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”.