Running for Challenge, for Health, and for a Lifetime of Fun!
Why do you run? I asked a few of my friends this question, and here are some of the answers I got: “I run so I can eat more!” “I run for my sanity.” “I love the camaraderie of running with a group.” “I run to test myself in competition, and to see how much I can improve.” And here is my favorite, from Barbara Latta, age 71: “I run because I still can at my age, when so many of my friends have given up the sport.”
As you can see, we run for different reasons. Some of us run to lose weight, others to get together with friends and catch up on the latest news. And a few of us run to take home hardware at the races. When I ran track as a teenager it was to find out how far I could go as a competitive runner, but today my running is mostly a social outlet. I run for my health too, and to keep my weight down, although I could enjoy those benefits from other forms of exercise also. And I must admit that I still have some of that competitive strike in me, however these days I am content with taking home age-group awards!
I have realized that while we may all give different reasons for why we run, they can be categorized into one of three major groups. We run for competition and challenge, for health and fitness, or for fun and friends. Or for a combination of the above!
Some of us run to set new personal records, to improve our age-graded times, or to not get any slower than last year. We run to be able to complete our first marathon, half marathon, or 5K. Or maybe to complete a mile without stopping. Some run to qualify for Boston, or even the Olympic trials, while others run to take home age-group awards at local races. Maybe we decide to put in some extra effort in our training, so that we can beat our buddy who passed us right before the finish in last weekend’s race. All of the above are “competitive” reasons, the kind that make us go the extra mile (literally speaking!), and tweak our schedules to put in the optimal combination of mileage and speed work. They are reasons that make us run with a focus, and with specific goals in mind.
Others run primarily for health related reasons. Maybe we went to the doctor and were told our cholesterol was too high, or that we needed to lose a few pounds. And as we all know, exercise is the best medicine for a variety of ills! Running is a great form of exercise, since it is fun and easy, and it doesn’t require a facility, partner, or special equipment (except for a pair of good shoes, of course!). Studies have shown that with regular exercise we can lower our blood pressure, our total and “bad” (LDL) cholesterol levels, and our blood sugar. It also helps us keep our bone density up, and our weight down. More than one person that I talked to said they were running so that they could eat more! Running can allow us to enjoy a nice meal, or have that extra beer on a hot summer night without feeling guilty. It can also help us breathe easier, sleep better, and feel better in general.
But probably most of us run first and foremost for the friendships that we make through running, or for the sheer fun of it. We humans are social creatures, wanting to belong to groups where there are like minded people with interests similar to ours. Maybe we find these people in our church, in the bridge club, or at our son’s or daughter’s soccer league. And if we run, we find them in our running club! We look forward to Saturday mornings, when we will join our buddies for a long run, catching up on the latest news regarding races, injuries etc. It doesn’t matter whether we are three or five hour marathoners, as we can all take part in the pre-run chat and the breakfast afterwards. Our social life circles around the running club, which offers several opportunities to socialize in addition to group runs. Many clubs have potlucks, parties, meetings, etc. And there are always chances to volunteer at these events, or at club races! By joining the board of a running club we can also take advantage of leadership opportunities. So, if you aren’t a member of a running club yet, I strongly recommend that you join one. The RRCA website (www.rrca.org) has a link where you can find a listing of all our member clubs, by state.
Of course many of us run for more than one reason and for reasons that fit into all three categories above. As I mentioned earlier, when I started to run as a teenager it was mostly to compete, although it also gave me many new friends. As I got older my focus shifted. I am still competitive (although now I settle for age-group competition), but I have also learned to appreciate all the health benefits that come with running. And above all, my supportive community of fellow runners!
The main reason you still see me at races is not to try to win my age group, nor is it to keep my blood pressure and cholesterol values in check. (The latter I could probably accomplish equally well by going on bike rides or to Zumba classes.) It is because runners are such a fun group of people. Especially those in the older age groups! It is so inspiring to see my fellow runners in their 60s, 70s, and even in their 80s toe the starting line, and make it to the finish line with a smile on their face and a sparkle in their eye. Older runners are indeed our “poster children,” demonstrating that regular exercise can keep us healthy and vibrant for a lifetime.
It is a fairly recent phenomenon to see a significant number of older runners at the races though, especially older female runners. I remember my father encouraging me to play tennis rather than run when I grew up, since according to him I would not be able to continue running as I got older. (And for some people with severe arthritis or other muscular, neurological, or joint problems, this is unfortunately true.) My father played tennis, and for him it became a lifelong sport. But I didn’t heed his advice. Instead I exchanged my tennis racket for a pair of running shoes. And here I am, at age 61, still running!
I hope running will be my lifelong sport, as tennis was for my father. As a personal trainer and group fitness instructor I have discovered other forms of exercise that keep me fit, but I still don’t want to lose my ties to running. It still is, and will always be, my first love. Even during my solo runs I cherish being outdoors, and seeing the scenery change as I cover some territory.
We may not look forward to every single run, but the reason we hang on to the sport is because it has so many benefits, and it rewards us in a number of ways. It is something that we all enjoy, and which brings us together in spite of differences in ages, occupations, and political leanings. We may have different reasons why we were drawn to the sport, but we tend to stick with it for the same reasons: To challenge ourselves while we improve our health and find new friends. So keep on running folks, for a lifetime of fun!