Some people run to get fit. Some run to lose weight. Some use running as a reason to be outside and among nature. Some run in order to train for an event or a sport. Some run to be alone. Some run to be with others. Some people see running as a way to test their physical limits and others see it as a way to handle stress. Right now, there are thousands of people tying their laces and heading out, and each of them has their own special reasons for doing so.
Me? I started running when I was 38, a year after I had my son. At that time I made yearly trips from Canada back to Venezuela to visit my family. One morning I went for a short run. When I returned I went straight to my grandmother's room. She was 92 at the time. "Where were you? Why are you so sweaty?" she asked. "I went for a run", I said. "Why?" she asked. My reply: "Because I like it and it's fun". She looked at me, confused that I would willingly choose to do an hour of hard exercise for no apparent reason.
Since then, I've covered many thousands of miles in many different places with many different people, and all the while I've been learning why it is that I love to run. Here are a few of those reasons.
1) FOR HEALTH
The physical and mental health benefits of running are well established. Running lowers the risk of coronary heart disease. It conditions my cardiovascular system. It helps prevent Type 2 diabetes. It imposes stress on my bones and joints, making them stronger in the long term. It reduces the risk that I'll contract Alzheimer's disease and it will help to slow the onset of other diseases. Nutritionally, running regularly encourages me to be more mindful of what I eat. Psychologically, it has a substantial, positive effect on my mood, my ability to focus, and my stress levels. Which leads to reason number two...
2) FOR THERAPY
Running alone is a great way to process my thoughts and connect with myself. While running I can plan, reflect and wonder about all sorts of things. And after I finish running there's an added bonus: I feel more energetic. I feel like I've accomplished something and my senses feel heightened. A good, lonely run is truly invigorating.
But I don't always run alone. I run with others too, and that leads to heartfelt conversations and deepened connections between myself and the people I already know, and with people I don't know that well. Outside of that, there's something special about running beside another person. Talking while moving forward and looking ahead opens a conversation up and allows us to talk about the good and the bad, about our kids and our spouses, about our projects and our long week at work.
3) FOR SIMPLICITY
Running is one of the world's most natural and inclusive sports. No other sport has lower barriers to entry for the average person. Although running has become incredibly popular, most races are still open to anyone who wants to join. Age, ability and gender don't matter. If I want to, I can run the exact same routes as the world's best runners, and to do so I don't need to buy fancy, expensive equipment or a membership with a specific club.
In fact, one of the reasons I even began in the first place was that I could start without spending any money on equipment or memberships. All I needed were some running shoes and a sports bra.
4) FOR ACHIEVEMENT
My first marathon was the Ottawa Marathon in 2008. I trained for it using a plan from a book my brother sent me. Each week I had to increase the distance of my runs, so I would trace a route using Google Maps from my house to a specific point and ask my husband to meet me there. There was something exciting about running every Sunday, going further and further from home, and each week being able to predict my arrival time with greater and greater precision. What was more exciting was the feeling after I crossed the finish line of my first marathon. It's something I struggle to describe and still think about regularly.
Clearly, I'm not the only one. Road races and marathons happen all over the world, all the time, and completing one is often an item on many people's bucket list. Why though? Personally, I think it is because completing a marathon is a difficult, challenging, but not impossible feat. It is a mental and physical mountain that requires training and commitment, but when completed it leaves the participant feeling empowered to do more in every area of their life.
Of course, most marathons are races and many--me included--like to focus on that. However, for me, marathons are about doing better than my previous self, doing better than I did before. For example, in the Ottawa Marathon the only thing I was focused on was crossing the finish line. But in my second marathon I wanted to break the four hour barrier. Once I accomplished that I wanted to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Then I wanted to set a new PB. There is something about the challenge of working towards a specific, objective goal that makes the journey exciting for me.
5) FOR A GREATER CAUSE
Don't forget though, a marathon is much more than a bunch of individuals heading towards a finish line. Every race involves hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of volunteers. Family and friends are there to offer endless support and fans and spectators cheer for “their” runner, and for total strangers as well. Being a part of the final miles of a marathon, where exhausted runners are pushing their limits, enduring the pain and counting down the final meters, is a powerful experience both as a participant and a spectator.
Outside of the community that comes with running and running events, there are also higher causes. Many runners run in events not only for themselves, but also to raise money for a charity or a specific cause. The biggest example of this is the London Marathon. In 2018, the Virgin Money London Marathon raised a record-breaking £63.7 million (US$89.9 million) for charity, setting a new world record for an annual single-day charity fundraising event for an incredible twelfth successive year. According to the organizers, the total amount raised since the first event in 1981 will top 1 billion pounds (US$1.29 billion) in 2019. What's even more incredible is that these funds are spread among many hundreds of different charities, and most are raised by the runners themselves. And while the London Marathon is one of the biggest fund-raising events, it's also worth noting that there thousands of other events around the world that encourage runners to raise money for thousands of small and large charities.
- - - -
People often say to me that they can’t run because it’s boring, or because their knees start hurting after just a few minutes, or because when they run they “can’t breathe”. Depending on the person, I sometimes try to convince them to give it a try. I tell them to forget about pace, distance or how they look. I tell them to lace up their shoes and run for few minutes, and then to do it again the next day, and the next, and the next, and to notice how they feel after.
I tell them this because ten years of running has changed my life for the better, and I suspect that if they also give it a chance, it will change theirs.