Why do you love to run so much? Seems like an easy question to answer, but getting to the root of that question requires a bit of digging. On the surface, running delivers the obvious benefits of cardiovascular exercise – it keeps our bodies and mind healthy. However, the reason(s) we run are deeply personal to each and every one of us; there is no ‘one size fits all’ reason for why we run.
I recently came across the profile of @themarathonmarcus on Instagram and was super impressed by his accomplishments and the running community he’s built. Marcus is a married father of two from London, UK. He works full-time but still manages to juggle his training around his busy life. Marcus is no stranger to sleepless nights, early mornings and balancing his time spent training with his family and work commitments.
He’s an Abbott’s World Marathon Major six-star finisher (Boston, NYC, Chicago, London, Berlin, Tokyo marathons) and has taken his marathon time from 4:55 to an impressive 3:00:19. Before the pandemic and races got postponed, Marcus was training to run a sub 3 for the 2020 London Marathon. This is my roundabout way of saying that he’s impressive – like, really impressive.
Marcus’ love for running is an obvious one. It was an easy fit to ask him to co-write this article with me. In this post, you’ll get an understanding of our whys, the aspects of running we don’t particularly love, how you can fall in love with running and with it, the importance of defining your why.
Why We Run
First, let’s establish your motivation/desire behind running. On days when motivation wanes and all you want to do is sit in your sweatpants, watch Love is Blind for the third time in a row, start a running tally of how many times Jessica mentions that she’s older than Mark, and then ask yourself why you even care, you need a strong why to get your ass out the door.
Running is difficult. There’s no way around that, especially for beginners. Even advanced runners and elite athletes don’t jump out the front door to greet their training with open arms. No, running is hard. Sometimes it breeds strong feelings of dread no matter what level you’re at. You’re exerting a ton of energy and that’s hard. The obvious question you’re asking is why run at all?
My partner recently read me the following quote: “do marathoners know they don’t have to run marathons?” LOL! We do, but we also know that running a marathon is a transformative experience and if you’re physically able (meaning you’re able bodied and have no chronic illnesses preventing you from running), we would encourage anyone to try and complete one in their lifetime.
Marcus started running for more tangible reasons. He wanted to chase the metals and times. Ultimately, however, this isn’t sustainable long term.
“When I refocused on running for long term health and intrinsic reasons, my relationship became more sustainable to weather tough moments.”
Running has brought me so much. The obvious benefits are staying healthy and fit, and that quotidian runner’s high that lasts the entirety of the day; allowing me to approach each day with more enthusiasm and focus. But for me, running is deeply personal. It’s a time every day that I dedicate solely to myself, a time to disconnect and work out solutions to difficult problems. Running helps relieve stress and helps me cope with anxiety. It’s helped me through some of my lowest moments when it feels like life’s been absolutely tearing me down.
Like Marcus, I used to just chase the metals and times. However, what I discovered throughout my journey is the myriad of other benefits that running can offer. Running brings the incredible feelings of achievement and the ongoing challenge of self-growth I crave. There’s always a way to improve (distance/time) or a new race to run. I’ve explored so many new places by running in my own city or while travelling. Every year, I find new ways to fall in love with running. I’ve been so thankful for my body’s ability to carry me through this rewarding sport over the past 12+ years.
The parts we don’t love
Although running brings with it a great deal of benefits, the harsh reality is that the actual act of running can be difficult, and when it comes to training for an upcoming race, the time commitment can be all-consuming.
Marcus’ marathon training is testing and there are aspects he finds challenging.
“Training for a sub-3 time is something I need to re-arrange my life for. For marathon training in particular, the challenges include my early morning training sessions, time away from my family, and limitations on recovery due to family and work commitments. Some of the people close to me comment on how integral running is in my life. So I’ve learnt through trial and error that communication and management of quality time is essential. Training is an integral part of my life and motivation simply isn’t enough. It’s there when you dream up the race idea on a warm comfortable sofa, but it fleets especially during the winter and early mornings. Training for a specific time result requires consistent effort. It requires focus on doing the right little actions daily, and making the actions of a person you aspire to be, rather than an all or nothing focus on a race outcome. I’ve also learnt to find the good in all parts of the journey, as my biggest lessons have come from the difficult moments, rather than the perceived wins”.
While I was training for NYC this past fall, I found the time commitment to be immense. Still trying to recover from my 100-miler, all while putting in insane weekly mileage and keeping up my consecutive streak, was a perfectly unsweet recipe for burnout. I was exhausted all the time and felt like a failure when I couldn’t hit my marathon pace during my tempo training runs. My coach was encouraging, but I still felt let down by myself… which brings me to a very important point. A passion for running can wane if you put inordinate pressure on yourself to perform at a certain level. Although I did enjoy my training at the beginning, as I inched closer to NYC, I started to dread my upcoming workouts. I was often stiff due to my consecutive streak and the other sports I participated in on a weekly basis. That’s when I decided to change my mentality and give my workouts everything I had, knowing that getting a personal best in NYC was probably unlikely. As soon as that mentality changed, I started to enjoy the workouts. The point I’m trying to hammer home is that performance pressure can make running unenjoyable, so try to relax and enjoy the journey. Show up and do the best you can on that specific day and be satisfied with that.
