I recently had the great honour of officially joining the Red Squirrel Running Company, a group of runners who document their stories via blog and vlog. As part of a series of articles dissecting the commonly asked question of ‘why do you run?‘, I was asked to write a short piece telling what my reasons were for first lacing up and engaging in the activity that our bodies are designed to do. You can read the article here. Writing this piece though really did make me realise that the reasons that I started running around 10 years ago are so very different from the reasons I run now. So, why did I carry on? A decade on, why do I run now?
Why did I start running?
As the article I linked to above says, the main reason I started running was that I found myself floundering in the adversity of a divorce and needed something healthy to pull me out of it. Why I chose running I can’t say for sure, but I think that it was probably because it is so easy and accessible. I had a pair of shorts and some trainers and a t-shirt, which meant I could do it there and then. It was free too. In the past, I’d run at school and enjoyed it. I’d done a little bit since then and found that I still enjoyed it. Not always while I was doing it, but the incredible post feel-good factor was always there, without exception.
From that first post-divorce run I felt some positivity in my life for the first time in months, and clung to it like a rock. This positive feeling became like a drug. It kept me wanting more. Needing more. It became my way of life. It became an obsession. When I wasn’t running I was thinking about it, longing for the next time. My body was in an almost permanent state of aching, and the relief to my troubled mind was tremendous. I knew then that running was something that would always play a part in my life.
So why do I run now?
As my body became stronger, leaner, fitter, I found that the run I most looked forward to in a week was the long one. I kept increasing the distance just a little each week, and this was when I realised that I needed that element of challenge to keep the want, the burning desire. In racing terms, I’ve never been the fastest of runners, and so my natural tendency was to push towards the longer distances. And it’s this that has helped to keep the spark for me. I know that 100 miles won’t be the furthest I ever run. I don’t know how far I’ll push myself, but I’m unbelievably excited to find out. That dangling carrot keeps me hungry.
Ultimately, I still enjoy it. Through becoming a part of the ultra running community, my love of running has grown so much deeper. I love to hear about other people’s ultra stories, both the pro’s and the everyday. If you’re ever in the vicinity of an ultra finish line, stop off and soak up the huge emotions, both from the athletes and the crowd. It’s a raw place to be. The competitor’s personas stripped bare – their bodies battered but not broken, their souls on show for all to see. I’m honestly still buzzing from my first 100-miler in 2015! I’ve done another one since, the emotions and immense satisfaction of which have built on top of that first one. The memories make me smile every day. Each ultra also gives me another layer of armour too. For someone who has struggled with confidence most of my life, this is invaluable.
I don’t want to stop, that’s another reason. Part of me fears what would happen if I stopped. I know that if I go a few days without any kind of exercise, I can feel the tendrils of lethargy creeping over my body, sucking the energy out leaving me feeling heavy in both body and mind. Like most runners, I’ll have those periods where my mojo deserts me, but it always comes back (I’ve found a few ways to help it come home, too). Perhaps it’s just our bodies’ way of saying take a short break. I’ve learned to listen to my body over the years. We know each other well enough now for me to know it’ll never want to stop running.
Why running helps day-to-day life
I don’t run as much now as I used to post-divorce. My life is far busier now than it was then and it is a struggle to find the time. But I do enough to enable me to tackle marathons and ultras. And I still commute to work on my bike, which keeps the endorphins topped up. One thing is for sure in life, adversity is generally never too far away. I know that if I keep running, whenever and wherever adversity strikes from, I’ll not turn to the drinky poos as a salve, but to my running shoes.
We never know what life is going to throw at us, and the lessons learned from running really help me. After a race, it’s easy to dissect what went well and what didn’t. It’s a self-contained distance, a specific time of hours, minutes and seconds. I can simply reflect in my own head what worked, what didn’t, and what I’d do differently next time. Or I can delve into the stats from my running watch and accurately check where my pace slowed or peaked, which part of the run I struggled on. I can then apply those learnings to the next time I race.
If we can take that self-contained race analogy and apply it to life situations, be that at work or home, we can help ourselves to break big problems down into self-contained chunks. When something doesn’t go as we’d hoped, we can take that post-race step back and analyse why it didn’t go so well, and what we can do to make it better. Have you ever asked someone what’s wrong, only for them to reply with a defeatest ‘Everything!‘? It’s never ‘everything’. Running has taught me to isolate the elements of a problem and work on them in order. If I need clarity to figure out the elements or the order, I simply lace up and go for a run.
So, why do I run now? I run to be the best person I can be, both while running and in between runs. I’m a battery. I need topping up to operate at full power and running is my energy source, my chi. Without running I couldn’t be the best version of me. When I’m out running, especially running an ultra, I feel so incredibly alive! And I find that feeling seeps into my bones and lingers a little longer each time. Because of those reasons, I’ll never stop.
I hope my passion for this incredible sport shines through. One of the absolute best things to come out of writing this blog is when someone gets in touch to tell me that something I’ve written or done has inspired them to take up running. If you’re one of those people, please take a minute to write a comment below to say what you’ve done and how it’s made you feel. Honestly, you never know who you’ll inspire in turn.