This is the first article in a series of blog posts on the subject of running. In this post, I will cover the benefits of running. Drawing from my personal experiences as a runner of 15 years, I will explain why I continue to be a firm advocate of this form of exercise.
Despite the popularity of new fitness trends, running remains a very popular form of exercise. It is a great form of cardio-vascular fitness because it’s high intensity. Running is one of the fastest ways to get your heart rate up. Running gives you the maximum bang for your buck which is great if you’re time poor like me and want to gain as much as you can in as little time as possible. If you start and finish your run from home like I do these days, you’ll save yourself a lot of time travelling to and from the gym. Don’t forget that travel time, getting changed into your exercise attire, talking to people at the gym, having a shower afterwards and getting changed back into your clothes doesn’t count as exercise time! One of the best things about running is that it can pretty much be done anywhere and doesn’t require a lot of bulky equipment, unlike other sports. If you’re always on the road for business and personal travel, running is a good option as all you’ll need is your running shoes, shorts and a top.
Running is one of the most effective ways to lose and maintain body weight. Every time you take a stride, you carry two or three times your body weight. It’s for this reason that running burns so many kilojoules. I’ve tried a lot of different types of exercise over the years, including a variety of fitness classes, boot camp, boxing and cross fit. Yet, I always find myself returning to running. In conjunction with a healthy diet, I’ve found that it is the most effective way for me to maintain a healthy body weight and a decent level of fitness year round. This became even more important for me when I developed Type 2 diabetes two years ago. Running helps me maintain healthy blood sugar levels. I am able to control my condition naturally, without medication.
Running can also help improve your performance with many sports. Netball, hockey, tennis, rugby and soccer are just a few examples of sports that require some degree of running. I played hockey throughout school and for a local club while I was a student at university. I found that running regularly enhanced my performance because it improved my overall level of fitness and ability to move more quickly on the field.
I started running when I was 20 year old. At the time, I was a university student with very little money. I could only afford a membership at the university gym which was fairly basic. Unlike upmarket gyms such as Les Mills, there were no exercise classes so I used to run on the treadmill. One day, one of the fitness instructors came over to talk to me. He encouraged me to consider running outdoors and recommended the Auckland Domain, a large sports ground near the university. I followed his advice and that became my regular training ground over the next four years until I graduated from university.
I’m now 37. I have been a regular runner for around 15 years. I have gained so much from running over this period. It has done me the world of good. When I started running outdoors back at university, it honestly changed my life. There are the obvious benefits in terms of health and fitness, which I have described briefly above. Running also makes me incredibly happy. I find that I’m better able to cope with stress. It helps me to achieve greater clarity in my thinking, which helps to resolve personal problems. I sometimes start a run feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders but by the end, I feel that I can cope with life again. Running gives me an amazing sense of freedom. The feeling of being completely free is hard to achieve and is simply priceless in a chaotic world like the one we inhabit.
I have also benefitted from running during my studies and career. As a law student, I found that I just couldn’t get my head around the theories of Hart and Dworkin while studying at the law library. Running became a separate arena which gave me the time and space to reflect on what I learnt in the classroom. While out on my runs, I found my own ideas starting to coalesce. This was the case when it came to writing my Honours Dissertation in the final year of my law degree. I found that my best ideas came to me during my runs. I used to scribble all my thoughts in a notebook afterwards so I could incorporate them into my research paper.
Running has helped me develop as a person. When I started running, I noticed that it improved my confidence and made me believe that I could achieve anything. This helped me to develop a positive attitude which spilled over into my studies and later on, to my career as a lawyer.
As discussed in a previous post on Instagram, running is also associated with many wonderful memories, which takes me back to happier times. Whenever I run in the Auckland Domain, I am reminded of my many runs in that park as a university student. While the present may seem bleak at times, being reminded of prior happiness in that place at a different time in my life brings me so much inner peace and fills me with hope for the future.
Runners have a nice camaraderie with one another. Whenever you’re out on a run, other runners will always smile and say hi to you, even if they don’t know you. It’s like you belong to an exclusive club where members are connected by a common passion. Indeed, my love for running isn’t understood by the outside world. Running makes you hot, sweaty and tired. A lot of family members and friends of mine just don’t understand why I spend my spare time on such a strenuous and unglamorous activity, much less actually enjoy it. The same can also be said for gardening, my other passion.
