I don't like running long distances.
I started out running cross-country in school at around 11 years old and, after a year or so, I'd had enough.
I went on to run the 1500 meters on track, but I only did it because I was the best of the bunch at it in PE and the sports coach put me in. At the Borough Championships, however, I could only place fourth.
I could have been better, if I had trained, if I had joined a running club and improved my technique.
But it never crossed my mind to do that. I didn't like distance running, middle or long. I found it boring. And where cross-country was concerned, it seemed like such an unnecessary sufferance.
I preferred quick-thrill athletics, like the 100 meters and long jump.
Yet all these years later, as I am touching 40, I find myself running long distance again.
I started about a year ago.
What drove me to lace up was the fact that I'd spent a number of years sitting down working for long periods of time and had read emerging research on how detrimental sedentary working conditions are on our health.
I wasn't playing football any more either, and I really wanted to get my body moving again.
My brother is a keen runner too, so he motivated me in the right direction.
The thing is, as I'm sure you well know, if you haven't run a long distance in a long time, it is extremely difficult to get back into. You will suffer.
But hey, everything starts with just one step…
When I say long distances, I'm currently running around 2.5-5km each session, depending on how much time I have that day.
I actually started out with the belief that I would begin to enjoy this at some point. I figured if I ran regularly enough it would get easier.
But the fact is, I still do not like running long distance. I feel much better suited to shorter distances, and more exhilarating sports like football or tennis.
So why the hell do I do something I don't really like?
Well, the benefits far outweigh the pain of having to push through those sessions when you're tired from a long day, a lack of sleep, aching muscles, the extreme cold in the winter, or the extreme heat in the summer.
Long-distance running brings with it a number of physical and mental obstacles, and overcoming each of them brings great reward. I hope these benefits will encourage you to run, too.
Even if you don't like running, it continues to challenge you in a way that makes you want to go for a run.
I even look forward to a run, knowing that when I do start I won't particularly enjoy the physicality of it.
It's you against you. You against your capability. You against your mind.
It's a constant motivating force in your life, one that continually challenges you to step up and try harder. This hardens you and inspires you to step up in other areas of life too.
And here's the thing: you don't need to go out and run 5k or 10k. You don't even have to run 1k.
Just start by running a short distance and gradually increase it. There's nothing wrong with running a bit, stopping, and then running a bit more. Do what you can.
But you should get started.
And here's 10 reasons why…
10 Reasons You Should Start Running
1. Active Meditation
Running is meditative, but perhaps not in the same way for everyone. For me , my runs usually start with me traversing thought cycles about work and life in general.
But as the run becomes harder, my mind begins to slow down and focus on the trail. As more effort is required to keep my cadence, I settle into a meditative zone, my mind fairly still and in the moment. I find myself focussing on the very simple task of putting one foot in front of the other.
That's all I have to do. Suddenly life becomes very straight forward.
This is a beautiful thing.
2. Escape the Noise
This ties in with the first point, but I want to elaborate. More often that not we are either out at work, with our partner, socialising with friends, at home or out with the kids. Our lives are generally full and busy, and so are our minds.
When we do get down time, many of us struggle to get the sleep we need amidst our busy lives, and are often caught up in the anxieties surrounding finances, obligations, responsibilities and goals.
No doubt some people reading this live in a big city, where even when it is supposed to be quiet it is relatively noisy. Our brains rarely ever get to settle.
Running makes this happen. It provides a sanctuary to escape the noise.
3. Clarity of Mind
At the end of every trail is clarity of mind.
You start out in a junkyard and end up in a temple.
Quite often, at the end of a run, I sit for a while, or go for a light walk and just observe my surroundings.
There is peace and clarity of mind to be found after a run.
And the beauty of this is that you don't have to be a great runner; you don't have to be fit. You can start now. Just run as far as you can, and then stop, and then run a bit longer if you want to. If not, then walk a bit more.
With a little exertion, you can achieve the clarity of mind I'm talking about. From all that panting arises a wonderful stillness.
