Running can be a very polarizing sport. On one end of the spectrum, you have diehard fans who compete in ultramarathons and races throughout the year, and on the other end, you have haters who say that it’s a sport for crazy people who enjoy pain and suffering. In my life, I have been both a lover and a hater of running, and trust me when I say that I was a hater for a long, long time before I finally came around.
I had (sort of) tried it a couple of times when I was younger, but it never came naturally to me the way it seemed to to other people. Don’t get me wrong; I was plenty active growing up — I was on a swim team as a kid and teenager — but even so, running was always my Achilles’ heel. We’d do dryland training from time to time and while the rest of my teammates seemed to be able to run without a fuss, I struggled to keep up. Even half a mile felt like a lot for me. And a whole mile? Forget it.
So, I made up my mind early on that running was “too hard” and not something I could ever enjoy. I wrote it off, and regrettably spent most of my life telling myself the story that I was “not a runner”. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I finally tried challenging that notion. How I got into it is a story in and of itself, but after training and running my first race with my mom, I was hooked.
The thing is — and most runners will readily admit this — running is a little insane. It has an intensity that scares a lot of people away. Sure, usually you feel great after a run, but during? It’s work. It can be grueling, hot, sweaty, even miserable work. Sometimes you feel like stopping; other times the hardest part is dragging your butt out to get started in the first place. Simply put, it ain’t for sissies.
But looking back on the last few years of my life, I can see that running has been hugely influential on the person I have become. It might sound dramatic to say that it has changed my life, but I believe that it has. And if it left such a strong imprint on me, surely it could do the same for others. Now, I’m not saying that everyone in the world has to become a runner; if it’s truly not for you, then it’s not for you. But if you’re open to giving it a try, here are just some of the ways that running can transform your life.
You’ll get in amazing shape, and possibly live longer. Running is one of the best cardiovascular activities out there. It will keep your heart strong, your lungs healthy and your muscles toned. Like any form of exercise, it can reduce stress and lower the risk of long-term diseases, potentially increasing your longevity. Of course, running is also high-impact and can be hard on your body over time, but running in the right gear (especially shoes) and working on your form can help minimize the risk of repetitive motion injuries, falls and sprains.
You’ll become stronger through pushing yourself to do things that are challenging. What if I told you that a huge part of the value of running is the difficulty of it? For me, running isn’t worth doing because it’s easy; it’s worth doing because it’s hard. It toughens you up on so many levels. You’ll quite literally “feel the burn” of your muscles and lungs as you start to fatigue. Your feet, your legs, your hips and your back will get sore.
But the real challenge is more mental — and the real question is, can you keep on pushing and striving towards a larger goal even when things are starting to get really uncomfortable and hard? Can you move through layers of physical, mental and emotional resistance and keep going anyway? Can you ignore the negative, self-sabotaging voices inside that tell you you “can’t” do something and then proceed to prove them wrong? Running will push you to do all of these things and more, and you’ll be better off for it.
You’ll become better at sitting with discomfort and prioritizing long-term rewards over short-term comfort and ease. I wish I could say that running gets easier over time. It does, in a way, as your body adapts and becomes stronger, but you’ll always be riding the edge of discomfort. While running shouldn’t be painful, when it’s done right, it should bring you up against your edges and push you out of your comfort zone.
This may not ever feel entirely easy or pleasant, but when you practice doing that on a regular basis, you’ll at least get more used to being with discomfort — observing it, noticing it, and letting it pass without attaching any meaning to it. Sooner or later you may even find you’re less attached to “being comfortable” and that it feels more natural to make decisions that benefit you in the long term rather than resorting to doing whatever is easiest in the moment. Running is a perfect example of how sometimes, the difficult things in life are great teachers for us.
You’ll become more in-tune with your body, mind and surroundings. As challenging as running can be, it can also feel oddly meditative. Especially being outdoors where you can breathe the fresh air and feel the sun on your face. Your senses are engaged, perhaps even heightened. You might find yourself marveling at the beauty of the scenery that you normally breeze by without a second thought while you’re driving in a car. If you go without music, you hear sounds you normally don’t notice — the sound of your feet hitting the ground as they fall into a rhythm with your breath is borderline hypnotic.
Some people run to distract themselves, watching TV on their treadmills or listening to music as they go. But I run to practice being more present. It’s amazing how rich the experience of just running can be on its own, and being free of distractions (even for a few minutes) is wonderfully liberating. Running without distractions is also safer because you stay more aware of what’s happening around you, which makes it easier to avoid dangers like oncoming cars and bikes.
You can make new friends. While there’s an incomparable peace and stillness that comes with running alone, running with others can be a lot of fun. Running is a great social activity to do with partners, friends, family, and fur babies. One thing I really enjoy about running is the way it brings people from many different walks of life together. And there are always exceptions, but in my experience, the running community is generally made up of positive, upbeat, supportive people who will encourage you along in your journey. There’s a real kinship among runners — a shared understanding that we’re all a little crazy in the same way, we’re all pushing ourselves to see what we are capable of, and we’re all in this together. And there’s something special about that.
You’ll expand your sense of what is possible for you. Running is incredibly empowering and a huge confidence-booster. At least, for me, it has been. I believed I could never in a million years become a runner — and then I proved myself wrong. I went from struggling to run half a mile to running 5Ks, 10Ks and even a half marathon. My “limitations” with running had been entirely self-created, and once I realized that, I felt like I could do anything.
The same could be said for any challenging thing in life — anything you’re telling yourself is hard or impossible, anything that seems out of reach. I don’t know you, but I can tell you this: you are strong, and you are capable of so much more than you realize. So start questioning and challenging those stories that are holding you back in life, and I can almost guarantee you’ll surprise yourself with what you can do.
Running may not be for the faint of heart, but it is quite the journey. If you choose to go on this path, know that it will challenge you, it will help you grow, and it will take you to places you wouldn’t expect. And if that doesn’t make it a worthwhile pursuit, I don’t know what does.
How about you? Are you a runner? If so, what do you love about it and why? Feel free to let me know in the comments below.