Friday, January 10, 2014

Why I Run

Running is like cilantro. Most people either love it or hate it, but some of us grow to enjoy it over time. When I talk about my running I’m often met with some form of “that’s great for you, but I’d be miserable” in return (unless I’m in the company of runners!). Even people I know who lift weights or rock the elliptical or are otherwise physically inclined seem to have a taboo when it comes to running. In the “No Meat Athlete” book, Matt Frazier talks about the fact that for most of us running is something we were forced into on a semi-regular basis through sports or gym class in our youth and therefore we didn't learn to take joy from it. I think this has a lot to do with it.  I always give different answers when people ask me why I run, and here’s my list of my top reasons:

Burning Calories
I’m not going to lie. I got into the running game because I wanted to burn as many calories as possible in a short period of time. This is why I like to do HIIT training when I do strength work. My favorite day of the week is Saturday because I do my long run in the morning, burn between 800-1200 calories, and then eat what I want the rest of the day. I don’t see this as a “cheat” day because I still focus on eating high quality plant based foods, but I eat more of them!

The phenomenon of runner’s high exists. Some runs leave me feeling spent in the immediate aftermath, but I am usually so full of energy in the hours following a good run that I feel like I've taken a drug. There is a significant difference in my energy level and focus throughout the day if I've started my day with a run. This may be heightened because I eschew caffeine!

Connecting with Nature
There is really something magical about being outdoors. I usually run around my neighborhood which is very industrial, but (living in Florida) I still see tons of wildlife and beautiful foliage. My favorite runs are in the mornings before work because I start when it’s dark out with the moon and usually finish as the sun rises. Running from darkness into light is a very powerful experience.

Active Meditation
I've been working on a meditation practice and am planning to tackle it more consistently later in the year, but I've come to realize that running is a form of active meditation. Although I usually listen to music or podcasts, I still find that running clears my mind in a unique way – especially on my long runs.

Connection with my Body
Losing half of your body weight has myriad effects on your life. One of the most unexpected for me was how long it took me to accurately perceive my size after I lost weight. I got so used to avoiding narrow passages/gaps and picking my seats carefully that I continued those behaviors well into my weight loss journey. Running has been a great way to connect with the true form of my body and to know it more intimately. I have learned when pain means stop and when it means push through. I feel more balanced and more comfortable in my skin.

No Gym Required
I also got into running because I didn't want to pay for a gym membership. Running is simply a matter of putting on your gear and heading out a door. I've had some wonderful runs on my vacations where I got to explore new places from street level, and I love being able to workout in the morning before work without having to go anywhere. I also know that in a pinch I can run indoors on a treadmill.

Time for Myself
I've been in a committed relationship for over 11 years, and we've lived together for 10 ½ of those years. I appreciate this gift, but I also need time to nourish myself. I cherish the time I am out running because I get to spend time with myself and work out things that are troubling or anxiety producing along the way. The quote “running is cheaper than therapy” certainly has some truth!

Sense of Accomplishment
Running is a sport that is ripe with opportunities to set goals and milestones. I remember the first time I ran for 20 minutes without stopping, the first time I finished a 5k, the first time I broke the 10 mile mark, and the first time I ran a sub 9:00 mile. I usually find something to be proud of after every single run, and often I am most proud of my mental toughness and ability to run through weather, pains and my inner critic.

Running Buddies
If you read my Running Goals post you know that one of my goals is to run with someone this year. I've never done that (outside of a race). Even though I haven’t formally run with someone, I often see the same runners in my neighborhood when I am out. We give waves, hellos, knowing smiles and head nods.  When I see runners out and about I always feel a sense of kinship with them and this has been an unexpected benefit to the practice of running.

Haruki Murakami has a passage about this in chapter 4 of “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” where he says “Still, as a fellow long-distance runner who’d encountered them day after day, I felt like we somehow understood each other. Even if the skill level varies, there are things that only runners understand and share.” Word!

Challenges that Give Structure
Finally, a commitment to running and achieving goals like my first half marathon has elevated both my efforts and the way I feel about running. Knowing that I have a race looming is a great motivator, and provides a sense of structure and purpose to my runs. It’s nice to have something to focus on beyond the superficial goals of eating more and looking better.

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