The following is an excerpt from my book Better Running Goals. This is a portion of a chapter addressing your 3 running “whys.” Understanding your health “why,” your other “why,” and your race “why” will give you clarity on the intentions behind your running goals and if they are aligned with your life’s purpose. Below you will find an excerpt addressing the other “why.”
Your Other Why
There’s no denying that running isn’t the most efficient way to exercise. With the growing popularity of interval training, 20-minute calorie busters, and get-fit-quick routines, running is pushing back against a society that wants a big return from a small investment. There’s a reason why the word “marathon” has become a euphemism for the long, slow haul and is equated with tasks that require a special sort of mental and physical willpower.
Some people would even argue that running isn’t even a very effective way of improving your health, and can sometimes do more harm than good. Spend any amount of time with a long time runner and you will start to hear about black toenails, aching joints, and strained muscles. Runners are notorious for pushing past injuries and opting for elective surgery for the sake of the sport. Clearly, something beyond health is going on here.
If I were to tell you why I run, health would come at the end of the conversation, almost as an afterthought. While the physical perks are nice, I’m well aware of the other things I could do to maintain these chicken legs of mine. This sport is more often mental than it is physical. It’s a way to blow off steam from a hard day; it’s an outlet for processing thoughts or feelings; it’s a chance to escape from the endless list of rules, responsibilities, and commitments we encounter on constant replay throughout our days. It’s an opportunity to either check in or check out; a space where our minds can do whatever they please as we hand over the heavy lifting to our legs.
I was sitting in a coffee shop when a man next to me said that running was his sanity. Having seen the power of regularly hitting the pavement, I couldn’t agree more. Running has surpassed exercise for me and become an integral part of who I am and how I identify myself.
We all need a dose of superhero every day. The cape, the tights, the unfaltering confidence and strength that we are quick to read about, but more hesitant to believe in. Superheroes teach us that there is nothing more powerful, nor more beautiful, than striving to use our strengths to make the world a better place every day.
I run because my inner superhero lives on the road. Between the curbs, the stray garbage cans, and the headlights, she lets me come into a version of myself that is better equipped to take on the world in a thoughtful, mindful, and kind way. While running, my superhero has helped me rehearse difficult conversations and understand the difference between fighting for principles out of ignorance and truly standing up for what is right. She has listened as I’ve told her my dreams, my struggles, and my desires to be more than I am. She has told me to shut up when my mental dialogue starts to bring me down. She has lifted my head when the sun is rising over the ocean and the best ointment for any problem is stopping to take it in.
My superhero reminds me that the world is more often generous than wicked, and that there is no reason to be afraid of the dark if you have a good flashlight and a quick set of reflexes. She has proved to me that you need to live life with gratefulness for every step, because the next one could leave you face down in a pothole. She has yelled at me for not realizing that it’s a miracle that my body can move at all, let alone run. She has punished me when I’ve told my body that I don’t have time to take care of it, when it has done so much for me.
Cheaper than any therapist, running for me has become an outlet through which to process a life that doesn’t always make sense to me. Some of us need meditation, yoga, reading, cooking, drawing, or singing to connect with our place in the world. For me, it’s the endless fight to put one foot in front of the other that opens me up to being the best version of myself each day.
I think about all of the times that I could have been hit by a car but wasn’t. I think about all of the times someone could have pushed me off the sidewalk as they passed, but stepped off the curb to make room instead. I think about all the dead animals I’ve passed on the side of the road and the moments I take to recognize these lives lost. I think about the people I see walking to work, sitting in coffee shops, or waiting for buses. I think about the people I pass who are having the worst days, best days, most boring days, and most extraordinary days of their lives. I think of all of the head nods, the quick waves, and the passing smiles that remind us that, while on individual trails, we’re part of a community, and we better start acting like it.
Whether it be the mental, social, or emotional perks, we all have reasons for running beyond health. Understanding why you run will help you get through those last few painful miles when you’re tempted to quit in favor of a more painless and efficient workout. It will remind you that something isn’t worth pursuing unless it brings you closer to your purpose and your love for life.
Take out a piece of paper and write about why you run. Be aware of when you start to drift into health-related reasons and refocus on the bigger picture. If you’re just starting out with the sport, it’s alright to not have a clear idea of why you run. It took me a number of years to understand the role the sport played in my life and it is something that is constantly morphing to accommodate my current needs and circumstances. Be thoughtful about this exercise, but don’t beat yourself up over not being able to find the desired meaning in your running routine. Trust that this will come with time.
To read more about the importance of finding your why when goal setting, check out my post, Finding your Why: Set Goals that Reflect your Life Purpose