In recent weeks I’ve been tapering before and then resting after a big race, so I’ve been doing a little less of the actual physical, sweaty side of running. But I have been thinking about why I spend a lot of my free time doing it (and reading, talking and writing about it in between). For something I only spend about 5 hours a week actually doing, it does seem to take up a lot of my time and thoughts. [Insert joke about lack of thoughts here]
Primarily I run because I enjoy it; both the physical sensation of running, and being outside and passing through the world. But then again running the last few miles of a 20 miler, or holding on in that last 800m interval, is actually quite painful and isn’t enjoyable at all… And running in freezing, driving rain or into anything stronger than a gentle breeze is just awful. Ditto running in anything over about 18.5 degrees is just too sweaty. Oh and if it’s humid, even a little bit, it feels like your life force is draining out of you onto the floor. And your shorts afterwards will probably look like you have soiled yourself. Also; chaffing… Ow.
Running in the city or town is fine, if you can get around the wandering packs of pedestrians trying to get in your way, avoid the dogs trying to bite important parts of your anatomy and slip past the feral teenagers trying to drown out the haunting pain in their lives by hurling incoherent abuse in your direction. You will also have to negotiate crossings that will change (against you) when you get within about 5 yards of them, meaning you have to do the pause/un-pause watch thing (you need that 0.73 of a second on Strava) and look like a prat jogging on the spot. When you do get to cross motorists will then use the opportunity to try and hit you, or at least scare you into thinking they might hit you. Screaming is optional at this point, but is encouraged on hot days when open windows allow your supposed last words (‘AAAARRRGGGHHH-oh, erm, thank you…’) to be heard and laughed at.
Running in the countryside is much prettier, but leaves you even more exposed to unpleasant weather conditions. Nature also has a habit of adding hills, mud and other obstacles (mostly, different types of poo) which make running more difficult and unpleasant. The same pedestrians who got in your way on the pavement will now be wearing more colourful and rustling clothing, so are easier to spot, but they are even less inclined to control their rabid dog (‘He just wants to say hello!’) and they generally stand next to gates and in narrow pathways hoping they can tut at you as you try and pass. It is also easier in the countryside to get lost, and fear you might end up making an embarrassing appearance on ‘999’. Or your story being pilfered for an especially low-drama episode of Casualty. You are also at a slightly higher risk of being charged by a cow.
But all this leads to the second reason I run – the Challenge. I like the challenge of running, and that is what I think gets me through the slightly rubbish bits (which some people do moan about don’t they?). Wanting to go faster or further pushes me on to train through pretty much everything (including when I shouldn’t), and gets me out the door when all I want to do is have a nice sit down and a packet or two of biscuits. Finishing a 20 mile run, and hitting that last 800m interval at target pace, is hard work but that is what gives you that glorious feeling of satisfaction. You set yourself the challenge and you did it, so who cares if you look like you’ve wet yourself and your nipples are bleeding?
The pleasure of running, for me, is probably split between the enjoyment of the run itself and the satisfaction of completing the run and ticking it off, and looking towards the next one and hopefully getting the next PB or hitting the next goal. Sometimes on a run I get a wonderful feeling of almost gliding across the ground, moving fast whilst feeling relaxed and in control. It normally only lasts until I consciously think about it, and then I rub sweat in my eye or start to get a blister and the spell is broken. It does happen though and I normally get it at least once, however briefly, in every run. I don’t have to be running particularly quickly either, just well and then a little hit of running nirvana comes my way. That is worth chasing and putting my trainers on for.
Once I’ve finished and I’ve run the miles, or times, I wanted I get a slightly different feeling but it’s just as addictive. It’s more a slow burning feeling, of contentment and fulfilment, and lasts a bit longer. It’s still with me when I’m having my post-run shower or a cup of tea (with a tray of doughnuts). I even get hints of it when I look at my runs on Strava from weeks or months a go. It hopefully steers clear of smugness, but there is definitely pride in having got another run done and getting closer to another target, or being ready for another race. It helps motivate me for the next run at too early o’clock in the morning. Then I get the next hit and it starts all over again… A virtuous circle in action!
So basically I run because I like it and I like it because I enjoy it, most of the time. Sorry, I could have got to my point a bit quicker… If nothing else it gives me an excuse to dress up like a muppet with a bunch of other muppets and run round a cold park (and get a Christmas pudding). What else do you need?
Why do you run? For pleasure or practicality? Endeavour or endorphins?