any idea of the benefits that running would bring me. Oh, I had the idea that running could help me be in better physical condition, and that it would be good for me. But I did not have solid concepts of the kind that would get me out of bed and into my running shoes on a regular basis. For me, those came later. I had to develop a list of reasons to run (motivation), but when I look back at those reasons now, I think that I am fortunate to have stuck with it for long enough to discover some of the real benefits of running, the reasons that I use today.
Some of the reasons I used for starting were:
- I needed to do something for physical activity,
- I needed something that I could do almost anywhere,
- I wanted something I could do outside after dark (so others would not see me), and
- as a group, runners had attained the sort of physical conditioning I was after.
To get started, I used a smart-phone app (Zombies, Run! 5k for iOS, by Six to Start), and I went for runs three days per week. The app was good for me because it assumed no experience with running, at all. Even for someone who weighed over 300 pounds and who had a lifetime of dreading anything remotely resembling running, the first few runs were quite easy. And if they weren’t, it was fine to walk for the day’s program, and repeat it again as many times as I needed to. Like a lot of programs designed for beginning runners, at first there was not a lot of actual running. It began with short intervals of running, with walking in between. As the program continued, the running intervals gradually increased. About six weeks into the program, I completed the first running interval, then did not want to stop. I kept running that day, through the entire session. I ran my first 5k. The app would tell me to run, and I ran. The app told me to walk, and I kept running.
I should out that this was not my first try at running. It was not my first try to habitually exercise.
I have learned that there is no need for perfection in any aspect of a run. One of my excuse behaviors is telling myself that I can’t go do something because I haven’t gotten everything I need, or haven’t gotten fully organized, or haven’t learned the things I need to know. I can’t go running because I haven’t gotten that order of new socks yet; you know, the ones that are going to make me a great runner. Or I need to read more in that book about running marathons. These are nonsense. The important thing is to do it, and to acquire miles. If you are having a slow day, even walking, that’s fine. If your phone or watch does not correctly record your run, that’s fine. If you get distracted and end up playing Frisbee with a German Shepherd in the park, that’s fine. What you want, a year from now, is not four or five perfect events, but dozens or hundreds of imperfect ones. Only rarely will the stars all line up, but because you have done countless runs, you won’t remember one from the others. Lace up, and go.
*I still struggle with this as a mental barrier. And it is fine to struggle.