Why I Run

Running is a great analogy for life. It's fucking hard. Especially when you first start or when you're out of practice. It requires consistent willful subjection to both mental and physical suffering in order to make progress. And like most things in life, stagnation is not the default state. The second you stop running is the second your cardio begins to deteriorate. Slowly dwindling to levels just above when you first started.

Like life, running is composed of both the micro and the macro. The micro is the experience of a single run. Analogous to the experience of a single day, it's filled with ups and downs. The first few kilometers are met with self-doubt and the temptation to quit. Your back and legs, stiff as stone, beg your body to slow down. Your heart, beating like a war drum to pump blood throughout your body, shrieks in pain. Your lungs, expanding and contracting like a steam engine, fill your chest with fire. Your mind is overloaded with requests from your body to stop. And sometimes your mind listens. You slow down, decelerate into a jog, then from a jog to a walk. You immediately begin to rationalize your surrender. "I just wasn't feeling it today." "My legs are too sore." "I'm too tired right now." You quit.

But most of the time your mind ignores your body's requests to quit. This is what makes you a runner after all. Running, like life, is more of a mental endeavor than a physical one. It's a test of your mind's ability to tell your body who the fuck is in charge. And surprisingly, after a refusal to quit during the first few kilometers, your body stops complaining and starts to thank you. It releases endorphins that numb the pain, improve your mood, heighten your focus, and alleviate your anxiety.

During the course of a single run, you raise your body from a spoiled infant into a grateful adult. The first few kilometers, your body's childhood, it whines in protest of the run, begging you to let it be lazy. But like the good parent you are, you ignore its complaints. You force your body to embrace the discomfort. And as a result, it learns to adapt. During the remaining kilometers, your body's adulthood, it thanks you for instilling it with a sense of resilience and discipline. Gifting you dopamine and endorphins to show its appreciation.

But wars are not won from a single battle. The macro of running, the other equally important component, is how your runs, or lack thereof, contribute to your progress over time. At first, your gains are rapid. You double your speed and distance within two weeks. You start to think "Wow, I'm pretty good at this." But then life gets in the way, weather worsens, and work gets busy. Before you know it, It's been a month since your last run. And your first run back is almost as bad as your first run ever.

Running teaches you that consistency beats intensity. It's only through consistent effort over a long time horizon that lasting gains are made. You improve faster from three 30-minute runs than from one 90-minute run. The three 30-minute runs also have less risk of injury and are more flexible. Missing your weekly run is demoralizing and can quickly spiral into a one-month hiatus. But if you run every other day, missing one isn't a big deal.

Running teaches you that progress takes time. You can't just be consistent for a week or two. You need consistency for months. There's no shortcut to your first 10k or half-marathon or marathon. Your cardio doesn't care how far or fast you want to run. If you haven't put in the time, you'll be physically unable to get the results you desire. There's no luck in running. No game-winning 3-pointers or hole-in-ones. It's an absolute meritocracy between you, your mind, and your body.

A less talked about quality of running is that it's also a barometer for your health. Running after a heavy night of drinking shows you how garbage alcohol really is for your body. Your performance declines anywhere from 10%-30% and the run itself is infinitely harder than usual. And this degradation of performance will undoubtedly cause you to think twice about accepting that invite to the pub on Friday. A similar effect is felt when you eat Mcdonald's, smoke, or put any other types of poison into your system. Your running habit will let you know.

Running also improves your mood. After a hard run, your body feels relaxed and your mind is at ease. You feel calm and confident knowing that nothing in your day will be as challenging as what you've just done. You attain a level of mental clarity that could only otherwise be achieved by an orgasm or a vacation. Any anxieties you had before your run have vanished. And big problems don't seem so big anymore.

Running teaches you perseverance. Even if you've been running religiously and you're in great shape, you will encounter tough days. Days where it's the last thing you feel like doing. Where you feel slow. Where your body is screaming at you to stop. Where you think there's absolutely no way you'll be able to finish. But you do it anyways.

Those runs are the most important. They reveal that your mind is a fucking liar. And that when you think you're at your absolute limit, you're not even halfway there. And you can add that experience of overcoming adversity, of pushing twice as far as your mind told you you could, to your mental cookie jar. And the next time you feel that way (there will be a next time) you can reach into that cookie jar and grab that previous example. You can remind yourself what you're capable of. That you can run even if your legs are sore, even if you're tired, or even if it's the last thing you feel like doing. And when you do it, you'll add yet another cookie to the jar. And pretty soon that jar will be full. Full of experiences where you pushed beyond what you thought was possible. And there will be almost no level of mental or physical discomfort that can stop you.

That is why I run.

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