What I like about running

So far, I don’t love running yet. Scott Jurek talks about going for a run simply for the joy of running. Now, I really am in love with the idea of running for the joy of running. It’s just that, in practise, I haven’t found that running inspires that kind of joy in my heart. Certainly not while I am in the process of running.

Running seems to be on my mind all the time. I think about it when I fall asleep at night. In fact, more accurately, it’s what keeps me from falling asleep at night. As I settle down and assume the sleep position for the night, and wait for that delicious moment between awake and sleep, that moment just before you free-fall into peaceful sleep, my mind is crowded with images of running. I picture myself running, feel myself running. My whole body is awake and running. And I seem to run the same piece of ground over and over without fatigue.

And running is on my mind when I wake up, my first thought being that I should go for a run. Now. Then I don’t go for a run and so the fact that I must go for a run at some stage before I end up back in bed being kept away by thoughts of running again stays on my mind all day. I ponder what time I will go for a run and revise the planned run schedule numerous times as the day’s tasks keep mounting.

I think about running while I try to avoid going running. I think about it while I am fetching The Kid from school, driving her to music lessons, listening to her chatter about what had happened at school and while I am grocery shopping. I think about it while I procrastinate on Facebook and I think about it while I search for races to enter instead of actually heading out the door.

I think about it while I am having a glass of wine with my supper and when I am out to dinner. I think about what I’m eating and how it will affect my running the next day, and I think about how I shouldn’t be drinking any wine because it’s not helping my running in any way.

I think about it while I work, or am supposed to be working – like now – and it slows down my work because I can’t focus on just getting the job done. So my work falls behind, which means I really shouldn’t go out for a run, I should be sitting at my computer catching up on my work instead.

When I do eventually translate all this thinking about running into actual running, the experience of being out on the road, running, leaves me a little bit underwhelmed. I want to love it. I want to feel that there is nothing I would rather do. I want to feel my heart bursting with the joy of being a body in motion. And I want my body in motion to feel more like a fleet-footed gazelle than a leaden-legged hippo.

But, really, running is just hard. Every part of your body is involved in propelling you forward. I mean, yes, it is just a simple case of putting one foot in front of the other, and keeping on doing that until you get to where it is you were hoping to get. But, in order for you to keep putting one foot in front of the other, you need to engage the cooperation of your feet, ankles, knees, hips, arms, shoulders, neck, head, heart, lungs and muscles – all of them, all your muscles, even the ones in your fingers, I think. And if you had muscles in your ears, I think they would be involved too.

It’s when I stop running that I love running. It’s when I stop running that I feel I stopped too soon, that I should have carried on running a bit further. I feel that I didn’t run hard enough, that I should have spent less time feeling underwhelmed by the experience and more realizing at the time that I was, in fact, loving it.

At any level of running, the act of running takes you to the edge of your limits. When you start out on your first run, it seems as if you reach your limit within minutes. Your heart pounds, your lungs want to pop and your legs refuse to carry you another step further. If you don’t stop at that point, if you find a target in the distance – and ‘in the distance’ can be only ten paces further – and keep going, you find that what you thought was your limit is not really your limit. And even when you reach that target in the distance, you might find, if you’re brave enough, that your limit is even beyond.

As your fitness and confidence improves, so your limits expand. It takes a little bit longer each time before you feel you have reached the point where you can go no further. But you become aware, also, that what you think is your limit is not really your limit. There is a limit, of course, but I think most of us never reach it.

And that is something to love about running: that it shows you that what you thought was your limit is not your limit, that you don’t really have a clue what your limits are because you haven’t ventured anywhere near them yet.

I’m a closet stats lover and record keeper. I love marking off each run on my training calendar, and I love uploading my runs to Strava (or on the Nike app or on Endomondo or writing them down in a training log – anything that will record what I have done and show my progress) and checking how far I have run and how fast and how often. I love to see each run recorded next to the day, date and time – how fast, how far – and the total distance, time and average speed/km alongside. Looking at the stats motivates me. I don’t like seeing empty spaces – days on which running didn’t happen – and so it spurs me on to get out there, for however short a distance and slow a pace, to just get something logged each day or, more realistically, most days, or as many days as possible, or some days …

Rest days. I love rest days. Not because those are the days on which you don’t run but because the contrast between running days and rest days makes it very clear that today you are resting. As much as running revitalises you, and gives you energy and clarity of mind, it also creates a very pleasant tiredness. And the tiredness of a running day contrasts very satisfyingly with the business of resting. What I love – a lot – about running is rest days.

Eating and drinking, notably, eating pasta and drinking wine – now there’s something that rates highly on my list of things to love. And neither tastes better at any time than after a good run (or even after a bad run). It’s as if all the senses are heightened after a run, and everything smells better and tastes better. And you’re so much hungrier after a run, so eating a delicious meal is so much more satisfying. I think there might also be something in feeling nurtured and comforted after having suffered a bit that makes food and drink taste so much better.

The showers! Ah! A hot shower after a run. A shower is refreshing and invigorating at the best of times, but after a run …! Again, it’s the heightened senses, I think, and so the hot water falling on your skin, washing the aches and pains away along with the sweat, is just so much more invigorating.

You always feel better after a run. No matter how tired, stressed, worried, sad or fat you feel, and even if you really, really, really don’t feel like running but you drag yourself out onto the road anyway, you always feel better afterwards.

I love how my legs look after a few months of running. Flab? Cellulite? Old lady legs? Ha! And I love how running has slimmed me down. I’m a bit weedy from the hips up, for lack of weight training, but burning those calories out on the road has allowed me to haul out clothes that I haven’t worn in years and shopping for new clothes, especially jeans, isn’t as depressing and traumatising as it used to be. Funnily enough, those changing room mirrors don’t seem nearly as flawed and unflattering as they used to, either. I feel lighter, too, without stepping on the scale to check whether I really am or not. In fact, I’ve not been on the scale in weeks. The number just doesn’t matter when you’re relatively happy with what the mirror shows you.

I love running when I get to the end of my run, when I put on the brakes and slow down to a walk, feeling smugly satisfied that I have put some kilometres behind me. That’s when my red and sweaty face breaks into a smile and the endorphins rush to my brain to tell me ‘That felt good!’ I love the feeling of having been cleaned out – every cell in my body, my lungs, my heart, my muscles and my mind. All that junk has been burnt up, sweated out and blown away in the wind.

But what I love about running while actually running …? Nah. Coming up empty. I can’t think of anything to love about running while running. For me, running is definitely better in retrospect.

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