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Why I run

Updated: Nov 7, 2021

I run because long after my footprints fade away, maybe I will have inspired a few to reject the easy path, hit the trails, put one foot in front of the other, and come to the same conclusion I did: I run because it always takes me where I want to go.”

— Dean Karnazes*



My personal superpower

I was always very clear about what my choice of a superpower would be, if I were ever faced with such a possibility. It wouldn't be being invisible, possessing superhuman strength, or having X-ray vision. No, none of that. My choice would be flying. There is nothing else, at least for me, that comes close to that ability. Flying encapsulates, like few things, the true sense of freedom. Freedom from land barriers, insurmountable mountains, or rough seas.

Sure ... I’m only dreaming here. As humans, flying is not possible for us. And please… airplanes, hot air balloons, or any human invention that helps us get off the ground don’t count. I am talking, literally, about the possibility of taking off the ground by our own means, at any given time, without the need to use any type of machinery or equipment.

As we all know, the reason why we cannot fly is that we lack wings. However, in the absence of wings, legs! I say this because, the way I see it, the closest thing to flying is running. There are certain times when running is like flying —with the inconvenient presence of physical exertion and the threat of cramps— giving me an exquisite sense of relief. I know that, for many, this analogy may sound like I’m reaching but, really, in all my years on this earth, I have not found anything that comes closer to flying.

Here, then, is the first of my reasons for running.

A promise of amazing changes

Running is a deeply transformative habit at all levels: physical, mental, and emotional. Its benefits cause truly shocking changes in the lives of those who practice it, beyond some less desired side effects. These do exist but, in my personal experience, not only do they pale in the face of all the positives this sport brings with it, but also, with care and discipline, they can be significantly diminished.

For those who have never —or rarely— run, starting to practice this discipline can be intimidating and even overwhelming. As it happens in most of the occasions in which we enter unknown terrain, this is due to us rushing to achieve unreasonable goals, without being willing to allow time, consistency, work, and effort, bear their fruits when the time comes. In the specific case of running, it is good to clarify that the benefits can be noticed quickly, as soon as we receive that first rush of endorphins at the end of our first race. For those of us who deal with mental and emotional challenges, this habit is a glorious medicine that, even when it does NOT replace prescribed medications, helps greatly to facilitate our improvement. The peace we experience while concentrating in ourselves while running are invaluable to me, as well as the opportunity to mentally prepare myself for everyday challenges, plan the next steps in a project, or find the solution to a problem that is causing me more stress than I'm willing to tolerate.

Faster, further, stronger

Whatever happens at a physical level, affects us mentally, and vice versa. Running strengthens our machinery, increasing our self-confidence. I have heard and read many times that we have evolved to run. I was surprised to discover, not long ago, that when it comes to running long distances, human beings are one of the best equipped species in the animal kingdom. If we were talking about pure speed, our fastest sprinters would have no business facing a myriad of contenders. Species such as the feline, equine or canine —among many others— are far above us when it comes to explosion and speed. However, there are very few species that could defeat us in a long, endurance run. That is a surprising fact, which made me consider, even with more interest than usual, our ability as human beings to run.

What better idea, then, than better and strengthen that unique machinery that nature has given us? Weight loss and muscle toning are basic and indisputable benefits. Who wouldn't want to show off strong, slim legs? As the kilometers pile up under your feet, getting those legs will get closer and closer.

But it's not just the outside that counts, right?

Well, if it is about internal physical changes, running will strengthen your heart and arteries, and will notably improve your oxygenation capacity. It has been proven that the heart of a long and ultra-long-distance runner, such as marathons, can increase in size by up to 50%, greatly improving its ability to pump blood. But beyond that, you don't have to become an ultra-marathoner to enjoy these benefits. You just must start running and make it a habit out of it. The more you run, the faster you will do it, and the further you will go because, as a logical consequence of perseverance and effort, you will get stronger, almost without realizing it. Feeling stronger is always better and, I promise you, that feeling of physical strength will undoubtedly translate into greater mental and emotional strength. It is not a myth, nor a mere wish. Is a reality. I am living proof of it.

Better

If you are faster, more agile, and stronger than before, you have become an improved version of yourself. A version that, by the way, does not require to have a roof. Realizing this is transformative because that is what is happening: you are transforming yourself.

One of the things that makes me love exercising the most and, in this specific case, running, is that every physical challenge, necessarily, modifies the perception we have of our abilities. When exhaustion first hits, or we are just out of breath, the first to say "enough" is our brain. Always. It is our mind that tells us that we have reached our limit, that it is time to slow down, or just throw in the towel. In the same way, it is also our mind that orders our body to keep going, to double down on its effort, commanding our heart to continue pumping blood faster and faster. Where does the difference lie between these two scenarios? Mainly in our knowledge of ourselves; of our true limits, our capabilities, our strengths, and weaknesses. This can only be achieved with time, lots of time and, in the case of runners, adding more and more miles behind us. But the main point I’m trying to make is that, when our brain realizes how our body was able to achieve and overcome distances and limits that seemed like chimeras to us, a radical change occurs in how we perceive ourselves. That’s the point! It is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, prize of physical exercise: a strengthened mind that has, without question, direct repercussions on our mental and emotional health. How can you not feel capable of facing new challenges in your life, when you have proven to yourself that things you thought were impossible have become a steppingstone to unexpected achievements?

Running to escape, without escaping

It occurred to me days ago that, on multiple occasions when I have felt a strong urge to run away from something, or everything, I have gone out for a run. Yes... looking to flee, I ran. The curious, and extraordinary thing about that feeling, is that I don’t consider it right to run away. I am not someone who escapes from commitments, responsibilities, or conflicts when they are necessary. However, when running, I feel that, in a certain way, I am moving further from that problem I want to distance myself from. I run to escape, without escaping because, once the race is over, I return to the battle with a clearer mind, ready to face whatever life has to throw my way.

Do you realize what I’m trying to say here? I've mentioned before that having an athletic body is great, but that is just an added benefit. What is really important for people like you and me, is the inner transformation and the awakening of brightness, not darkness, in our brains. That is why I preach left and right the importance of living a healthy life, where challenging our physique on a daily basis becomes an irreplaceable habit in our lives.

When the shadows overwhelm you; when problems drown you; when you’re standing alone in the middle of the valley not knowing how to escape from it, expand your wings and soar above the storm.

When you need to flee, fly.

When it's time to escape the depths, run.

Because running is flying.

* Dean Karnazes, is an American ultramarathon runner, and author of Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner, which details ultra endurance running for the general public.

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