I started running three years ago to lose weight and get in shape and since then, I have finished two half-marathons, a triathlon, one 10K, and a handful of 5Ks. I still enjoy the weight-loss benefit that comes from running, but that's not what has motivated me to stick with a regular running schedule. The other benefits of running are far more motivating than the scale.
Before I started training for my first half-marathon, my longest run was three miles. It felt great to cross the finish line of my first few 5Ks, but I wanted to see if my body was capable of something more. Now I know that both my body and mind are capable of completing longer distances, and once you finish a half-marathon, you have the confidence to step even further out of your comfort zone and see what else is within your capacity.
Nothing beats the restful night you experience after a long training run, but even knowing I have a short morning run planned before work has taught me to prioritize sleep every night. Running has made sleep vital to my healthy routine, and the tired legs and relaxed mind make it possible to have quality Zs.
When I started running, I did everything I could to turn the music up loud enough to drown out the repetitive clunk of my feet hitting the pavement. Over the years, though, I've experimented with new playlists, audio books and podcasts, but have come to appreciate the repetitive, meditative quality of my foot strike. Counting my footfalls lulls me into a quiet, meditative place in my mind that helps me adjust my pace, concentrate on how my body feels, and make it through the long runs without losing my mind.
Starting my day with a morning run, makes me more productive throughout the workday. I'm more alert, more relaxed, and more able to make decisions effectively. Hitting the pavement before the sun comes up also frees up my evenings to relax, share time with friends, or tackle housework before falling into bed at night.
There's a noticeable difference in my attitude throughout the day if I've missed a run. It's not just my body that feels sluggish, but my attitude. Because running improves my relationship with myself, I'm able to have more positive interactions with others all day.
Being able to join a friend for a run, or to share a race experience with a friend builds bonds far stronger than hitting a happy hour together. I've also felt a profound sense of gratitude for friends and family members that have shared race day with my through encouraging texts and phone calls and standing along the race route in the rain to cheer me on. Hitting the finish line at my second half-marathon, drenched from the rain and sweat, but full of gratitude for my parents and best friend that cared enough to cheer me on in the downpour was one of the happiest moments of my life.
I have struggled with anxiety my entire adult life. The runner's high and endorphins are far more effective than medication in combating and managing my anxiety. The increased physical and mental stamina, better sleep, and sense of accomplishment in hitting another training goal also provide the mental relief I've been seeking. Spending some much-needed alone time during the long runs gives my wandering mind plenty of opportunities to ruminate and solve the challenges that used to result in debilitating anxiety.
That wandering mind also has created some pretty strange mental tangents and daydreams through long runs, too. My creativity spikes when my mind is too relaxed to worry and has time to just wander. More than once, I've walked in the door and scribbled down an epiphany in the closest journal or notebook so I would remember to follow up on an idea for a novel, a funny joke to tell a friend, or a strange interaction with a duck that I wanted to remember.
Instead of engaging in the typical body-shaming, negative thoughts so many women experience, I start my day grateful that I'm healthy enough and motivated enough to do something good for my body. I'm grateful for legs strong enough to carry me through miles, the blisters that prove I stretched my limits, cool fall mornings, and safe bike paths. When you are tackling a distance that seemed impossible before, it's easy to be grateful for your body persevering through difficulty.
When I start to question race entry fees, I try to focus on how much good a local 5K or half-marathon does for the community. The money runners spend on race entry fees goes right back into the charities that the community supports. Small, local running stores benefit from the running community every time we need another pair of running shoes or the latest must-have gear. You're not just paying to run in the street or for a new race shirt and medal, you're giving back to your community one finish line at a time.
If you're thinking about starting a running regimen, you need more motivation than just weight loss. Thankfully, running provides so many benefits that weight loss will eventually feel like the most unimportant of the reasons you run.