This is why I run.
Whenever you tell somebody you’re a runner – that is, that you actively enjoy running – their response is almost always the same. Why?
It is as if it is pre-programmed. That there is some inbuilt part of the human psyche that has them question why somebody would ever willingly “choose” to run. It must be a madness surely? Nobody would voluntarily put themselves through something so painful. Not only this, it is bad for them. Have they not heard about the damage it does to their knees?
Every time it is the same thing. People, for whatever reason, find running as a hobby unusually hard to accept.
But how could I blame them? I used to be exactly the same. In fact, it was not much more than a year ago whilst sat in traffic during a driving lesson my instructor said to me,
“Look there! There’s gotta be something wrong with ’em to be out runnin’ in this weather!”
Indeed, at the time I agreed wholeheartedly. It was a wet January morning and the individual in question was wearing a pair of shorts so short they’d leave Maria Sharapova blushing. The windscreen wipers were working overtime just to give us a brief view of the road ahead, but for some reason, this lunatic was out running.
That morning, he had looked outside his window to see the clouds unanimously deciding to lose their shit, and his first thought had been to get out there in what appeared to be his seven year old daughter’s PE shorts.
So yes, from the outside perspective, running is weird. For those uninitiated, the thought of waking up early to fit in a “quick” 10k before work would seem categorically insane.
This is until you try it. Until you realise why people do it. Until you begin to realise, what running does to us.
Running, hyperbole aside, has the undeniable ability to change our lives for the better. Don’t believe me?
Then allow me to start from the beginning…
So this is me, coming up to two years ago. The differences to me now may seem quite obvious at first. Most people will compare this to me now and instantly declare,
“Like, oh my god. You’ve lost like so much weight!”
Which yes, is undeniably true and I would be lying if I didn’t say I was proud of this. The biggest changes however, the most valuable changes and ones that bring me most joy… They can’t be seen.
You see, sob stories aside, this picture was taken at an extremely difficult point in my life. Now, I am a realist and understand that there are people out there with far bigger problems than my own, but at this stage in my life I did not see things that way. I had become ever increasingly insular and lost in my own thoughts. My anxieties were at an all time high and life appeared to me as some horrific, directionless beast with no goal but my absolute destruction!
Looking back now, I can see that assuming the entirety of human existence had picked me out as its primary victim was just the tiniest bit narcissistic and foolish.
However, all the things I had seen as important, the values I had held for years, they had all been torn apart and I was left floundering. I needed something to blame, so what better than life itself… Dick head.
So, for the next few months, I did what any lost young man does. I dated. I spent months traversing numerous relationships and it is to no surprise, that none of these ended well. Now I am able to realise what was going on, I was using these as a way to escape from what I perceived as a lack of purpose in my own life. Rather than using relationships as a way to share my life with others, I had fallen into the trap of using them as a substitute for a life of my own.
This is not cool. Not only is it unfair on the people I was seeing, but it also prevented myself from dealing with what the real problems were. Eventually, like anyone who has lost purpose or drive in their life, I had to go it alone.
I had to figure out what it was I valued in life and where I wanted to go. My first step in doing this…
Getting punched. A lot.
Midway through last year I decided to pursue something I had always spoken about. I set myself the goal of stepping in the ring and taking up boxing. With eight weeks training, I soon stepped into the ring for the first time.
I lost. I am not a naturally violent person and took more punches than I actually threw. This did not put me off however.
Having joined a club I continued to train and come October I managed to win my first Amateur bout. Result!
This moment meant a lot to me. It had shown what I could actually achieve given the time, focus and stupidity. I had lost nearly two stone in weight and done something that seemed impossible less than a year before. With boxing, and the training around it, I was beginning to find what I had been looking for.
That is not to say that I now want to drop everything and become a professional boxer. I am not that delusional! No, but it had taught me that I can always surpass the person I was yesterday. Everyday training, I was pushing past who I was the day before.
This soon became my biggest value. Not some lofty goal, but the very action of “being better”, no matter how small the improvement.
It is this that lead me to running.
Whilst training for my first fight, I had taken to running 5k a day. This had initially started as a way to improve my fitness in the ring. It wasn’t long however until running took on a life of its own.
Nothing seemed to capture the essence of my new values better than running. Each day, I could run that little bit further, or push myself to go just that little bit faster. There is always a longer distance, so running offers the possibility of infinite growth.
Once you’ve ran 5k, you run 10k. Once you’ve ran 10k, you run a half marathon. Then a marathon, and then ultra etc.
I have now joined a local running club and started competing. I am constantly on the lookout for new challenges and ways to push myself that little bit further. There is no doubt about it, running has become a massive part of my life.
At the beginning of this blog I quoted Mark Manson. He said that,
“To be happy we need something to solve. Happiness is therefore a form of action.”
This for me, is running. There is always something to solve, a new distance to travel. It is the physical embodiment of action. As long as I have running, I am able to deal with whatever life throws my way.
This is because, in runs, you are able to put life into context. It varies, but come the tenth, or twelfth or fifteenth (I’m sure you get the point) mile of a long run, you begin to feel the weight building in your legs. What had once been an easy glide, is slowed by the heavy buildup of lactic acid in your muscles. It is at this stage you have to push. What once was an instinctual, easy movement, becomes something you have to work at. Each mile becomes more of an achievement as you surprise yourself by the distance you have left in you. As you break the limits of who you were that very morning, the moment before you threw on your trainers and went out for your run, the other problems in your life lighten and seem to take flight. As your body grows heavier with every step, the other issues in your life become lighter and lighter. Everything is thrown into context. You are here. You are alive and as heavy as your legs may feel, you will keep moving. But, if for what ever reason you can’t, there’s always tomorrow. You know, given the time you will be able to push past this and that when you come back to run this distance in the future, this distance that has caused you so such pain, it will never feel as bad as it did this first time.
This is why I run.
When I run, the rest of life’s problems seem so much smaller. It gives me perspective.
Over the past few years, I have learnt that the human mind has an incredible ability to overcomplicate even the simplest of things. Given the chance, it will make everything in life seem so much worse than it actually is, adding layers upon layers of unneeded complexity.
Day to day, we have a thousand different things fighting for dominance. A billion things shouting out for your time.
“Listen to me!”
“I’m what’s important!”
That need to fit in,
It is no surprise that mental health has become such an issue in recent years. With the constant input of technology and social media, our psyches are being bombarded by such a deluge of information it would be strange not to be feeling the pressure.
Running, allows you to shake these off.
You are left with the aching of your own body, the realisation that you are here, and a long lost appreciation for the simplicity in the sights around you.
So now, as I look back on that day stuck in the traffic alongside my driving instructor, I am able to envy that runner out in the rain. Even his little shorts that mine have grown to resemble. No longer do I question what is wrong with him.
Far from it.
As I was sat in a vehicle, anxious and stressed, my mind home to a multitude of conflicting thoughts… There he was. Completely free. Free from the traffic and stresses of everyday life.
He was one of the lucky ones. He knew the secret.
Run, breathe, repeat…
And that’s how you find solace in simplicity.