I wouldn’t consider myself any different to other runners who enjoy the sport. Recently I’ve been thinking deeper about what drives me to run and how does running fit in with my life. These questions have aroused my curiosity and driven me to open up in written form.
How it all started
Running isn’t for everyone, but I don’t think people give it a chance it deserves. I think it’s a brilliant way to unplug from the world, get fit, have fun and experience rich, meaningful moments in locations that you can only reach by foot. When I first started to run, I only considered it a workout and didn’t see its potential to change the way I felt emotionally. It took some time to get my body in shape, and as you may have read in other posts, it was a rollercoaster. I saw my body transform and felt the runner’s high for the first time and wanted more!
What compelled me even to try? As I mentioned in a previous post, I started running back in 2010 during a slump between jobs and needed something to occupy my time until I found work. This was only part of the reason, I was beginning to put on weight, and I needed a way to lose it!
I found it incredibly easy to put on weight as a kid. With a lot of determination, I changed my diet and began weightlifting when I was sixteen. I enjoyed the gym routine and became quite knowledgeable about equipment and workout methods. I got a real boost of energy when I was pushing myself hard, and I felt the difference in my body when the weight fell off. I wasn’t, however, the kind of guy that went there to look in the mirror, hang out with mates and show off.
During University and the start of my career, my habits came back. I lost all I had achieved from a poor diet and more time sitting at a desk. My job didn’t allow me to have the time to keep fit, and I lost all motivation for the gym from tiredness.
While I was waiting for a new job the weight increased and I needed a way to get fit. I had no interest to get back into a gym routine that just became repetitive over time and in the same surroundings. My interest was no longer to find an activity like the gym for the purpose of a workout and to make me look good. Instead, I wanted to find something that was not only fun but had a greater goal and meaning to me. I wanted to measure my performance against myself and not others.
Running was the simplest and cheapest thing I thought of to try, and I gave it a go. It was hard to get going as my cardio fitness sucked! Once I got the hang of things I needed a goal to aim for to keep me going, otherwise, I would have found any excuse to stop. I decided to sign up for a local half marathon. I had never pushed myself towards a goal like this, and I got to experience the outdoors rather than a sweaty man groaning as he does his bench press!
I felt so many emotions that I couldn’t put into words when I crossed the half marathon finish line. I found something that truly spoke to me and gave me back what I wanted so much. It no longer felt I was doing it because I was running away from something or trying to improve the way I looked. I was doing it for the love of the sport and how it was making me feel.
Food and running
My relationship with food is nothing compared to a stereotypical athlete who calorie counts, where is the fun in that? When I was a kid, I ate everything bad for you and was very easily persuaded by temptation.
As I grew up, I found a lot of pleasure eating healthily and exploring vibrant, fresh produce, rich in nutrients but I wasn’t going to force myself into a diet. Diets aren’t a long-term solution, as they don’t tend to fit well in everyone’s lives. I did, however, find a healthy balanced eating habit that fits comfortably with my life. Treats in moderation!
There are some exceptions obviously, but I think we get too wrapped up in self-image and don’t enjoy simple pleasures that make us happy. I’m quite satisfied with the way I am now and benefit from the pleasure of food accompanied with my love of running.
Running and my life
This past year I’ve dug a bit deeper into how running should fit in with my life, and it boils down to the way I was training for my first race. I went by feel, and I just ran. I wasn’t glued to my watch or telling myself I needed to do hill and sprint repeats each week because my training schedule told me I had to. I just ran. I didn’t have a device telling me to stop and take a break but instead I let my body adapt naturally and give me signs when it needed to take five.
I have become so wrapped up in my performance and trying to beat times that I let technology and statistics rule how I should train, run and feel. Sure, there are some significant benefits to using the science in training and methodology to a training plan to excel, but I think we can take it all too seriously. I’ve seen that in myself. I stress myself out too much on a race or a time that I forget to enjoy the moment. I mentally fatigue myself with too many rigid goals and stats that I create negative assumptions based on previous results.
Like a lot of runners, I’ve always signed up for races and then trained for it. I create a monthly training plan that leads me up to the race event with a weekly routine I can follow. I’ve always enjoyed the routine and pushing myself each day.
The ups and downs of a training plan, however, don’t feel natural, and you’re trying to squeeze everything you have in a matter of weeks before you pop. I’ve gone over the top leading up to some races and overtrained, which has been a disaster.
Training for the half iron came with a lot of stress. I had trouble towards the end staying motivated and stuck to my training schedule. At times it became a chore rather than a lifestyle. I felt like I was overtraining again and had to take a couple of weeks off to slow down before I did pop. It was at this point I knew my training lifestyle had to change going forward.
Training and racing at events over the past two years opened up a lot of questions as to why I was doing it. Was it because I wanted a better 10k and half marathon time or was it the love of the sport that drove me? I’ve always been a little competitive and always driven myself to do well, but I have felt that this has set back my ability just to enjoy the sport. I’ve noticed that there is far more competition and boasting between athletes in road racing and some of the triathlon events. I find it just a bit too serious.
When I started to get involved with trail races, I noticed an entirely different vibe. No one had a previous race t-shirt or branded clothing to show off to others, and there was a community spirit that spoke out so differently. It felt more like we’re in this race together rather than against others.
Road to trail
I first got introduced to trail running when I stumbled upon a YouTube channel hosted by a guy who calls himself the Ginger Runner. I had been looking for some shoe reviews, and his humour and background got my attention. With a little more time I got to see what he was trying to share with others. His filmmaking and passion for the trails were very evident, and it got me excited. His films and music are very motivational, and his work with other runners expanded my knowledge even further. I decided to give my first trail run a go, and I loved it.
It was the difference in attitude that has driven me to pursue trail running more and move away from road racing. I no longer care so much about fixating on finish times and instead I’m more interested in the discovery aspect of running on trails.
I believe that trail running has to be a lifestyle choice that fits in with my routine rather than dictate each week with a training schedule. I’m in a position that I no longer feel the need for a big race to motivate me to run, which means I don’t need to pressurize myself with one either. I can, instead, make running a lifestyle choice and then choose races that work with my current fitness. Trail running doesn’t feel like a ‘workout’ but an opportunity to experience rich, meaningful moments that have real value to me.
There is a running community that is uniquely wonderful that supports you on and off the trail. The lifestyle is not about which big race you did, what your finish time was, or what pace you ran in. It’s less about trying to be the fastest to cross the finish line and more about the challenges and lessons you faced to get there. It’s all about the journey you take and how it makes you feel inside. It’s a playground I can get lost in and switch off from the world. I can just go by feel and let my legs take me on a random journey.
Trail running feels like being a child again, learning and having the sense of curiosity and discovery when you enter a new environment and choosing the path less trodden. You want to see what’s on the other side and what you’re capable of through perseverance, grit and overcoming fears and doubts. It’s a place you can try and fail so you can train your mind to pick yourself back up again so you can succeed next time.
The trails allow me to run away free and feel more in touch with my feelings. They make me feel stronger. I learn where my limits are. I get to escape the modern world, technology, and my job. I get to play, have fun and enjoy the view and sounds of nature. I get to empty my mind from daily lists, chores, and stress.
I love breathing the fresh air and pine needles and the feeling I get running through mud and puddles and not caring how dirty I get. I love the excitement and rush I get when I jump around roots and rocks. I get to make my path and not be influenced by anything. I feel a sense of accomplishment and pride as I push my abilities further and see my transformation.
Why do you love to run?