This was a question I asked myself (many times) during my interval session this morning.
And the truth is, my answer will vary.
After a long, stressful day at work, I run to unwind. To forget the day, or at least to make amends with it. There’s a meditative quality about simply putting one foot in front of the other that allows my thoughts to come and go without me dwelling on them. It clears my mind and by the time I get home I’m a far nicer person to be around. In fact, sometimes my husband will say ‘for goodness sake, go out for a run’ because I’m being irrationally grumpy about something or other.
When I’m somewhere new, I run to explore. And you know what? Nothing makes the miles fly quicker than when you’re not counting them. There’s a totally liberating feeling about not ‘having to do 8 miles’. From New York City to the New Forest, I love that you’ll never know what you may stumble across. Some of my favourite runs are not the big races, but ones where I’m quietly adventuring, and often lost!
I run to discover things about myself. Like how deep I’m prepared to dig. And how I deal with failure. Running isn’t always easy, but the life lessons can be huge. As a kid in gymnastics, I very quickly learnt the rewards of perseverance and hard work, but through running, I continue to test myself. Whether it’s being patient due to injury, or being brave and striving for something I thought impossible, it takes me out of my comfort zone and that’s exhilarating.
The physical benefits of running are undeniable. Feeling fit absolutely helps me to function in the rest of my life. Interestingly, I started running for the physical benefits after retiring from elite gymnastics, but health isn’t purely physical, and I would say that I now rely as much, if not more, on running for my mental health as my physical. There’s no two ways about it, a healthy mind is imperative and running is often my sanctuary.
I run for the challenge. The challenge of setting goals and working towards them. The challenge of seeing how far I can push myself. I’m still getting faster, and I love exploring what I can achieve. I have no idea whether I can run a sub 3.30 marathon, but the journey of finding out is fun. I’m also excited to start challenging myself in ways other than time. Whether it’s running longer, or more trail routes, it doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s a challenge, I’m there.
The feeling of crossing a finish line is a hard one to explain to a non-runner. I run to race. There’s NO better feeling than when hard work pays off, especially if you’ve surpassed even your own expectations. It’s the sense of achievement. When I think back to finishing Edinburgh marathon last year with a new PB, I get goosebumps. I will happily work my socks off for 6 months for that runner’s high feeling. It’s addictive.
Being part of a community is powerful. Especially one as generous and inspiring as the running community. Every week people give up their time to volunteer at parkrun, or they stop to help someone they don’t even know finish a marathon because they are too exhausted to do it alone, or they raise crazy amounts of money for all sorts of good causes. I run to be a part of that community. To feel included in something that is vastly bigger than myself. There’s truth in the saying ‘standing with an army’, and the running army is one of my favourites.
I run to brunch. And eat cake! And not in a calorie control sort of a way. More just a satisfaction kind of thing. Doing a parkrun and then going for brunch, or coming in from an icy early morning run to a steamy mug of hot chocolate will give me a buzz for the rest of the day.
Finally, I just run to run. In 2008 I ran the Bristol half marathon with some friends. I had no idea how far a half marathon was and it took me almost 2 and a half hours, but just like that, I was hooked. Over the last 10 years, I’ve run with my husband, my dog, my friends, alone. I’ve run long, fast, occasionally both. Some days have been beautifully sunny, others gale force winds and hail storms. The variables have been endless, but at the heart of it all is just me, simply putting one foot in front of the other, and loving every single minute.
That’s why I run.
How about you? Why do you run?