For all its virtues, one thing that running does not have on its side is logic. It is hard and requires a big dose of effort. After exerting your energy supply, you are left back where you started, having circled a meaningless loop. Perhaps running is a silly way to spend your spare time.
Yet running is an immensely popular sport. In fact, it is the most popular in England with over 6.8 million people running at least twice a week. More and more people are willingly subjecting themselves to the pleasurable discomfort it promises. You see them trotting about with smug expressions of glee beaming from their eyes. However, it is a tricky task to pinpoint exactly what running offers. What is behind those beaming eyes (or stern grimace’s, as the case may be)?
Whilst at university, I have become one of these smug runners. It is addictive. I am helplessly ensnared in the web of running’s allure. I try and get out three times a week to keep things moving. I’m in training for a marathon. You could say I have been bitten by the proverbial ‘running bug’.
Chatting to a friend in the pub last weekend, he told me that he simply found running too boring. He said he found it monotonous and despaired at the lack of variation in plodding forward, one foot at a time. No ball or rules. At that moment, I found it hard to disagree, but I knew deep down I felt much differently. I wanted to articulate the abstract gut response I felt more concretely. I had to formulate a definitive response to the ‘it is boring’ critique of running.
The gut response I am referring to is something all runners feel. It is expressed at local Parkrun’s on a wet Saturday morning, when the usual ironic phrase, ‘why do we do this to ourselves?’ is cheerfully bellowed amongst the runners. We laugh in agreement, but inside we know why. I believe this ‘why’ is different for everybody. However, broadly speaking it is because it makes you feel good. A rush of endorphins and a sense of accomplishment is a powerful combination. Although the prospect can be dull, no one ever regrets a run upon completion.
Beyond the chemical explanation, a central joy of running is that it is low stakes. You are running against yourself and you set your own targets. The joy of running comes not from winning in competition, but rather from the sheer pleasure of the process. If you decide to enter a race, what matters most is whatever target you set yourself. None of the other runner’s care about your performance.
In his book, Born to Run, Christopher Mcdougall makes an interesting case for the centrality of running to human existence. He argues that early humans evolved to be natural endurance athletes. Humans practised persistence hunting – chasing animals over long distances until they dropped dead. Over long distances, we are the Olympic champions of the animal kingdom. Running is in our DNA and explains our biological makeup.
In a more practical sense, running is well suited to university life. It is cheap, so, therefore, can be justifiably fit into a tight budget. Running is also flexible, so it can be packed into a busy schedule. Running can also be wonderfully sociable. I have some of my best chats on leisurely jogs with my friends. Running makes your mind feel miraculously clearer. The ability to shake a foggy-head makes university easier.
I encourage you to find your ‘why’, whatever it may be. I have contemplated what makes me want to run on a rainy day, and it’s likely that everyone has their own different reasons for running. Allow yourself to drift back into that playful childhood state whereby you are overcome by an inexplicable urge to run – children charge around in spontaneous frenzies when they are having fun. Perhaps, this is a mindset that should be recovered. Running is a natural state of joy and should not be neglected.