Tag Archives: running

Why I Run

This morning I ran the SMH Half Marathon and so it seemed appropriate to put this post (which has been writing itself in my head for a while now) into black and white.

There are a million good things about running, and very few bad, particularly when you’re a fairly lazy runner like me, who, despite the fact that I’m about to list the benefits of running I can think of, still manages to come up with excuses NOT to run on a frequent basis.

  • Head space– “I lose my breath, I find my answers”. So said a Nike ad I tore out of a magazine and stuck above my desk with Blu-tac to motivate me (to do what, I’m not sure- look like the stick thin girl running across the page, perhaps). It’s totally corny, but kind of true… running is a great opportunity to think. I don’t necessarily think about anything particularly profound. My thoughts range in depth from somewhere between “What will we have for dinner tonight?” and “What am I doing with my life?” Usually I ponder plans for the kids (existing and future), work, random moves to NZ etc. Sometimes I indulge in idle fantasies about achieving super-amazing things (winning awards, setting records, whatever, usually completely unrealistic).
  • Doggy exercise– I generally try and take the dog so I feel extra virtuous (plus she gives me an excuse to stop for breath when she needs to sniff around).
  • Fresh air– Another cliché but there is something very therapeutic about being outside, blowing away the cobwebs, getting some fresh air and all the other catchphrases your Mum used to come up with. I love being out the most when it’s early in the morning and the air is cool, preferably somewhere vaguely bushy where I can smell the gum trees and hear the whipbirds.
  • Not eating– since doing my calorie-counting diet last year, I realized that (although better than many other forms of exercise) an hour’s run does not actually burn a lot of calories compared to your average daily food intake. Exercise physiology aside, however, I think the health & weight-loss benefits are about so much more than burning calories. Firstly, the time you’re out running is time when you physically cannot be eating (unless you’re really sad and desperate) and for me, I also need to not eat for 2 hours before a run or I get a terrible stitch. But really, it’s the exercise psychology that’s most powerful. Running puts you in a better frame of mind and creates a sense of vitality and healthiness that motivates you to watch what you eat a bit more. You start to feel like that girl in the Nike ad and you can bet that she doesn’t go home and eat a piece of cake: she eats an apple.  And even if you don’t feel that much like the Nike girl, you start to think that one day in the not-too distant future, you might. If you don’t go home and eat that cake, that is!
  • Exercise– despite not burning a huge proportion of your daily caloric intake, compared to a lot of other exercise, running is still a fairly good way to burn some calories. That’s all I’ll say about that, because burning calories is really NOTHING to do with why I run.
  • Portable– you can do it anywhere (as long as it’s safe) and so it’s not a bad way to see new places.
  • Easy– well it is for me, I know there are people who say they “can’t” run. I’m not sure I believe them. Really, you need very little in the way of “proper” technique (just look at the multitude of odd running styles at any running event), skill, knowledge or expertise. You don’t need equipment, rules, uniforms or team-mates. Just a bit of effort to put on your shoes and step outside (seriously, this is the hardest part, the rest is easy).
  • Achievement– I remember running my first 10km fun run in 1998. It felt awesome. That year I did the City To Surf for the first time- 14 km felt like forever and I remember being so stiff by the time I got home I could hardly get out of the car. I said at the time I couldn’t imagine ever running further than 14km, that was my limit. The year I turned 29, I decided to do my first half marathon. That really seemed MASSIVE, like something only really hard-core people did, which made me feel partly hard-core and partly like a try-hard. I felt amazing crossing the finish line, actually quite emotional. I knew then that while I didn’t exactly feel like doing a marathon then and there, that I’d never rule it out as a possibility. And in 2009, at the age of 33, it became a possibility. I did the Gold Coast Marathon in 3 hours 57 mins and then 18 months later, the Auckland marathon. On a smaller scale, too, such as starting to run again after a long break (like having a baby), it’s amazing how you progress. One day you can’t run up that really steep hill, a couple of weeks and a few runs later, you suddenly realise you can. It’s really a great sense of achievement on a run-to-run basis, not just a race-to-race one.
  • It’s my thing– my running belongs to me. I’m not particularly interested in competing against other people (I say that, although after a race I always wish I’d gone a bit faster so I could have beaten someone I know). But on the whole, I run at my own pace. I’m not even all that into PBs and improving my times and what-not. And it’s a great leveler. You have people who you think would be pretty fit who run way slower than you and the reverse. It’s always fun to look around at the start of an event- some people look amazing- fit, lean, light- and they are terrible runners, others, a bit overweight, with funny running styles- you find yourself feeling slightly foolish for assuming you’d be faster than them because something about the way they run evidently works!
  • Virtue- at the end of the day, I feel virtuous if I run! The earlier the better- it’s out of the way, my good deed for the day- done!

