Monday, June 10, 2013

in which I tell you why you should not be a runner

I have a great coach, Jan, who has been a fitness professional for a long time. She’s run marathons, triathlons, coached, worked in gyms. You name it. She knows her stuff. And as we Skyped right before my half marathon and she gave me advice, she added one thing before we hung up:

“And hey, have fun with it.”

Those words proved the best piece of advice I received from anyone. Better than how to start, when to fuel, any of it. As I began, I told myself “I’m running a half marathon.” And I repeated that, with awe, as I ran. All those smiling pictures of me are because I had fun with it. And it’s with that in mind that I offer advice few would expect to hear from me. If you can’t have fun running, then don’t run.

Just don’t.

Running looks cool from afar. We see people run marathons and half marathons—even 5Ks—and we want to do that cool thing. But there’s more to it and you need to consider the more before you decide this is what you want.

Running is a serious commitment. It will eat up your time, and even more money than it seems it could as you get into more miles or run in varying climates. Running, real running, doesn’t have to be fast but it does have to be regular. After a couple weeks you begin to lose gains you have made. You can’t run here and there and maintain your running fitness levels.

This morning I was reading a running message board I read regularly. Some of the same people on there often lamenting this and that about running, always with dread. The dreaded 10 –miler, the fear of the next race, the constant questioning. And I want to say “Why are you running if you hate it that much?” Running isn’t a sport for you if you need to be told how good you are all the time. Running isn’t a sport for you if you need it to come easy all the time. Running isn’t a sport for you if you won’t commit to it and respect the run. Training a body to run multiple sustained miles is a big deal. The reward isn’t in other people affirming you did a good job (though we all like that and it's fun, but mostly that comes after a race, not on a daily run--no one gave me heaps of praise for getting up when it was dark and running 4.65 miles this morning when I was sleepy. I did that because I love the sport more than I do sleep). 

The reward is in running multiple sustained miles. You must have intrinsic motivation.

I am in the hardest running season since I returned to the sport—while the heat has become a bit better for me, it’s no secret I am leaving town sooner than expected partially because of the heat (though there are certain very practical reasons as well). But even now, even today, I like running. I don’t like heat, or crazy cold, or whatever uncontrollable circumstances may be there, but running makes me happy. Not once have I finished a run and regretted it. Not when I was tired or sick or hot or cold. I never came home and said “I wish I hadn’t run.”

If you hate it, don’t do it.

The first few weeks are hard, adjusting, hurting, learning what works and doesn’t. No one enjoys all of the process, but there should still be some excitement. Running is a great sport but it’s not for everyone. And sometimes it’s annoying to hear people who complain about every single run every day.

Running hurts. It will always hurt. If you run a lot of miles, you will have injuries. Some people only get minor ones that never actually stop their running, but you learn how to run hurt unless it’s a serious one. Running drives your schedule—especially when weather is involved. While some of us hate heat or cold or whatever, the fact is, you will have to run slower past 65 degrees; humidity will affect you and wind chill will affect you. If you commit to running, your schedule will change. You will choose running over eating certain foods, over social gatherings, over a movie. And if you’re a runner you won’t mind at all.

If you do mind, if you’re not having fun, find another sport. Seriously. Every run won’t be fun, of course. Some runs just plain stink. You can run 10 miles one day and feel like you could go on and do 2 three days later and feel like you’re dying. That’s the nature of the sport—but you still don’t regret it, you don’t hate it. It just makes you want to run again so you can do better.

There are sports I hate. I would be miserable in some step aerobics class for example. I would burn calories and be fit, but I would hate it. The idea is a lot of fun in my head but any time I have gone I have wanted to rip my eyeballs out I hated it so much. Things like boot camp don’t excite me; I have friends who love them. We are all different. And you don’t have to be a runner. You should do what you like. If you don’t like it, stop complaining about it and don’t do it.

Even as so many of my own friends are taking up running—some probably thinking it’s the most fabulous thing around the way I talk about it, I want to issue a caution. Running is a sport that needs respecting. It’s one of the only sports where you don’t stop. In major sports—football, baseball, soccer, etc., the game goes on without you. There are quarters, or innings or whatever. In running, you keep running. It’s about endurance. You have to like something to do it every day for an hour or two without stopping. And if you don’t, it’s crazy to do it.

This year I have run 453.6 miles—every step, no walking is counted in my running totals. I don’t regret one of them. Some were miserable. Some were torture. Some were injured. (The day I ended up in the ER because of my knee, the whole time all I could think was how happy I was I knocked three miles out before going to the ER). But all my runs are part of who I am. It’s not something I do to lose weight. It’s something I do to be me.

If you want to run, then I want you to run. I think running is one of the most incredible things in the world. But if it’s not for you, don’t try to fit a square peg in a round hole. Go find what you love and do it. No one is chiding you for not being a runner, but if you are a runner 1) you will run regularly 2) you will like it (generally speaking).

And really, what’s the point otherwise?

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