Okay, all the usual reasons for running. To keep fit, to lose weight, to run a marathon because it’s on your bucket list – but what are the other reasons, or advantages, that runners have over non runners?
The reason i started thinking about this topic is because I was, last week, changing in my gym changing room, after some cross training, along with some squash players. One of these squash players, who was obviously fired up with his newly found sport, started announcing to the room that squash was really interesting and that he was an ex-runner who found running boring and was glad that he had given it up.
I don’t get drawn in to that sort of conversation where the persons mind is firmly made up already. It did, however, set me wondering what I get out of running and how it affects the non-running part of my life.
First, the obvious, keep fit and lose weight. The keep fit is not argued. The ‘lose weight’ is slightly more complicated. Logic would dictate that if you go for a run and use up 500 calories and, when you get back home you eat a meal of 500 calories, you have gained no more weight loss than if you had skipped the meal and not run. So why does running work for weight loss? Simple, sometimes it doesn’t – but. If you are a new runner and finding it hard to keep going on a run because you are overweight, you naturally diet to lose weight to make it easier to run without running out of energy. You keep it in your mind that if you lose two pound off your body it will be like discarding a bag of sugar from the rucksack that you take with you running. (for rucksack read belly pot).
So far the squash man is right, you can lose weight also in order to be better at squash. So what about other advantages?
An experienced runner will never make a decision while running up hill. If you find yourself thinking about the future of a run while travelling uphill (eg. If I walk for a bit my time will not suffer that much or this hill is so steep if I walked it would be quicker than running) the experienced runner will blank their mind and think “When I get to the top of this hill and it flattens out a bit, I will make a decision on the rest of the run.” The reason I mention this? Pat, my wife, was also a runner years ago and I rang her from work – I had a horrible, negative boss at the time who enjoyed bringing people down in the mistaken belief that it raised him up. I rang Pat and told her he was being particularly bad and although I hadn’t handed in my notice, I had decided to look for another job and then leaving my employ. Pat’s reply – “Are you making a decision while running uphill?”. She was right. I carried on, got to the top of the hill, decided to ignore my bosses negativity and stayed in that employ until long after he had been dismissed.
Signing up for tough things, makes the tough things that life throws at you a lot easier to cope with. I heard this on a podcast with an interview of an American psychiatrist John Ratey MD who described signing up for tough things as “Stress Inoculation” I shall try to explain. If asked if we are stressed in work most of us will say yes we are (if we are not then we may be let go as not being needed). When Pat was an A&E nurse she did a dissertation on stress which we discussed at length. In a nutshell, we all need an amount of stress in our lives otherwise life would be boring and uninteresting. Occasionally that stress level will be raised temporarily and will be difficult to cope with but will be coped with if the time period is not too long. If the too high stress level goes on for too long it becomes dis-stress and can cause anxiety, illness and possibly total collapse. It is difficult to explain to non runners but, overcoming pain, say at the end stage of a marathon, makes you stronger – you can even get a kick from “overcoming and beating the torture and coming out the other end.” Another way a runner copes with self imposed stress during a long run is by knowing, through practice and by previous knowledge, whether the stress is temporary or not. A seasoned runner who feels absolutely terrible on a run, will not tell himself that his race is over, he will tell himself that he is going through a rough patch and will wonder how long it will be before he comes out the other side, feeling better. The non-running, life in general comparisons, are obvious.
Throw away the negatives and look for the positives. A friend was training for a marathon and we decided to run one of my training runs together, a four lap run adding up to twelve miles. Running laps can give you mental toughness if you use the run well and look for the positives. I told him, after the first lap, that we had completed one leg of a three leg stool and that I saw the first three laps as building three legs and that they would support the final lap being the seat of the stool. He could not see the positive and looked only at the negative and replied “What you are trying to tell me is that we are not even half way around.” Pat and I couldn’t get into Madeira Island last year because of high winds and we were diverted to Tenerife. Every passenger on the plane (bar us) saw this as a negative. we took the positive of the adventure, the fact that we’d never been to Tenerife before and took the opportunity to do some duty free shopping and sending “selfies” to people who expected us to be in Madeira.
We get “Me Time”. Searched out more by women than men, for some reason. Me time is important. Whether you are busy with children or grandchildren, me time is precious and starts the moment you step out of the door with your running kit on. For me, headphones are a big no, no unless I am on a treadmill. I enjoy the singing of many different kinds of birds locally and would hate to miss that and have “background music” in my ears. Every runner knows the feeling of suddenly coming out of a trance and thinking “how did I start thinking about that?” and then trying to wind back to see what started the chain of thoughts off and how it led to the weird thinking at the end of the chain. The problem I have with ‘me time’ is running in HR zone 2 and letting my mind wander and then waking up in HR zone 3 – where it is more natural to run. Yes I take a mobile phone with me on a run for emergency use and, yes, it’s on airplane mode so it cannot disturb me.
How is my nutrition working for me. I am not going to bang on about NSNG, being fat adapted, avoiding bad carbs, wondering why governments keep preaching 1960’s out of date dietary advice – you can read all about that in any of my previous blogs or books that I have previously recommended. Suffice to say that, as a runner I have read a number of nutrition books (not necessarily aimed at runners) and listened to regular running, diet and lifestyle podcasts. I don’t think if I was a non-runner I would have been so interested in what was going into me.
Thank you running and the running community for all you have done for me.