Why are you running?

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/zachd1_618/565630396

On a long enough time line, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.

-- Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

Have you ever stopped to ponder why you run? During a run, have you ever thought, why am I doing this?

Now I don't mean when you're in the middle of a race and the bile is creeping up your throat, I mean when you're relaxed and able to make a sound judgement.

Why do you run?

This answer surely revises as people progress through life. It may even change to, "I'm not anymore". It's imporant to consider the why, even if you end up being unable to articulate your reasons.

Why do I run? Let me enumerate:

  1. Meditation in motion. I feel more sane when I'm done running. There are so many moving pieces to life these days: from family, to work, other responsibilities.

Before I took up running, I could make it through an entire week without taking a moment for reflection.

While I'm running, I'm reflecting on life. Some days I reflect on deeply spiritual quandries: the meaning of life, the purpose of existence, and the square root of -1.

Other days, I simply reflect on a project I'm working on, or a conversation I've had.

I let me my mind wander as my legs follow suit -- wherever it wishes to process I do not stop it.

When I'm through my backlog of thoughts, I often find myself with an empty head -- that is to say, peace. I don't have anything in my head that wants to get out, I'm at inbox zero (for all you Merlin Mann fans).

Once I reach that point, I a merely am. I can live completely in the moment, floating along effortlessly. It's almost as though someone else is running and I'm just along for the ride, a patient observer.

This feeling is addicting in the sense that without it, my brain tends toward chaos.

Running is meditation in that I'm able to focus on a singular item and find inner calm.

  1. Camaraderie when things are tough. Not every run is peace. There are many runs that would not even happen were it not for friends.

Nearly every week I meet friends for a longer run. 3 hours of running goes by so quickly when half the time is spent chatting and joking.

Not only does having a commitment to run with others get me out the door (and up early), it breaks up what can end up as monotony on the trail.

Interval training is another time when running with others is incredibly beneficial. Running fast on the track is easier when I have training partners. Running with people pushes me, keeps me honest, and encourages me when I'm having a down day.

A solo track workout is sad when compared to the alternatives.

  1. Health and wellness. More than 1/3 of US adults are obese. How frightening is that?

We can argue about whether the obesity metrics have an unreasonably low threshold, but it would be difficult to prove that the country isn't facing a growing obesity epidemic.

Running keeps me fit both mentally and physically. Regular exercise like running has been proven to:

  • Reduce stress
  • Ward off anxiety and feelings of depression
  • Boost self-esteem
  • Improve sleep

It also has these added health benefits:

  • It strengthens your heart.
  • It increases energy levels.
  • It lowers blood pressure.
  • It improves muscle tone and strength.
  • It strengthens and builds bones.
  • It helps reduce body fat.
  • It makes you look fit and healthy.

When I see so many energetic, fit, and healthy 60 and 70 year old's at the Ann Arbor Track Club workouts, the point is truly driven home. Quality of life as time progresses is considerably improved by running.

  1. Exploration of my area in a unique way. I'm an explorer at heart. I love to try new things, visit new places, and talk to new people.

Running provides a unique opportunity that walking (too slow), biking (limited areas to travel), and driving (way too fast, inability to stop and look around) do not afford.

I am able to explore my surroundings in ways that allow me to feel connected to the area. I am very fortunate that my city of Ann Arbor has so many public parks to explore. I can head out my front door and make my way through 6 parks in only an hour of running.

The residential sections connecting the parks are also gold mines of quirky organic growth and urban beauty.

As time passes, I understand the city I live in, as I've literally explored every street, every avenue, every trail. It is profoundly my city.

This doesn't even touch exploring during vacations! What better way to explore a city, a town, a cottage, than on your own two legs.

Running is fast enough to allow me to see quite a variety, while still allowing access to anywhere.

Do I want to follow that random path down the side of a bridge that looks like it goes... somewhere...yes!

  1. Pushing against personal limits. There are very few things as measurable as how fast did I cover that distance, or even, can I cover that distance?

How fast can I run a 5k? Can I run a marathon? Yes! Now how fast can I do it?

Can I run 100 miles? That seems crazy... but can I do?

Everyone has their own draw, but for me it always comes back to, can I set a goal and achieve it?

With running there is nothing standing in my way. It doesn't rely on other people. If I want to run a faster 5k than last year, I have to train for it. No one can put in the time and effort for me; if I train for it, I can probably do it.

If I decide to run 100 miles in the woods, there's no one stopping me except myself. Can I do it?

I think I can!

So, why are you running?