So, you’re running on the street and you’re the only one about. Occasionally a car will pass you, but the music in your headphones is so loud you don’t hear it and it doesn’t bother you. Your chest is warm, your cheeks are burning-up, but your fingers are icy cold and you feel the fresh air entering your lungs with every breath you take. This is running. With nothing but the concrete beneath your feet and your own motivation to keep you going. You know, if you can just make it to the hill, you will feel better about yourself. You will have achieved something.
This is what running is all about for me. It’s about keeping my happiness topped-up. It’s less about fitness, although of course, that’s part of it because I like to be able to eat what I want and stay healthy. For me, running is about that sense of achievement and learning to overcome challenges when you don’t think you can. When I first started running I could barely go a mile, seriously. My legs and lungs would burn, it felt like every muscle in my body was lead and that it just wasn’t designed to do it. But I kept at it, and eventually, I was able to run my first 5k, then 10k, a series of half marathons and finally, a full marathon.
How can running make you happy?
I know, it sounds extreme to claim that running can make you happy. Happiness isn’t that simple, right? True, it’s not that simple. It’s built from a combination of things that you have to keep topped-up regularly. At least, that’s how it is for me. But running is one of those tools I use to keep myself balanced, to track my emotions, to gain a sense of freedom and a continuous sense of achievement. But how does the simple act of running do that for me?
Running gives you a sense of achievement
Whether you make it 1k of 50k, getting out and completing a run will make you feel good about yourself. I like running because it’s full of tiny achievements that build into something bigger. Each time I run I set myself small, achievable targets, such as sprinting to the next tree or running to the top of the hill. I track my first 5k and then when I’ve done that, I start over in my head and start the next 5k from scratch. No matter what sort of day I’ve had, or how many other things I’ve failed at that week, I know that I can at least achieve a run, and can even aim for a personal best if I can’t beat other people. That sense of achievement you get for simply getting out the house is rewarded enough for me. And if I make it out on a snowy day when I’m tired and frustrated, I feel like a superstar.
Running helps you build resilience and face challenges
Yes, let’s face it, we all doubt ourselves sometimes and often underestimate our own capabilities. But running has helped me to realise I CAN face up to challenges and even when I think it’s impossible, like running a marathon, I can achieve something if I take it one step at a time. If I’m going through a tough time, I remember all of the moments when I’ve had to push my aching body to the end of a long run or wanted to give up and kept going anyway. We’re more resilient than we know, and running is evidence of this.
Running helps you breath
I know that sounds strange, and no, I don’t mean that I couldn’t breathe before. But now I know how to breathe through the tough times. When I’m panicking, or stressed, or upset, I find myself using the same breathing technique that I use when trying to push myself up that final hill. I take long, slow deep breaths, and breath in time to a rhythm, counting in my head. This counteracts the body’s urge to take panicking shallow breaths and keeps me calm in the face of adversity. I never imagined that this would be an outcome of taking up running, and in fact, have never intentionally started using this breathing technique when not exercising. It just happened. But it must be what my body needs.
Running keeps your health and mental happiness topped-up
The regular running practice has taught me to listen to my body and keep my mental happiness topped-up. I know when it needs a stretch, when it wants to slow down and when I can push myself. I know the difference a run makes to my mental health and how calm my brain feels afterwards. For me, it literally helps me run away from my problems, leaving them at various spots around my running route as I consciously try to drop concerns and worries. We know that exercise, in general, is good for our mental and physical health and so is getting outside and breathing in some fresh air. Running covers all of these things and makes me feel more connected to myself.
Now I really can call myself a runner. It’s taken me eight years to get there, but I finally feel part of the ‘clan.’ I eventually braved the Brighton marathon last year, running dressed as a black dog to raise funds for the mental health charity MIND. I know I’m a real runner when I’m joined by only the hard-core few running on the streets through the rain and the snow, getting out no matter what, because that’s what you do. That’s what keeps you clear-headed and motivated. That’s what makes you a runner.
Of course, it’s not all about feeling part of a group, though. It’s about doing something that is positive and healthy for yourself. So, whether starting running is your new year’s resolution, or you’re a resident runner looking for more motivation, keep it up. Because we all know you’re a superstar!