How many times as a runner have you come across the incomprehension of non-runners upon announcing your intention to head out for a long run or intervals session. They screw their face up tight, frown and bark out WHY??? Or better yet come out with the cocky “Where’s the lion?” Coach Kevin Smith has the perfect response –
“People ask why I run. I say if you have to ask you will never understand. It is something only those select few know. Those who put themselves through pain but deep down know how good it feels.”
Far too often running is thought of as a chore people take on for weight loss and yet, for the vast majority of us dedicated runners, who love the sport and have made it part of our lives that has little to nothing to do with it. Yet have we ever taken the time to focus and work out our own personal why? Why do we push ourselves to breaking point on a regular basis and weirder yet, if we’re honest, enjoy doing that? What is it that keeps us going during those dragging final miles? Why do we still want to go out and train even when it’s cold, wet and muddy?
Perhaps it is for one of the numerous proven health gains such as,
- Preventing high blood pressure by opening and widening the arteries
- Increase in white blood cells combats the early stages of diabetes and cancer
- Increased bone density from weight bearing exercise delays the onset of osteoarthritis
- Aerobic exercise purges the blood of kynurenine which accumulates during times of stress and depression
- Running causes the body to release endorphins which improve the mood and in some cases endocannabinoids that cause ‘runners high’
As runners we do tend to have a greater than average appreciation and drive to look after our bodies but as reasons alone the above don’t quite cut it. When you ask a fellow runner the most common replies vary from stress relief, alone time or conversely for the social aspect to amusing replies like ‘it makes the pavement feel needed’ or my personal favourite ‘to feel like a kid again!’ Still, I feel like there is more to it than this. The real reason why is a personal thing that can only be found when you really look within.
After a hard search for the answer Ed Stafford describes his moment of clarity for why he seeks adventure beautifully –
“In that new space now devoid of avoidance, is a clarity, the elusive answer to the question why having simply floated through the window one day, like the summer smell of freshly cut grass.
The answer is of course to live. To really bloody live!”
Personally, I feel I have levels of why I run. On the surface are easily graspable reasons such as the high of success when I beat a personal target or do well in a race and the way this makes me feel physically and mentally strong. The enjoyable simplicity of getting out into the countryside only requiring a good pair of trainers, my own motivation and the dog to keep me company. Yet still, I didn’t feel that was my deepest why.
Then it came to me, after weeks of pondering the matter just as I summited a seemingly endless, soul destroying hill on a long run the other day. I have recently attended a couple of yoga days and though I thoroughly enjoy the physical stretching side of it the being still, emptying your mind, inner calmness of it all completely eludes me. It was then as I jogged along the ridgeline enjoying the view, tired but elated that it came to me. I run……………… for the calm! When I am running there is no need to stress about all the things I should be doing, because I am already doing one of them. My body has been given a physical task to do, so as I chug along at that steady pace the constant changing scenery and pleasing sense of completing a challenging long route are like hypnotic factors allowing the mind to rest and enjoy the moment. Though the mind may wander from time to time, they are always inconsequential trips down memory lane or similar happy musings almost as if your mind is a butterfly fluttering from topic to topic never pausing long enough to cause stress. So that is why I run, because in an absurd twist when I am on a long run, I find I am at my most still. All the evil hill intervals and gruelling tempo runs are worth it for the chance to explore the countryside in the peace and quiet of my own mind.