How is it that running—a supreme evolutionary advantage and biomechanical feat —is met with such polarization when mentioned in passing. People claim to love running or to hate it. I’ll admit, when I first started running in high school, I merely claimed to love it. Such a lie. What I loved was the effect running had on me. Improved mood and body image, sense of accomplishment, camaraderie with my teammates—that’s the part of running that I was buying. Everything else about running felt too much like I was in a one-woman war against gravity. I even groaned at the small difference in friction from the grass fields, it was like 20-lb bags of potatoes were suddenly strapped to each thigh. Catching my reflection in a downtown window or my shadow on a building I would wonder, who is that girl hunched over with the pained look on her face? Oh shit, I do look as miserable as I feel.
In the twelve years that have passed since that first year of running, I can authentically say that yes, I do love it. Why? I learned three things.
The first was that the reason I usually hated running was because I was going too fast… If my parents read that they just fell out of their chair; my speed was not fast by any relative standards. But, in the 5k races I was doing at that time I really was pushing hard, trying to get that experience of feeling slow and miserable over with ASAP!
The second reason and great epiphany in my running life has been a new focus on the journey rather than the goal or destination or outcome. Pretty cliché? Maybe. But this mindful awareness is well-supported by scientific research as having some rather significant effects on health and well-being. Running became something I loved when I no longer thought about all the cookies I could eat because of it or the jeans that might fit better. Running became something I loved when I savored the time I was spending outside, admiring landscapes and passing people and their dogs. I learned that running was a great way to explore new places on vacation, when traveling for work, and when moving to new towns.
When I started loving the process of running more, something really cool happened. I stopped being so terribly slow! This 2nd thing I learned was that my speed was based far less on my out of the box talent than it was on establishing both a cardiovascular and muscular foundation. Because I was enjoying running, going at a pace that was enjoyable, I started traveling farther and farther distances. I signed up for races and did each proscribed training run. With each mile under my belt, my stride became more efficient. I became mid-foot striker instead of a heal striker. In the heat of the summer and the height of training for a marathon, I ran upwards of 50 miles a week. That fall I ran the Columbus Children’s Hospital Marathon with most mile splits faster than I ran 5ks in high school. Pretty cool.
So if you hate running, maybe you’re just going too fast. Maybe you can use running to literally stop and smell the roses or pet all the dogs. Maybe running is the time you get outside for your vitamin D during your 9-5 instead of the time you focus on losing those extra 10 lbs. Maybe…