Are you a runner ? Do you know someone who runs ? If you’re not a runner , but someone close to you is, you may wonder why they do that strange hobby! If you are a runner, you know and you probably have a story about how you first discovered this part of yourself and the gifts it gives you.
1. Diversity and friendship
Running introduced me to a whole world of new people. Runners come from literally all countries and cities and towns and all kinds of backgrounds and socioeconomic groups and races and religions. It’s a wonderful rainbow of people who have found this one common interest or compulsion , whatever you want to think of it. It’s unlike any other sport I’ve seen in that regard and it has the ability to make people blind to their other differences in most cases. I think that’s because running brings out the best in people. Mostly endorphins and feelings of accomplishment , but also the desire to help others experience the same things. It’s pretty much a healthy drug. Of course there are exceptions, there are always the bad apples, but in any running group or race, you will find people becoming friends almost instantly with the people they run with. This is even more common in trail running where people tend to run a little slower and chat along the way, sometimes telling secrets and revealing their true selves .
When my church announced that they were hosting a 5k race in our small town, for some reason , even though I normally shy away from events that require me to perform in front of others, I signed up and starting training . I was already walking and jogging regularly trying to get in shape after losing about 40 pounds, so this came at the right time. On race day I almost didn’t show up I so was nervous! But thankfully I went and had a blast! There was more walking than running and some chatting with church friends. I was not taking it seriously, nor did I know what a good finish time for a 5k might be at that point, but I’ll never forget how it felt to cross the finish line and hear the few spectators cheering! It felt really amazing. The sense of accomplishment was overwhelming in a good way and I felt like I had overcome a huge obstacle of fear. This was the first of many times I battled and overcame anxiety and fear in order to show up at a race. Now, I don’t really struggle with that fear much at all.
3. Motivation and Goals
As soon as I got home I started looking for another race. I found one the following weekend in the same town. I signed up and ran and discovered the difference between a very hilly route and a less hilly route! It was tough since I hadn’t trained for hills , but I still loved the experience. I felt like I was part of something big. I went home and searched online for more races! I found another one not too far , I think it was two weeks later . My finish time was my fastest so far! AND I got a medal, like everyone else. That medal made me feel like I was somebody special, a real athlete. I know some people are critical of ‘participation’ awards, but I believe that medal took me to the next level in my view of running. I wasn’t just running, I was running to win! I started researching, looking up what kind of times I’d need to get real awards. I kept learning more about how races worked. I was hooked and I developed new self-discipline and planning skills I’d never had much use for in the past.
The first 5k was in April of 2011. By December of that year I was lining up, with an injury, to run my first half marathon. December of 2012 I ran my first full 26.2 mile marathon. But those numbers do not tell the whole story. What running did for me during those months between races was nothing short of incredible. I became a new, happier person. I was willing to meet new people for runs and I made friends. My training plans taught me a new self-discipline and routine I’d always needed. I had focus and goals and confidence that I’d never had. Running actually improved my mood, my health, my sex life, and my personality, I think. Interacting with so many new people helped me learn social skills, evaluate my own ideas and beliefs and discard the ones that were not true or helpful. My family also benefited from seeing me so happy and they began to run some races with me. Since I was so slow when I started, my pace improved a lot that first year and that gave me a great sense of accomplishment.
5. New skills and knowledge
Now it is 2018. Running and racing on roads has changed to running on natural trails as much as possible. Nothing beats running through the woods over rocks, hills, and streams with birds and wildlife! Being out in the wild, even if it’s only slightly removed from a highway, has awakened a previously dormant appreciation and enjoyment of nature . I’ve also discovered I love to pursue new challenges and have met many new goals. I pushed myself to multiple 50k , 50 mile and even a 100 mile race. I’ve learned much about the importance of the mental aspect of such distances, as well as about my own ability to persevere . Listening to hours of interviews with running experts on various podcasts has give me invaluable information on how to push through when you just want to give up, how to fuel your body, how to pace, and what gear to use. I’ve raced and paced with friends and built deep friendships over multi-hour races.
6. The joy of travel
One huge change in my life brought on by running was traveling , by plane, to stay with someone I’d never met in person before, and run a half marathon with her. We were Facebook friends. We got to know each other in a running group on Facebook and made plans. I hadn’t flown in over 20 years ! I had huge anxiety over going through TSA and navigating the travel arrangements. My friend and I had a great time together and this experience led to much more flying and fun adventures, including a North Face Endurance Challenge trail race in New York, hiking in Moab, Utah, and mountain climbing in Leadville, Colorado. With this new confidence in my ability to handle traveling, I was inspired to go on a road trip to New Mexico with my husband and to take my children on a plan trip to Utah, as well. Now I never want to stop traveling.
Running may seem like a simple act of lacing up shoes, leaning slightly forward, and moving one foot in front of the other over and over and over. But when you combine it with regular training, races, overcoming fears, taking risks, being willing to try and fail, you will find that running is so much more. Why not give it a try?