I've been running consistently now for two years. I started running on a treadmill in September, 2017, and started running primarily outdoors in May, 2017. It's grown from painful and boring to something I look forward to doing every chance I get. But reflecting back on two years of growth in the sport/hobby, I have to ask myself the question, "Why do I run?"
Scott Jurek has a mantra echoed throughout his books. In Eat and Run he repeats, "Sometimes you just do things!" It is a koan and mantra that helps get through tasks that are sometimes difficult to bear. But it is not the full story on the "why" or "how" of running. Running is a multi-faceted activity that both gives and takes, needing as much from you as it gives in rewards.
It's no secret that I started running in response to health problems I was experiencing with my previously- sedentary lifestyle. Not only was I morbidly obese, I was plagued with high blood pressure, acid reflux, and the veins in my legs were collapsing due to venous insufficiency. Running, on top of improving my diet, has been instrumental in recovering from these afflictions.
For the Chance to Eat, Drink, and Be Merry
I count my calories. Every day for over two years I have logged what I eat. I'm getting pretty good at estimating when I can't get the exact values, and that's good enough for me. But running gives me a bit of a buffer so I can have days where I can enjoy an extra treat: a pint of Halo Top, a beer, or a bigger dinner at a restaurant. I can enjoy it without the guilt, knowing that it's a reward for kicking my own ass on the road or trail.
There are days when running is hard. I might be tired, out of energy, or flagging in motivation. Scheduled runs, training for races, and getting outdoors is a way to keep my mind focused and stick to the goal in spite of the suck. The discipline carries over into other aspects of life, so it is fully worth it.
I am more aware of my surroundings: roots, rocks, switchbacks, and jumps on the trails keep my eyes open and mind focused. I am more aware of the pains I feel knowing that any one of them, if not taken with the appropriate level of seriousness, could potentially lead to further injury or downtime from running.
I am more aware of even silly things like my hygiene, as runners can get fairly stinky rather quick. Frequent showers have gone from an annoyance to a joy and a blessing.
For the Natural Dietary Changes
I started counting calories, limiting my intake based on the numbers alone instead of the content. So while losing weight, I was still eating the same fast food and restaurant fare. Over time, however, in order to get the proper energy to get me through long runs, races, and generally through the week without flagging, I have gravitated to a more whole foods, plant-based diet. I'm not 100% there, but it is happening without me feeling like I am "going on a diet". It's helped me change my lifestyle, not jump on the fad machine.
And that feels great.
On the road or the trail, I can escape into my own mind. During my run I am free from the stressors of the world and I only exist in the exertion of the run. I am free to think as little or as much as I want. I can see things through mentally-unhurried lenses. Running is a state of zen, both physically painful and mentally freeing.
For the Physique
It's no secret that runners have great, lean bodies. Mine isn't like most because I carry a lot of excess skin from my 138-pounds of weight loss, but for the first time in my life I can look in a mirror and not feel shame. I see the lean muscles of my arms, shoulders, and legs and feel pride. I know the hard work it took getting there. Behind the extra skin on my stomach I can see abs that I didn't think would ever be possible. It's an awesome feeling.
I still have a ton of work to do, but I now know it is achievable with the proper mindset.
For the Connection with Nature
I started trail running to prepare myself for an eventual attempt at running ultras. What I found, though, is almost a feeling of nirvana. Running through wooded trails really gets you in touch with nature. I find myself forgetting about the pain of running as I enjoy the sights, the sounds, the smells, and the quiet zen of being away from the bustle of the city. It's weird, but I even greet the wildlife I see (except geese-- they're big jerks).
For Getting Out of My Comfort Zone
Running has pushed me to do things that normally would give me anxiety or make me cringe. I find myself going to bed earlier and getting up before the sun to start a long run before work. I willingly put myself in a crowd of people in order to run a big race. I go to unfamiliar places to run on roads and trails I haven't been to before.
Before running all those things would have given me so much anxiety I wouldn't do it. I would have much rather stayed at home, away from crowds, and stuck with familiar surroundings and people. I'd rather stay up late and sleep in. But running has changed all that, and for that I am thankful.
For the Challenge
I am constantly amazed at what the human body can do once you break down the mental barriers. You can go from being sedentary and morbidly obese to running marathons and beyond. You can push your pace faster than you ever thought imaginable. I find myself running now, in part, to see how far I can improve myself. I want to know how fast my body can go given enough training and effort. I want to know how far I can run before my body gives up and wants to rest. I want to push.
Overall, I run because that is who I am. Running is me, and I am a runner.