Running is a great form of exercise: as much for your mental health as it is for your physical fitness. Running does not only improve your cardio, tone your muscles, and make you feel great afterwards when your brain is swimming in endorphins. It also heightens your own awareness of your boundaries and your ability to deal with challenges: both bodily and psychologically. And ask any philosopher: self-awareness is key.

So. If it does all those things for you, why don’t people do it more often?

Well, running is very difficult is an easy answer.  A more complex answer would be that running is marketed in a way that is great for people who are interested in it for about five seconds, and for the wrong reasons. We are told that running is simple and a great form of exercise. (Knee issues and any other long-term health risks associated with running are not mentioned.) We buy all the merchandise and then think “I’ve just spent a small fortune on state of the art running shoes, shorts that are short enough to be motivation, breathable shirts, fancy socks that supposedly prevent blistering, and a pretty new water bottle with flowers on it. After this investment, there is no way I can quit.” And then a week later we have used all our new gear perhaps once and are totally turned off of the sport.

The reason why? I think it’s partly because running just sucks sometimes. It’s not always really that fun. It takes time, energy (and being anemic and a full time student I understand that those are hard to come by), and mental strength coupled with internal motivation.  I also think that people get into the sport for the wrong reasons. In fact a huge percentage of runners, including myself half the time, are running for someone else, or something else. Not for themselves. Very few people are self-aware enough to be able to go out and run just for the pure benefits of the sport. Those motivators that don’t include vanity and fitting into that new pair of jeans.

Running shouldn’t be about how you look. Ever.

It shouldn’t be about anything other than feeling better: and I don’t mean feeling better about how you look. Because it should be about how you look. EVER. Rather I mean feeling good day to day. Fueling your brain with natural endorphins, eating the right foods because they make you feel good after a satisfying run. Pushing yourself that extra mile because it gives you a sense of accomplishment different from other achievements. It makes your heart beat hard in your ears, forces your blood to rush through your veins, allows your lungs to squeeze air through your throat pumping your blood with oxygen. It makes your head swim afterwards, allows you to feel good about relaxing later on the couch. Lets your muscles strengthen themselves, tighten when you sit too long. Running makes stretching worth it.

Running makes you stronger, mentally and physically. It makes you want to go that extra gruesome mile for the reward of accomplishment: to force your limbs to keep moving, to push farther, faster, even though it hurts. Running gives you a regular routine of practice because when you’re in the habit, it feels wrong if it has been too long. Your muscles bunch, you feel antsy. There’s nothing like getting out to move them again: it’s a release.

When people get into running to feel better about themselves, the sport can get caught up in a messy bundle of predetermined insecurities. That’s a difficult thing to overcome regardless. When people are convinced running is for them, and it’s not, or they don’t quite realize the mental challenge to it, they fail. The sport is blamed, or put aside.

Instead, I would like to point out these few flaws in the mentality of wannabe runners. Running is beautiful in its challenge: it makes you push yourself. There’s a muscle in your brain that you don’t use for things that are easy. It gets old and lazy and stiff with disuse. It’s called determination. Or motivation. Or maybe insanity. Whatever it is, it’s pivotal to the sport of running. It requires a hard-line attitude. It requires perseverance, and no amount of sympathy for yourself in a weak moment.

It’s this muscle that allows for the rush of endorphins to overwhelm your sense at the end of big runs. It’s the cause of the contagious smiles you see on racers at the finish line. It’s the satisfactory ache you feel in the pit of your limbs at the end of the day. It’s the reason for the reward.

And so yes, running can suck. It can hurt; it can feel like your dying. It’s a practice that takes a hell of a lot of conviction some days, and less other days. But it’s the muscle in your brain that needs to be toned, used, nurtured until it’s as hard and unrelenting as your thighs. Running needs to be the result of some other internal motivation that is entirely separate from external motivations. Running is for you. For your own benefit and that’s it. Forget about vanity, and about the media, and about societal pressures when you put on your running shoes. That feeling of exhalation at the end of your run is entirely for you, earned by you.

So good luck you future runners. With your new clothes and your fancy watches and wristbands. Remember the benefit, and the real reasons behind your choice to become a runner. Take your time and ease yourself into the practice. Or don’t. Go run a half marathon, that’s what I did and now I’m set to run a 30km in August. I’d like to think that my method worked.

 

Good luck!

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