“I don’t run to add days to my life, I run to add life to my days.” ~Ronald Rook
Growing up, I was always a bit on the tubby side, or, as my mum would say, “stocky.”
Old and grainy camcorder footage from the early nineties shows me at four years old, waddling sassily around the garden naked on a summer’s day. Watching the nostalgic home footage recently, I thought to myself, “Wow, I had a beer belly long before I began drinking beer.”
Apart from a couple of years playing football in my teens, competitive sports and exercise were not a huge part of my life—unless we count the frequent visits to the Chinese buffets with friends, when things got competitive as we shovelled down plate after plate to see who could eat the most.
Last year, however, after an inspiring conversation with a keen runner, my sedentary days were over.
The man was in his forties and an ultra-runner—meaning he ran distances greater than a regular marathon (26.2 miles). I became curious as he told me about a recent 100-mile running event, and wondered to myself, why would you put yourself through that, by choice? What does one get out of this running malarkey?
Having well and truly caught the running bug, I can now say I get it.
It’s well known that running is beneficial to our health and fitness, but I get so much more from the experience. Here are seven ways running helps me live my best life.
1. Through running, I take control from my mind.
Wouldn’t you rather stay at home and watch Netflix?
You’re not built for running!
Who do you think you are, Forrest Gump?
Ah, the mind.
On days I normally run, I can guarantee thoughts like these will surface, luring me to stay in my comfort zone so they can try and shame me later on for not running.
Don’t get me wrong, there are days where the kind thing to do is to cancel a run—if I’m hurting physically or it’s too hot—but that’s not usually why I encounter internal resistance before and while running.
C’mon, that’s fair enough for today, my mind whispers.
“No, we’re digging deeper and going further,” I reply.
Our minds will always try to hold us back, but we don’t have to act on every thought. We can become more aware of when our mind is attempting to limit us, and, if we want to, dig deep and keep moving forward.
2. Running reminds me that the hardest part of any worthy pursuit is just starting.
Once I’m outside and running, the initial resistance disappears, and I just get on with it. I’ve never, after two minutes of running, turned around and headed home.
This speaks to an interesting truth—so often in life, the hardest part of any worthy pursuit is just starting. If you want to write a book, the hardest part is sitting down to capture those first few words. If you need to initiate a difficult conversation, the hardest part is finding the courage to say, “Hey, we need to talk.”
On days when my mind creates resistance and begins a battle, I gently remind myself the hardest part is putting my running shoes on and heading out the door. Once I’m through the door, I’ve won the battle—and I almost always enjoy myself.
3. Running reminds me to keep my head up and keep moving forward.
A few weeks ago while on a run, exhaustion suddenly hit me. My head dropped. My pace slowed, and my legs felt like they were stuffed full of lead. A feeling of dread slowly sunk through my body as I imagined the distance I was yet to cover.
I knew, though, I was hitting “runner’s wall,” and remembered the Navy SEAL’s 40 percent rule—that even though I briefly felt exhausted, I’d only reached 40 percent of my potential.
I took a deep breath before slowly raising my head up so my eyes were no longer looking at the ground. I was now looking straight ahead, my eyes fixed on where I wanted to go, the path ahead. Inside my head I repeated, “Left, right, left, right,” over and over again, commanding my feet. And then I ran.
When life hits us hard, it’s normal for our heads to drop down, but we can’t let them stay down. Moving forward may seem impossible, but eventually there comes a day when we have to dig deep and find the courage to take a step forward, no matter how small.
As Winston Churchill said, “When you’re going through hell, keep on going.”
4. Running helps me appreciate my body.
Sadly, the media pushes down our throats what a “perfect” body looks like, and most of us don’t have it. As a result, many people view exercise as a punishment. A punishment for being out of shape or for eating overeating the day before.
Exercise of any form needn’t be a punishment. In fact, we can view it as a celebration of our body as it is.
When I finish a run, I thank my body for a job well done. I’m fortunate enough to have good health and a functional body, a blessing not everyone has.
A friend of mine suffers from a chronic health condition, and although his body is extremely limited compared to most, he’s chooses to live life being appreciative of what his body does enable him to do. For example, he can’t finish long hikes, but he’s grateful that he can walk at all—and that he has friends who’ll carry him the rest of the way when he has to stop.
5. Running emphasizes the importance of rest and recovery.
Since running, I’ve become kinder to myself and more accepting of my need to take time to rest and recover. Once home from a run, I normally do some light stretches before taking it easy for the rest of the day, because I’ve learned that I need to give my body a break or it will eventually break down.
I used to believe rest and recovery made we weak and it was in someway honorable to keep myself busy all day, every day. I now believe there’s a time to push ourselves while in doing mode and a time for simply being, and both are equally important to our overall well-being.
6. Running has taught me that what I consume makes a difference.
Since starting to run, I’m now far more aware of what I’m consuming, both physically and mentally.
I feel the difference when I’ve been eating well and am hydrated versus when I run on a belly full of junk food and dehydrated. What we put into our mouth really matters.
I believe it also matters what we put into our heads—the types of media we consume. I once spent an entire forest run on high alert, looking over my shoulder ever second step. Why? Before leaving home, I’d read a local news item about a Puma that had escaped from a zoo 100 miles away. Although logically I knew it was highly unlikely I’d cross paths with this runaway Puma, it didn’t stop my mind from freaking out at every rustle in the bushes.
On the hand, when I read or watch an inspiring story before leaving home, I notice a spring in my step and feel empowered as I run.
If the media I consume affects my life (either positively or negatively) in the short-term, just imagine the affect is has in the long-term. What we consume matters.
7. Running reminds me of what’s possible.
Perhaps the biggest way running helps me to live my best life is through showing me what is possible. I can now run farther than I ever thought I could, way further than my doubtful inner critic would have predicted.
I’ve gone from being someone who would rarely (and barely) run to someone who runs several times per week. Most of all, I’ve gone from being someone who hated even the thought of running to someone who looks forward to and, dare I say, loves, running. And if I can transform into a runner, just imagine what else I can do.
Do I think running is for everyone? No.
However, I do believe that everyone can benefit from my lessons. Don’t let your mind control you. If there’s something you want to do, just get started, even if you only take a tiny step. When things get tough, keep going. Appreciate what you can do instead of focusing on what you can’t. Take time to rest; it’s not lazy, it’s necessary. Be mindful of what you consume and how it affects you. And remember, you can do so much more than you think.