I have formed some fantastic friendships with other runners over the years. Not only do we share a common passion for running, but we’ve also found that we have a lot of other things in common as well. While I was at university, I used to train with a girl called Julia, a fellow law student who now lives in Wellington and works for the council. We trained towards a half marathon together and enjoyed our Sunday runs, which gave us the opportunity to catch up on our lives and what we got up to on Saturday night!
Running can even have a profound impact on your career, creating job opportunities and helping to forge lasting professional relationships. When I was in my penultimate year of my degree, I spent the summer clerking at a large New Zealand commercial law firm. One of my rotations was in the firm’s corporate department. I was placed in one team within the department, but one of the other partners started talking to me one day in the kitchen. He mentioned he often saw me running in the Auckland Domain. It turned out that he was an avid runner himself. He started giving me work and ended up being a referee when I applied to start my career with a large commercial law firm in London as he had also worked there during his career. When I returned to New Zealand, I found myself back in his team, even though I had specialised in contentious rather than transactional matters while working overseas. Since then, we have both left the firm to move on to different ventures but remain very good friends.
Another good reason to run is that you tend to improve with age. As I entered my 30s, I found that my technique and speed are much better than during my 20s. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve actually been able to achieve better times in races. The more you do something, the better you become. That’s not to say that once you start running, you should stick with it forever. That was the case for me because I found something that I was deeply passionate about. However, many people move onto other forms of exercise and this is perfectly fine. Take my previous boss for example, who I mentioned in the paragraph above. In the time I had left the firm and moved overseas, he moved into mountain biking, which he discovered he loved even more than running.
One of the downfalls of running is that it’s hard on the joints. As a consequence, it can leave you injury prone. I’ve found that the best way to counteract this is to cross-train. In other words, I mix running with other forms of exercise which are lower in impact to minimise the risk of injuries to the lower body. At the moment, it’s summer in New Zealand so I’m making the most of the warm weather by training outdoors. I run 10k every second day, which takes me about an hour. On the days I don’t run, I swim 2k (40 laps of a 50 metre outdoor pool), which also takes me about an hour. You can try running on grass, which is lower impact than running on the road or pavement. Be warned though that it’s harder and isn’t as much fun.
Running is also off-putting to a lot of people because it isn’t an easy form of exercise. As mentioned above, with each stride you take, you’re carrying two to three times your body weight. It’s therefore much easier to walk, cycle or swim. However, if you’re prepared to put the effort in, you’ll find running can be incredibly rewarding in terms of your overall well-being.
Who should run?
Just about anyone! In saying that, it’s definitely not for everyone, as much as I love running myself. But give it a go anyway. You might find that you really enjoy it! You don’t have much to lose in any event.
Running suits people like me that are competitive against themselves. I like bettering myself, both as a runner and in other areas of my life. I’m always striving to improve on my previous times. I’m not really fussed if I’m faster or slower than other runners. Entering into races introduces an element of competition against others. Racing can be motivating. No matter how difficult the course or tired you are, when you’re surrounded by lots of other runners you’ll find the motivation to carry on. Some people enjoy the competitive aspect of races. However, I personally find greater satisfaction in bettering my own times rather than comparing my performance with others, because everyone is at a different fitness level. We all have different goals and running plays a different role in everyone’s life.
A lot of people complain that running is too solitary a form of exercise and that they prefer exercising with other people for company and support. As mentioned above, I used to have a training partner while I was a university student. If you’re keen on running but want companionship, partner up with a like-minded individual. These days, I prefer exercising alone as it’s hard to co-ordinate training times with someone else. I also enjoy being alone as it gives me some personal time and space outside of home and work. If you prefer running in the company of others, you could also consider joining a running club. There’s a running club in downtown Auckland that meets outside the Nike Britomart store. During the summer, the YMCA Marathon club hosts a 10k running series every Thursday evening at the Auckland Domain. For the remainder of the summer, I’m going to make an effort to attend these races for extra motivation and support with my running.
Hopefully, this post has given you something to think about. Who knows, you might find yourself inspired to go for a run, even if it’s something you never considered doing before. In my next blog post in this series, I will cover everything you need to know to get started.