How many times as a runner have you come across the incomprehension of non-runners upon announcing your intention to head out for a long run or intervals session? They screw their face up tight, frown and bark out, “Why?” Or better yet come out with the cocky, “Where’s the lion?”
Coach Kevin Smith has the perfect response: “People ask why I run. I say, if you have to ask you will never understand. It is something only those select few know. Those who put themselves through pain but, deep down, know how good it feels.”
Far too often, running is thought of as a chore people take on for weight loss and yet, for the vast majority of us dedicated runners, who love the sport and have made it part of our lives, that has little to nothing to do with it.
Yet have we ever taken the time to focus and work out our own personal answer to the question, “Why?” Why do we push ourselves to breaking point on a regular basis and, weirder yet, why do we enjoy doing that? What is it that keeps us going during those dragging final miles? Why do we still want to go out and train even when it’s cold, wet and muddy?
Perhaps it is for one of the numerous proven health gains: preventing high blood pressure; decreasing chances of developing diabetes and cancer; increasing bone density and therefore delaying the onset of osteoporosis; combating depression… the list goes on.
As runners, we may have a greater-than-average appreciation and drive to look after our bodies, but the health benefits alone can’t be the full answer. When you ask a fellow runner why she runs, the most common replies vary from stress relief to alone time – or, conversely, for the social aspect. Others avoid the question with amusing replies like, “It makes the pavement feel needed” or, my personal favourite, “To feel like a kid again!”
Still, I feel like there is more to it than this. The real reason why we run is a personal thing that can only be found when you really look within.
After a hard search for the answer, the explorer Ed Stafford describes his moment of clarity for why he seeks adventure beautifully: “In that new space now devoid of avoidance, is a clarity, the elusive answer to the question why having simply floated through the window one day, like the summer smell of freshly cut grass.
“The answer is of course to live. To really bloody live.”
Personally, I feel I have levels of why I run. On the surface are easily graspable reasons such as the high of success when I beat a personal target or do well in a race. I get a kick out of the way this makes me feel physically and mentally strong. I love the enjoyable simplicity of getting out into the countryside only requiring a good pair of trainers, my own motivation and the dog to keep me company. Yet still, I didn’t feel that was my deepest “why”.
Then it came to me, after weeks of pondering the matter, just as I reached the summit of a seemingly endless, soul-destroying hill on a long run. I have recently attended a couple of yoga days and – though I thoroughly enjoy the physical stretching side of it – the being still, emptying your mind, inner calmness of it all completely eludes me.
It was as I jogged along the ridgeline enjoying the view, tired but elated, that it came to me. I run… for the calm! When I am running there is no need to stress about all the things I should be doing, because I am already doing one of them.
My body has been given a physical task to do so, as I chug along at that steady pace, the constantly changing scenery and pleasing sense of completing a challenging long route are like hypnotic voices allowing the mind to rest and enjoy the moment. Though the mind may wander from time to time, they are always inconsequential trips down memory lane or other happy musings, almost as if your mind is a butterfly fluttering from topic to topic, never pausing long enough to cause stress.
So that is why I run: because in an absurd twist, when I am on a long run, I find I am at my most still. All the evil hill intervals and gruelling tempo runs are worth it for the chance to explore the countryside in the peace and quiet of my own mind.
Becky Parker is a part time groom, part-time aspiring journalist and owner of her own blog runridewrite.com. Based in Devon, she is usually found out exploring the trails of Dartmoor and Exmoor, either running or on her mountain bike. Having recently completed her first marathon, she is now setting her sights even higher, tentatively imagining the day she can tackle a proper mountain ultra…