5 Ways You Can Save the World by Running
Can I boast? I have finally completed a 50k race. That is a mammoth achievement. 8kms longer than a marathon. But if you had told me ten years ago that I would be boasting about this accolade, I would have laughed in your face.
As I was coming up to my 30th birthday, out of breath having done my version of sprinting to catch a train, I found myself saying “That should not be an Olympic effort.” A significant but quiet realisation, no Hollywood “damn it, that’s enough!”
This led me to the gym… at first (I live in Canada, so the winter scared me off running outside, initially).
I had been a free man before all of this: free to do as little as I pleased, free to eat whatever I wanted. But I had actually been asleep rather than free. Because then came the bucket of water that was the realization above. The other bucket came on the day I ran my first race, a half marathon.
OK so here’s another one of those photos, except both of them are me. Yes, put in the work and quite a few people won’t recognize you months later. One of my wife’s friends even thought she had remarried!
1: Everything happens in slow-mo, Matrix style
Running will undoubtedly improve your looks and reduce your weight, yes. But there’s an emphasis in popular culture purely on image that to me seems like a conspiracy to hide the real benefits to the mind and soul.
So never mind that hot body of yours, the mind also becomes lean with greater endurance. The science says so: improved brain function and memory has been proven.
And better concentration has been the biggest difference for me. I personally have had occasions where I imagine things happening in ‘Bullet Time’, such is the improvement in sharpness, reflexes and mental-alertness. Prior to that, it would really all be an illusion, such as delusions of grandeur playing pool while drunk… when in fact I’d be ripping the cloth and catapulting the cue ball off the table.
2: Life is better and easier
“Ahhh, non-runners running, so cute,” I often think to myself at train stations and bus stops (now that I’ve made it to the other side). You’re not just going to get a quicker time at race or see a nicer number on the scales, all of life’s constant small battles will be more manageable. Catching that bus, getting up those stairs without having to pause at the top, withstanding a hard day’s work or a long meeting, enjoying travel as it’s less draining: the list is truly endless.
It’s hard to put into words just how much the physical changes benefit your mental well-being. In a sense, fitness literally feeds self-confidence and lifts the mood. What’s not to love about being in the shape of your life? That extra endurance doesn’t just help you run longer, you can withstand stress better. But don’t just take my anecdotal word for it, the men and women in white coats say so too.
3: It’s easy to keep it going…
If you can reach a certain stage without stopping. Keeping up the fitness regimen is easy compared to the first two months of grind. These days I have trouble not exercising on any given day!
Every January, the gyms of the world experience an invasion, mostly by people not remotely serious about getting fit. A fitness base doesn’t begin to rise until at least one month after starting to exercise. Before that, one’s energy level dips, and most people will give up in the meantime.
Why didn’t I stop?
“It’ll get worse before it gets better, uh… I think that’s how it works,” I told myself after my first ‘gymageddon’ workout. That was 30 minutes on the elliptical. Sweating a lot with your heart pounding is weird the first time. The heavy breathing sounds like, well, you know… I embraced the discomfort in order to overcome it. Getting a whiff of my shirt after a workout, I felt a measure of pride:
“You stink, hurrah!”
Running for half an hour without stopping can take longer than becoming ‘gym fit’. However, and this is a HUMONGOUS however, there are years of gradual improvement ahead of you and the boosted self-esteem that comes with it. Physiological adaptations take place over years, and the quicker times and broader smiles just keep on coming.
This is because joints strengthen and posture adapts slowest of all. Some kinesiologists estimate 10 years of continuous improvement. It’s still happening to me after 7. The improvements are smaller now of course, not quite like the early days that newbies have to look forward to. 4 months after my first half marathon, I ran my second a whole 8 minutes faster. Exactly one year after my first half marathon, I ran my first full marathon at the same pace!
So, clear that initial hurdle (the energy crash), and you’ll never come down again. It mushrooms from there, Super Mario style. All you need is persistence.
4: You ARE a role model
“Go watch a marathon finish line if you want to see the best of humanity,” is an oft-quoted idiom of running social media. This happens to be true, as are many of the good things said and written about running. The encouragement and cheering from the crowd at some of the larger races, and from your fellow runners at all of them DO make a difference, I think, to the individual and the collective.
Running brings about the best in humanity, just as it brings out the best in each individual who has made a dedicated, focused effort and persisted for months at the real beginning of the race, way before the physical start line.
It is very hard for this runner to put this concept into words that do it justice, which is saying something as sleep is the only time I don’t talk about running… Having said that, I have it on good authority that I mumble about getting a Personal Best even then. What else does announcing “Great pacing! Fine stamina!” in bed mean? Then again, I could write at some length (tee hee) about the benefits running brings to the ‘bedroom athlete’ too.
Self-confidence. You never knew you had it in you, but now you’re certain even more is possible. It’s a virtuous circle: fitness gained leads to greater physical ability, leading to more energy consumed each workout. The same applies to weight loss in my experience, as long as you eat sensibly.
With the years of gradual improvement mentioned above, self-belief keeps growing to the point where you can do what you always had been capable of, you just never realised what that was.
I have found myself losing my fear of asking questions in the workplace. I’ve always had immense curiosity, but now rarely choose to ‘save that question for later.’ I learn more, gain more knowledge, and therefore make more informed choices, another virtuous circle. When I changed jobs 5 years ago, I energetically ‘interviewed’ my future boss and the HR guy, spoke in a strong voice, and even the (very few) things I made up sounded authoritative.
I believe most of that came from having surprised and surpassed myself while on the run and at races. It was always there, but running released it.
5: Let the games begin
Keep in mind that you shouldn’t drive yourself into the ground at the beginning. For running in particular, the “run/walk” method is a good way to start. Run 1 minute, walk one minute for a total of 30 minutes. Make the run segments longer as it gets easier. It takes a while for the body to adapt and start to oxygenate the blood more efficiently.
Once you can go for those 30 minutes without stopping, you can really kick on and do more advanced training (speed intervals, hills, etc.). Your lung capacity will also increase over time. Don’t forget to do weight training too, especially work on hip strength.
So get started, the smart way – with a plan – staying mindful of your health. Running is what the human body is ideally suited to. It will transform you inside and out, gifting you days when you will think you could save the world.
Running is wonderful, running is life.
(Note from the editor: Many thanks to Peter Mitchemore for being a House-Guest! To read more about Peter check out his author page here. You can visit his Facebook page here to find out more – or read more about his journey at his blog A Touch of the Runs. To become a house-mate and contribute articles to The Glass House Girls, click here)