And so, there are a load of reasons to run. Probably why I have never ever come back from a run thinking “I really wish I hadn’t bothered”.

NYRs

I am a resolution-maker from way back. As a child, I loved going back to school. Apart from the fact that I was never terribly good at entertaining myself so got bored by about day 3 of the summer holidays, each back-to-school was a chance at a fresh start, to miraculously transform myself into something perfect (the inevitable and exponential annual deterioration somehow forgotten/denied/justified). I made New Year’s resolutions and birthday resolutions… not to be naughty, never to cry again (I’m not sure why this was such a point of shame but for some reason crying in front of other people was one of the biggest embarrassments I felt I could suffer as a child), to keep my room/desk/locker tidy, to wash my face every day, to be more “grown-up” (ironically I think if I wrote a list now it’d include “be less grown-up and more fun”), to always write neatly…. In fact, the handwriting resolution was renewed with every new exercise book throughout the year.

Albert Einstein is famed (among other things) for saying insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Every year I made these resolutions and, no surprise, every year I broke them. They were often the same old resolutions re-hashed, gaining a veneer of maturity as I got older, but essentially they were all in the same vein- be healthier, be nicer, work harder, ie BE BETTER.

Resolutions are great for making you think more about the way you want to live your life and what you think you can improve on, but they set you up for failure, really. You can’t be bothered exercising January 3rd and you’ve “failed” the daily exercise resolution. Ah, well, only 362 days until you can renew that one. You finish the last piece of Christmas cake on New Year’s Day- bang, there goes “eat healthily”. Essentially, a conventional list of New Year’s Resolutions sums up the perfect being you think you want to be without really giving any concession (or credit) to the flawed, busy, conflicted, trying-your-best (well ok sometimes) being you actually are.

And so I think it was the year I turned 30 that I decided “enough with all this”. Instead of writing a list of resolutions, I set myself some goals for the year. Some of them were a bit lame- I think I resolved to “go out more” and “meet new people” which are probably almost as pointless as “write neatly all the time”- they are as vague as the old ones were specific and therefore set themselves up for failure because they aren’t really very well defined and when you can’t define what you’re trying to achieve you can’t really achieve it.

But that year I decided I’d do a half marathon. There was some consideration as to “how” (run 3 times a week, follow training plan x, y or z- I suppose you could call them “sub-resolutions”) but my goal/resolution/whatever you want to call it was simply “Do a half marathon”. And I did. I didn’t run 3 times every week. I did follow training program x, y AND z, as well as a to w, sporadically and inconsistently. But I did it. I ran 21.1km in roughly 1 hr 50 minutes. It was the furthest I’ve ever run and as I was crossing the finish line in the Opera House forecourt I felt strangely emotional. The same kind of feeling I’ve had after accomplishing anything major despite the fact that your preparation is never perfect and you’re not quite sure you’re going to make it, you somehow do. (I’ve done loads more halves since, it’s my favourite running distance and is no longer the big deal it was to me then but I think therein lies another lesson- or blog post- about challenges and perspective and lots of other blogworthy themes.)

Since then, I try to think each year of what’s coming up and what I want to do in the year ahead. My list isn’t necessarily full of “goaly” goals- the items on it might include a holiday that’s already been half-planned, developing a hobby I already have (such as “do a photography course”) or even just an event that’s happening in my life that year (eg June: give birth). I try to make sure there aren’t too many of them and that they are some of the things a good goal should be- realistic and time-specific and all that self-help speak. Some of them get crossed off when I realise they’re not quite right for me this year- maybe they’re unnecessary, unrealistic or simply something I’m not prepared to put the time into just yet. Sometimes life goes off in a direction you don’t predict earlier in the year and your list needs to be amended. It’s kind of hard to always foresee where you’ll be in December when it’s only January, that’s part of the fun.

And so I’ve been thinking, “What’s on the cards for this year….?” My list is only half formed, there’s a big(ish) question mark hanging over the second half of 2014 at this point and things are about to change big time for the little Ls and myself when I go back to work in 3 weeks.

So let’s just say my list’s a work in progress and for the moment, to be continued….