4. Better Health
Society has become sedentary. Our muscles are not being used for large portions of the day.
Research shows this causes a number of health issues, including rising blood sugar levels, sleeping problems, poor mood, back problems … the list is fairly long.
All of these problems can be kept at bay by increasing the amount of exercise you do.
People usually cite not having time as an excuse for not exercising, and I get that, but you don't have to go to a gym to exercise.
I used to do a lot of gym work through my 20s and early 30s. I know full well it can take 20 minutes to get ready for the gym and 30 minutes to get there and get started. Then it's one hour to train, and then 30 minutes to get changed and back home.
This is a big commitment if you're training three or four times a week.
With running, on the other hand, you can be very spontaneous. You can run as and when you can.
Everyone has 15 minutes to schedule a run three or four times a week. This is the goal you should aim for.
With running you can combine resistance exercises too. If you run through a field or a park, or pass a playground on your route, you might choose to stop and do some press ups, sit ups, or even chin ups if there is a bar available. You can always do resistance exercises at home too.
Running is difficult. Some people absolutely love it. Some people learn to love it. I'm not sure I ever will. But I do love the fact that I know it is good for my health, particularly my cardiovascular health.
5. Me Time
Many people go from a hectic home life to a hectic work life and back again, in that cycle, over and over.
Even the weekends are jam-packed with things going on: taking the kids out, socialising with friends, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, festivals – you name it, something is always going on.
Of course these things can be great fun, but everyone needs some me time. Everyone needs some time for themselves, time to contemplate, to ponder, to turn the mind inwards, to be with yourself.
A daily, or bi-daily run, is perfect me time.
I have lost count of the number of times I speak to friends and they say; “I don't have any time for myself”. I can sympathise with that.
As I am writing this post, my daughter is crying in the hallway outside my door. This is a case in point. Even when we are doing something alone at home, we are often still surround by distractions (noise).
It can often feel like we don't have any time for ourselves, that someone always needs something from us: some emotional support, a favour, some work, whatever.
Make your run “your thing”, the thing you do on your own to create some much needed space between all the responsibilities, demands and obligations.
6. Improved Sleep
Out of the health benefits, sleep deserves a special mention – not least because it is very important.
If you have an overactive mind, if you're someone who finds it difficult to settle down when you get into bed, or you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night and unable to get back to sleep, or perhaps you simply wake up way too early and still feel tired, running is going to improve your sleep health.
The thing is this: you might be at work all day, sitting on your computer and putting your brain through its paces. You come home feeling really tired. But then why, when you get into bed, do you suddenly feel wide awake.
Well, you need to put your body through its paces too. The human body was built to move, not sit in a chair. At the end of a day, you should be mentally and physically tired.
In terms of sleep, running is more than that, though.
Running in the evening helps put the day to bed. I like to look at my evening run as running everything off, off my shoulders and off my mind. Any stress or problems that have arisen through the day, I am running them off and putting them to bed until tomorrow.
I'm not running away from them, but I will not allow them to hang around late into the evening and keep me thinking about them all the way into bed.
Running does not make me immune to the monkey mind, but as someone who has always struggled to turn off the thought wheel at bedtime, running is a great way to expend that extra energy and empty the mind, which is certainly conducive to better sleep.
7. Connecting with Nature
I guess it's quite cliché, but this is my thing and I always go on about it. People need to get out into nature more often.
We are part of nature. We are part of this interdependent world of living organisms.
It feels good when we take a holiday by the seaside or in a beautiful rural setting.
It feels good to listen to the birds singing in the morning, or the crickets stridulating in the evening.
It feels good to see beautiful flowers and huge trees.
It feels good to feel the breeze on your face.
Running is the perfect excuse to get out there and reconnect with the natural world, to put foot to trail and become part of the scenery.
Over the year you run through the seasons: you watch spring turn to summer and summer to autumn and autumn to winter.
You find a new appreciation of these transitions.