Like Marcus, I also find early morning training sessions to be particularly difficult. Running outside in the sub 0 weather is straight up my idea of hell. I can’t stand Canada’s long (and sometimes brutal) winters and the treadmill can get monotonous, which doesn’t leave me with a lot of pleasing running options.
Acknowledge and accept that you aren’t going to love everything about running. People give up way too easily, which is why it’s so important to define why you want to incorporate running into your life. Then use this as a driving factor to get it done.
How to love running
The actual act of running is difficult, so how do we actually fall in love with running? How do we get the most out of the sport?
Marcus suggests, “While having running goals (ie. Boston Qualifier targets) is important, don’t lose the joy running brings. Schedule some runs that aren’t training focused. Use your runs to explore a new place not dictated by your GPS watch. Better yet, leave your watch at home altogether. Communication with those closest to you is also important. Communicate your training commitments to your loved ones, involve them but also make time for them. Running with others is also a great way to meet new people and build your community. When you are training for a race, however, have several why’s. When it inevitably gets difficult, know that the difficulty or soreness in the moment is not permanent. Before a race I recall all the tough training moments I overcame. This reminds me of my strengths which I use throughout the race to persist through the rough times.”
I fell in love with running over 12 years while I was in University. Running was the driving force behind a life-changing weight loss, propelling me forward into a lifestyle of health and wellness. But throughout the years, that love has changed in many different ways.
I didn’t start with running 5 miles every day. In fact, I stuck with a 22 interval training plan that let me build up my endurance slowly. My biggest piece of advice is to not jump in full throttle or try to push beyond your limitations. It could cause you to negatively associate running with suffering or even worse, you could get injured. If you’re just starting to run, start slow. Have some self-compassion. Start with a kilometer (or even less). Walk if you’re out of breath. Just do a little more each day. While some are naturally gifted in the sport, for the majority of us, it can take a while to feel comfortable and confident with running.
I developed the #RUN30 challenge to provide some tools and resources to help runners at all levels tackle a running streak of their own. Try committing to running for 30 days (doesn’t matter the distance). Print out a calendar and reward yourself with a big ‘X’’ every time you finish a run.
I agree with Marcus that running goals are important; they keep you focused on your training and force you to improve. However, from personal experience, this can also have adverse effects. Be careful when measuring your performance and don’t expect daily improvements. It can be discouraging to see a 5k time that you haven’t seen in over a year, but remember that we’re not going to be on our A-game every single day. This is why it’s so important to define other reasons why you love to run. Understand and embrace these reasons. Exercise some self-compassion and know that the cumulative effects of consistent output will cause tremendous gains in the long term. Ditch the instant gratification mentality.
What’s your why?
If you have one take away from this post, it should be this one – it’s critical to understand why you want to run and don’t just say “because.”
Marcus makes a really strong point: “It’s essential to have multiple whys as they work at different moments. I have some personal and intrinsic whys, which I pull in during difficult training sessions and other tough moments I’ve overcome. One of my current whys is 20 seconds; the time I’m away from a sub 3, and I remind myself of that when I’m struggling.”
Like Marcus, I too have multiple whys. My mentality for daily workouts vs. running marathons vs. ultra marathons differs greatly. Running everyday is cathartic and serves me with bursts of energy. I remember these things when I’m sitting on the couch, procrastinating on my workout. I use memories of running by the water and listening to the calming sound of the waves. I feel my heart pumping through my chest and sweat falling off my face during those difficult, but amazing HIIT workouts on the treadmill. I think about the cool down and how good it feels to do a light walk or stretch after I’ve finished.
Compare that to a marathon. I absolutely love the feeling of completing a marathon. Emphasis on completing because marathons are hard as hell. There’s nothing quite like it in my opinion. When I run marathons, I typically go in with a time goal – whether it be to qualify for Boston or NYC or achieve a personal best. On a good day, the first 20-25 kilometers usually go pretty well. The last 5 miles are the worst and around the time when I hit the inevitable wall. During marathons, my why changes to that euphoric feeling of crossing the finish line, seeing my loved ones, and the prospect of having that medal hang around my neck. Then there’s the high that lasts much longer than a day; it can last the entire week.
For ultramarathons, my mentality is completely different. Ultras for me are not about time goals, they are about enjoying the experience, emerging myself in nature, and being present. Unlike marathons, I need to cognitively force myself to remember to slow down. There are no time goals; the only goal is to finish (within the time limits obviously). I love chatting with other ultra runners along the course, learning their background and what brought them here. I love to laugh, smile, and just enjoy my surroundings. When long endurance gets particularly tough, I use past emotional pain as fuel to get me through to the finish line.
Whether you’re participating in an upcoming race, just starting to run, wanting to improve your best time, or just want to develop a regular running habit, know your why and remember that. Stay strong when your inner monologue tries to talk you out of it.