If you had told me two years ago that by the end of 2018, I would be writing a blog post with that title, I would have thought you were mad.
My whole life, I’ve primarily gone swimming for exercise, as well as occasional cycling. So last year, I decided to try a triathlon as I was already familiar with two out of the three necessary disciplines, but that meant I would have to get into running. I couldn’t see myself really enjoying it, but I reckoned it was doable. I started following a Couch to 5K program, which would get me out three times a week, increasing my running distance from zero to 5K in nine weeks.
The starting point was to run for one minute, do a recovery walk for one minute, then repeat nine times. It started off easy, but I was definitely feeling the burn by the end – still, I managed it. Gradually, the distance increased while the walking time decreased; the running itself didn’t feel any less tiring, but I noticed a definite decrease in my recovery time when I finished. The goals were always achievable, even on the days that weren’t so good, and I finished the program on schedule. Since then, I’ve increased my best distance to 10K.
I still try to go out three times a week; going without running even for a week or two can impact your performance. Even after a year and a half, it’s always enough to work up a sweat. When I set out, I know that by the end I’m going to be tired out and desperate to stop and rest. And yet I actively look forward to running on my scheduled days – there rarely comes a day when I’m “not feeling it”. (When that happens, the weather is usually responsible.) In contrast, while I do like swimming, I don’t find myself actually looking forward to it in the same way. So what is so great about running?
There are some obvious pros. Following an initial payment for decent shoes, running is free. There’s the change in scenery as you go. It’s an opportunity to listen to music while doing something productive, if you’re like me and usually find it hard to focus on two things at once – I usually have my headphones on when I’m running alone. But for me, there are reasons beyond that.
When I run, I feel more of an awareness of how I’m pushing my body than with other forms of exercise. I feel in control. I’m able to judge my own muscle power. This, combined with the rush of endorphins that accompanies exercise, makes me feel good. Yes, after a while, the breathing gets heavy, the calves get sore and sometimes there’s a stitch in the chest, which counteracts the pleasure somewhat. But even that tends to diminish if I run for longer than half an hour, so I’m properly warmed up and have hit my stride. And no matter how much pain I may be in, the finish always brings deep satisfaction. I recently read a self-help book called Choose Yourself by James Altucher, which emphasises that we actually have four different bodies we need to take care of in order to stay happy: the physical, the emotional, the mental and the spiritual. During and after running, I feel very strongly that I’m doing my physical body some good; I certainly tend to feel very healthy these days in-between runs.
There’s also an element of pride. Since primary school, I never took naturally to sports, so I take pleasure in being able to run regularly now – even if I’m not going to be winning any races – and continuing to challenge myself. Keeping a log of your times and distances is an excellent motivator; you can see yourself improving with time, and recording a personal best to beat. I’ve been finding myself gradually going faster, even when I’m not consciously trying to do so – it just happens naturally with more experience.
Recently, I’ve also been enjoying more of a social aspect to running. So much of running is mental: when I had the opportunity to go on runs with my sister, it felt much easier than when I was running alone. Talking to people takes your mind off the pain. When a running club started near me, I was able to go out with several people, allowing us all to try out new routes, make new friends and motivate each other. (This is especially useful in the winter months when the weather often makes you less willing to leave the house.) At the suggestion of two other members, I tried out a local park run for the first time recently, which was fun.
So if you think you might like to give running a try, I urge you to go for it! It really does bring a host of benefits. Try a Couch to 5K program to gradually break into it. Obviously keep well hydrated, remember to warm up before you run, and warm down/stretch when you’re done. In the current season, with the temperature dropping, bear in mind you’ll be warming up as you go and try not to wear so many layers that overheating might become a problem. If you live in the UK, see if you can find a park run near you once you’re able to do 5K – they’re free!
Do you like to run? Do you think you might try it some time? Let me know in the comments!