If you are not a runner (yet), you may wonder what the attraction is. From the outside running must seem like a very boring hobby indeed. Constantly putting one foot in front of another for minutes and possibly even hours? How is that in any way exciting?
But talk to any runner and you’ll realise that running offers a lot more to an individual than just a means of getting from A to B.
We all run for different reasons.
- Some runners train to win races and push their bodies as far as they can.
- Some people run for health and weight-loss reasons.
- Many runners use running as a way to escape – to reduce stress and clear their heads of their worries and responsibilities.
Whatever their reason to run, most runners are passionate about how running makes them feel and are keen to encourage others to give it a try. Running is my way of feeling free and enjoying the fresh air.
I return home positive, enthusiastic and energised. I feel strong and capable and clearer in my head. I feel like my day is a success even if I have done nothing else but run. I may not be the fastest runner, but speed is not the priority in my running. I love how running makes me feel afterwards and also the friendships and opportunities for travel and adventure it has offered me. I never envisaged how much I would enjoy the social side of running.
Whether it is the company of a friend on a leisurely weekend run, the exchange of a smile and a nod with a passing runner in the park, the buzz of taking part in a marathon or the simple joy of coaching a group of runners to their first 5k, the camaraderie of fellow runners is priceless.
Growing up, the only runners I was aware of were ‘athletes’. They were members of an athletic club, comfortable in short shorts and very competitive. Running was about winning races, getting faster and pushing themselves to their limits. I don’t remember knowing anyone who ran purely as a leisure pursuit. But in recent years there has been a significant growth in the number of people running for fun.
While certain runners continue to run for peak performance and podium places, more of us are happy to run just for ourselves and take on challenges with a little less dedication than those at the top. This more relaxed bunch are what we call ‘recreational runners’ and there are a lot of us out there. Many have taken up running in their adult years and their focus is very different from that of the competitive athlete.
We all know someone who is the ‘unlikely runner’; someone who was never sporty and is now taking part in races and events and is passionate about how running makes them feel. Running has a strange power of taking hold of our perceptions of our capabilities and makes us realise that we are able to do a lot more than we think. The increased self-belief, pride and resilience leads to a more positive mindset overall.
While many recreational runners start out running for health, fitness or weight-loss reasons, most runners keep it up for another reason. It’s only when you start running regularly that you realise the main added bonus of running. Running has a powerful way of offering headspace.
Running can reduce a temper or lift a bad mood. There are also benefits from running that have nothing to do with our physical or mental wellbeing. Something as simple as the discipline of following a training schedule and structuring a season of training has taught many of us how to set goals, follow a plan and deal with setbacks along the way. This can then be applied to many other areas of our lives.
Forget the gym
Let’s be clear. I am not anti-gym. If you enjoy the gym and you are motivated to go then please keep going. There are great exercises, classes and trainers that come with a gym membership. That is, if you actually turn up. It’s very easy to buy a gym membership but it’s a lot harder to be a consistent gym-goer.
Gyms can be intimidating places full of beautiful bodies and complicated machines and if you are self-conscious or lacking in confidence as well as fitness, often the gym can become the place that you feel guilty avoiding rather than somewhere you look forward to attending.
I have exercised outdoors for so long now that exercising indoors feels claustrophobic. I love the fresh air and the clarity and freedom that being outdoors brings. If you too are a little gym shy, remember there is a whole gym on your doorstep if you look outside the window.
The hardest bit, like any exercise regime, is getting started. Once you walk or run outside, a treadmill is never quite the same again. From park benches to trails, steps to lamp posts, you can create your own ‘green gym’ workout. The fresh air clears the head and lifts the spirits – I find that my best ideas come to me when I’m out for a run. It’s not just me who finds this either – studies in Britain, Scandinavia and the United States are consistently finding that people exercising outdoors display higher vitality, energy, enthusiasm and self-esteem than when they perform the equivalent exercise indoors. In virtually all of the studies, they also show signs of lower fatigue, tension and depression after an outdoor activity. I miss it when I don’t get outside; sunny days stuck in an office drove me to leave my desk-bound job and set up Forget The Gym.
I dreamt of a job where I could be in the driving seat and choose to be outdoors when I wanted. It was not a particular love for exercise, but more a love for the freedom of the great outdoors. Getting outside at whatever pace is right for you today is the best thing you can do to enhance your life.
Less stress, more fun
I remember asking one of my running students how she was feeling about running. She told me that it was her running anniversary and guess what she said? ‘I’m two years older but ten years younger.’ Running needs to be fun, yet many people take it too seriously. Put simply, if we don’t enjoy it, we won’t keep it up.
If running becomes a chore, it joins the long list of things we feel we should be doing but never get time to do properly. Instead we need to start seeing it as a privilege and an honour to be able to get out the door. Running doesn’t have to always be about keeping up with others. We have enough stress in our days without running adding to it. Yet I see a lot of runners anxious and disillusioned with running because they have perceptions of where they should be as a runner and constantly compare themselves with other runners. They overtrain and burn out.
Over the past 10 years, her business, Forget The Gym, has developed to teach everyone from beginners right up to seasoned marathon runners.”
What is the point in running if it is going to bring such anxiety with it? While there are times when pushing our bodies to reach a personal best time or a longer distance is right for us, the number of kilometres, or the time on the clock should not always be the most important thing. It’s true that we thrive on that feeling of progress when we get faster and stronger, but there is a fine line between pushing ourselves and getting injured.
For running to be a lifelong fun activity we need to look after our bodies, treat them with respect, reward them for the hard work put in, and sometimes give them a kick in the right direction when feeling a little lazy.
Mary Jennings started coaching family and friends to enjoy running just for fun, but as they started to improve, look for new challenges, and tell their friends, this expanded into coaching running full-time for her. Over the past 10 years, her business, Forget The Gym, has developed to teach everyone from beginners right up to seasoned marathon runners.
Get Running by Mary Jennings is published by Gill books and is available in bookshops and online (€16.99).