March challenge: go for a run
I never used to understand running. Why would you put yourself through sweaty, painful, injury-inducing exercise that was slow and boring? Give me a bicycle any day. But then I signed up for an Ironman triathlon, and was forced to learn to run (a marathon of all things – having never run anywhere before!). And to my amazement, I loved it. The mistake I had been making was comparing it to cycling, which it is not. Yes, it’s slower than cycling, yes, it’s harder on the knees, no, you can’t freewheel, but none of that matters when you’re out there. Because running is simply that. You go at a running pace, not a cycling one; your boundaries are redrawn. It opens up new experiences and new ways of looking at life.
Most of my cycling is to get somewhere, but the beauty of the run is that it is solely for the purpose of itself. You run to run. There might be training involved, or a fitness regime, or the undertaking of a massive adventure, but the run is the focus. The simplicity is a revelation, and it’s wonderfully freeing to have enforced head space, and to have the time to think and allow your thoughts to rearrange themselves and process the nitty-gritty of what is going on in your life.
I was also amazed at how good I was at running; as someone who had always resisted it, saying I couldn’t do it, I found myself remarkably suited to running. It was easy. The only barrier was the fact that I’d never tried.
It took time to work up to a marathon, of course, but it’s an excellent reminder of the adaptability of the human body; little by little, I became more adept at this new form of activity. I was really surprised at the muscular transformation: though I’ve always been an active person, running gave me muscle strength I didn’t know I had. I have never felt as fit as when I’ve been running.
And it’s not just physical fitness: it is also fantastic for your mental health. I would always advise running outside, rather than on a treadmill: being in nature, feeling the breeze rather than air conditioning, absorbing the sun – these are all important aspects that should not be overlooked.
So my challenge to you this month is to give it a go, especially if you’re the type who thinks they hate running. It doesn’t take a huge amount of specialist equipment – a good pair of trainers is all you need (and they don’t even need to be that good). There are some very useful programmes around to help get you started, including Couch to 5k and the ubiquitous Park Run. There are also some very inspirational books including Born to Run by Christopher McDougall (I finished it with a tear in my eye and a smile on my face, a sure sign of a good book) and Eat & Run by Scott Jurek – a fellow vegan runner.
This time two years ago I had never run anywhere ever. Now I have completed an Ironman and am on track for my third marathon. There’s something quite addictive about it. Give it a try.