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Why do you run?


The Long Run

Pip Coates was a swimmer until life got busy and she discovered the addictive simplicity of running. She's never looked back.

View more entries from The Long Run

"Running allows your mind to wander without being interrupted," says Nick Galvin.

"Running allows your mind to wander without being interrupted," says Nick Galvin. Photo: Aurora Images

I’ve been lucky enough to interview some extraordinary runners over the years. People like Dean Karnazes, Diane van Deren, Lisa Tamati and, my personal hero, US ultra-runner Marshall Ulrich.

All these guys have achieved extraordinary feats over distances that most of us would only ever do in an aeroplane.

One of the things I always ask is why they do it? Why they run? What is it that makes them put their bodies through such brutal torture and then keep coming back for more?

The odd thing, however, is they never seem to articulate a convincing answer.

Sure, they’ll talk about “the challenge” and “testing” themselves. Some of them might say they want to find out what they are made of and push themselves to the limit but none of it is very convincing.

Perhaps the best reply I ever got was simply that unless you are a runner you can’t possibly understand why people run. This is a bit like Mallory’s famous “Because it’s there” response in that it manages to say everything and not very much both at the same time. It’s also pretty much on the money. Not everything needs to be articulated. Some things just need to be felt at a visceral level.

But despite that (and maybe because I think too much) I thought I’d try and figure out my own reasons for running.
There are, of course, all the usual points about keeping weight off (and enjoying a guilt-free beer or two), keeping my heart strong, keeping my bones healthy ... But you can get all that from, say, swimming or an elliptical trainer. However, I choose to run, so there has to be more to it than that.

So, here are some of the reasons I run:
1. It’s simple. There’s no complicated equipment required save a pair of shoes and maybe a water bottle. You can run wherever in the world you happen to be - just head out the door.

2. Because I can. The time will come one day when knees, hips or general decrepitude will stop me running. But until then I’ll keep on clocking up the Ks.

3. It gives me time to think. Running allows your mind to wander without being interrupted. Some of the best ideas I’ve had have been while on the hoof.

4. Because I get out into nature. Much of my running I do in a national park, surrounded by flora and fauna. Just being outside is an end in itself.

5. I like runners. Generally speaking, they are nice people to hang around with. They have a positive outlook and tend not to whinge too much.

6. I like myself better when I run.

7. It makes me feel like a kid again. Remember when you used to run everywhere just for the sheer joy of it? There was never any reason to stop just because you “grew up”.

8. Discipline. It’s old-fashioned, I know, but we need some discipline and routine in our lives.

9. Because it’s fun, especially on those rare days when the world seems to spin under your feet and everything is effortless.

10. Because those diamond days come around only occasionally and often it’s bloody hard work. The ability to suffer and suck up pain is much underrated in our comfortable modern world.

Those are my reasons – this week at least. Why do you run?

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90 comments so far

  • All of the above and I love a healthy dose of endorphins also.

    Date and time
    April 26, 2012, 1:45PM
    • Nick, you are a man after my own heart. I take annual leave so I can go do a 6 hour bush run. If I'm lucky I might see one or two other people, most often not though. I describe running as my Zen experience. I love the rhythm of my legs, heart, breathing and the feeling of pure exertion and freedom that running provides. No cars to worry about, bikes, dogs or pedestrians. I can hop on a fire trail within 30 minutes of Sydney CDB and literally be on a different plane. People always ask me why and how I do it (I run on average 4-5 days a week clocking 60-80km's every week, year in, year out). It's impossible to explain apart from nothing is hard if you love it. I've tried many forms of exercise from the gym, to swimming, tennis and riding. Nothing comes close to running and I never ever feel like its a chore. In fact I welcome it, am thrilled when doing it and cherish every run. It's almost religious, and I'm not. I often run with a group of fellow like minded runners, the Sydney Striders, most who also share the love of running and the freedom that exercise brings. My wife can't understand it and never will. Nevertheless, she's happier being a running widow than a golfing one!! Keep running brothers and sisters and I look forward to seeing you on the track.

      Seamus O'Connor
      On the Track
      Date and time
      April 26, 2012, 2:01PM
      • Great reasons, all. Getting off the roads and on to the trails is particularly restorative, I think.

        Nick Galvin
        Date and time
        April 26, 2012, 3:32PM
    • I like the goal setting aspect - "Today I will run a little faster." "Today I will run a little further." "Today I feel crap, but I'm going to run and that's good enough." Every day is a chance to set a realistic goal and achieve it. And you've got to love that sense of achievement.

      Date and time
      April 26, 2012, 2:07PM
      • There should be an article about how to take up running - as silly as this may sound - for running beginners who have only ever done jogging and brisk walking as a form of fitness.

        How do you manage your body's energy and how do you prevent the chest pains when you have inadvertently overexerted yourself?

        Green Tea
        Date and time
        April 26, 2012, 2:25PM
        • Tough question - every one is different. I run a lot now but when I think back to when I started I did the following.
          Found a 5km circuit from home with a few good hills. Started running it, when I got tired I walked for a while then ran again. First tim maybe ran 2km, walked 200m, ran 1km, walked 200m, ran 1km, walked the rest.

          Keep at it. When you first start it will hurt after a couple of days and stiffen up, so I would suggest running/walking every day for a week to get over that hump, then you can run less frequently and recover.

          After a month or two you will be running 5km. Then you can just add a second loop and do the same until you can run 10km. Once you can run 10km you can run.

          Date and time
          April 26, 2012, 3:52PM
        • Google the C25K (Couch to 5km) progra, it's fantastic and can get anyone running.

          I don't love running, I enjoy the challenge of reaching a new goal. I'm trying my first marathon soon, and I find it very difficult to motivate myself to train. I feel great after a run though, and otherwise, I find reading about running is a kind of training.... right?!

          Date and time
          April 26, 2012, 5:09PM
        • I haven't tried it, but the Couch to 5K program (it's an app but you can do it without a smartphone as well) is for absolute beginners.

          I've just started running, and I find it helps to not overdo it too much. Always stop feeling like you could have done more. That's what brings you back the next day.

          Date and time
          April 26, 2012, 5:54PM
        • try a smartphone app like Ease into 5k, which is based on an absolute beginner and provides incrementing intensity, including a walking warm-up, then alternating runs and walks. It is absolutely fantastic - I didn't even complete it and managed to run a 5km race in 35 minutes, which amazed me! Highly recommended :)

          Date and time
          April 26, 2012, 6:38PM
        • I have only just started running (since late Feb). I have always been a walker having done the 100km Oxfam walk with no problem.

          However, I could never run - I literally could only manage about 500m before lactic burn stopped me.

          I then did two things:

          1. Got an app such as mapmyrun which allows me to measure how far I am running - you can use any GPS system. With this, I started measuring intervals - run for 600 m day 1; run for 800 m day 2; run for 1km day 3; run 2 x 800 km day 4 and so on (not directly like that).

          2. Learn technique - I used to run on my heels. This is wrong as it forces you to brake. Google running technique or running form or the like. You will see videos on how to do it and waht to look for (such as landing on the middle of your foot, etc).

          After about 8 weeks, I am now running about 5.8km and my max heart rate I am getting to is about 10bpm less than when I started.

          Public Joe
          Date and time
          April 26, 2012, 8:44PM

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