You notice how trees and plants on your regular route have changed from week to week. You rediscover your innate appreciation for nature and find a sense of belonging in that, which is completely natural.
It just feels good to be away from the hustle and bustle: the cars, the fumes, the people rushing around, the constant backdrop of noise.
Go find some quiet, scenic places to run. It will change your life.
8. Improved Mood
Everyone always associates running with health and fitness, but something that doesn't always get mentioned is how running impacts on mood, which of course is a big part of health.
Rates of mental illness are on the rise, of which a large number of cases are based around anxiety and depression, fueled by stress. Running is a wonderful tool for combating the blues and improving mood. It is a medication you can tap into any time – a natural cure.
If you're feeling angry or uncomfortable about a situation, or highly stressed or anxious, simply put on your running shoes and hit the trail.
It's a guaranteed mood improver. And not just that. Quite often I start out running with a problem in my mind, and within five minutes into the run I have a perspective on this problem and a potential solution, which leads me onto my next point.
9. Creative Thinking
Many of the ideas for my blog posts come from my runs. Similarly, many ideas for my music projects and other areas of my life are inspired by thoughts I have on my runs, or in my warm down walk or contemplative sit down afterwards.
So if you're sitting at your computer wracking your brain trying to write an article, or you're a painter, poet, designer or artist of any kind struggling for ideas and inspiration, going for a run will usually remedy this problem. And if it doesn't, you can guarantee you'll feel a whole lot better for it anyway.
10. Mind Control
I have covered clarity of mind, but on a personal level this needs a special mention.
My mind is a monster. It has a life of its own, which is fine, but it also tries to run mine too. Keeping him in check is often a 24-hour job.
When I run, it's me against him…
Him: You're tired
Me: So what? I can easily complete this run
Him: You should stop
Me: No way, I'm not stopping
Him: You don't have to run all the way
Me: I'll run even further
Him: You're not built for long distance running
Me: Maybe not, but I have the ability and I will do my best
Him: Your legs haven't recovered from Tuesday's run
Me: Well they should have. Let this be a lesson to them/me.
My goal is to beat him into submission, every time. Once he quits, I find peace.
Any exercise is good exercise. Whether you're lifting weights, swimming, playing football or tennis or even just walking around the block, it's all positive and worthwhile.
But there's something quite unique about running, and once you start you begin to understand why some people end up making it a massive part of their lives.
People start out being able to run just a couple of hundred meters and end up entering marathons not even a year or two later. Some people even go on to run ultra marathons and beyond.
But let me just say this to finish: don't look at other runners to find your inspiration. Don't compare yourself with other people, because you will probably just come up with comments in your head like
“He/she is much slimmer than me / much fitter than me”.
“I could never run like that”.
“I'm not a good runner”.
“That looks so difficult”.
Remember: This is not about anyone else. This is about you.
Perhaps you would like to improve your mood and develop a more positive mindset; perhaps you would like to lose some weight; perhaps you would like to get outdoors more; perhaps you would like to sleep better; or perhaps just have a bit of me time.
Running can help you with all these things. And as I've said twice already in this post: you DO NOT have to be good at running, or fit. Those things will come in time, but right now they shouldn't be your focus.
If you want to try running, then do it. Don't wait to get the perfect pair of trainers, or the latest fashionable shorts or leggings. If you have some old gear in your wardrobe, start with that.
Get out there.
Start a slow run until you feel that you can't comfortably run any further. Then walk a bit, and then run some more if you can. With each run, increase the intensity a little bit more.
Naturally you will ease your way into it. Before you know it you will be running further than you thought you could. Once you make progress, you will want to buy a better pair of trainers, you will become more interested and start Googling tips to help you with your running posture and diet.
Get started and let the journey unfold. You'll be surprised where it takes you, mentally and physically. The benefits will follow.
I cannot promise you that you will ever love running. I really don't. There are other sports I would much rather be doing.
But running has this special way of teaching you so much about yourself. It shapes not just your physical fitness, but also a disciplined, motivated mindset that will be of use in many different areas of your life.