While running can be a low-cost way to help maintain or lose weight, it's never been the reason why I set out on a run. Instead, I run for the way it makes me feel. Sometimes, nothing helps clear the mind or put a little jolt in my day like a long leisurely run or superfast interval session. And yet — I wouldn't call myself someone who loves running. I'm not the first one out in the park in the morning, and the ratio of times I dread a run vs. excitedly lace up my shoes for one is teetering somewhere on the edge of the 50-50 range. And training for a race? So much (too much?) running. Let's just say that I've taken many a postrace hiatus from my favorite workout in favor of having a social/lazy life again.
Even so, I still count myself as a runner, and one who is better for it. Even after more than a handful of 10Ks, half marathons, and marathons under my belt, I'm always on the look out for the next one to sign up for. Here's why I always go back to running, even when I think it's the worst.
Free therapy: I'll admit to never being without my running playlist or workout buddy on long training runs, but when it's time for race day, I follow ultramarathoner Dean Karnazes's advice: I leave my headphones at home. Powering through a race just accompanied by your thoughts and the cheers of spectators is pretty cheap therapy. Hours on the road forces you to work through everything that pops in your head, from negative thoughts to self-esteem boosts to mundane to-do lists you have to tackle once you're home. Running without a soundtrack is a favorite way for Dean to write his books (he just uses the recorder on his phone to jot down ideas), and is also the preferred method from running legend Joan Benoit Samuelson. So the next time you're out for a run, leave the music off for a bit and see where your mind takes you.
Energy boost: Sure, no one's ever regretted a workout, but when you're not in the mood, the lazier option seems like the best idea. There've been countless times when I've felt lethargic, sleep-deprived, or sick — and forgotten it all by the time I've returned for a run. It's true that actually taking the steps to get ready for a run when you're under the weather is the hard part, and while I've probably skipped dozens of runs I should've taken, the ones I do force myself to go on have always made me feel so much better and ready to tackle the rest of my day.
Guilt-free fun: Ever spend an entire weekend going from couch to dinner to drinks, and you'll know how much better it feels to add something active to your day. I love Saturday morning runs because they help me start my weekend off right: there's nothing like fresh air, a little cardio, and knowing you worked your body to help you enjoy the rest of your weekend, no matter how indulgent, without feeling like a slovenly mess.
Progress you can feel: Even if you don't sign up for races and memorize each finish time, a regular running routine can be a great ego boost. Sticking to your hobby can help running a mile go from seemingly impossible to a breeze in just a few weeks. For me, it's exhilarating to be able to feel myself become fitter the longer I run. If you're ready to commit to running yourself, check out our eight-week plan to go from walking to running.