I come from a long line of runners. My grandfather took up the habit when he quit smoking over twenty years ago and celebrates his birthday by running the number of minutes that equals his new age (for reference, he just turned 82). My parents discovered a common interest in running while they were dating. I’ve been running, more or less regularly, since the age of 12. My brother and I go for runs several times a week, half-jokingly comparing our times and routes.
Running is one of the few activities that I truly love to do, but it can be hard to explain why. For one thing, very few people understand the appeal — in fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever met a non-runner who I could convince that the practice was actually fun. Everybody can accept the health-and-wellness aspect; running is an excellent full-body toning workout and it ups your metabolism while strengthening your immune system. It can even improve neuron connections in the brain, and may prevent or reverse some signs of aging.
What about the actual act of running? I’ve talked to plenty of skilled athletes who cringe at the mere mention of a long run — not because they’re physically incapable of completing one, but because they can’t stand the idea of suffering through it. People who don’t like outdoor exercise in the first place are even more horrified. I’ve heard people say that running is boring, painful, difficult to do in every season and exhausting. To this, I must respectfully submit that the most un-enjoyable parts are exactly the point.
I will not lie to you: nine times out of ten, starting out for a run is awful. I’m often tired, stressed, sore and out of practice; I don’t want to run up the hill in front of me, and I don’t want to keep up the pace after about ten minutes. Let’s not even mention the shirtless bodybuilder type who just sprinted past me without breaking a sweat.
But with practice and terrier-with-a-rat-style dedication, running can become something different. After several weeks of awful, soul-sucking practice runs, the first mile becomes easier. Then the second mile becomes easier. Then you discover that you can run up a little hill without stopping for what feels like your dying breath. And so it goes.
At some point, you realize that going a day or two without a run takes a toll — and later, that it feels worse than going running in the first place. That, I believe, is the point of no return — the point at which a person really becomes a runner.
I started running because I wasn’t competent enough to do any other sport (there’s only so much coordination needed to complete a three-mile cross-country race). But now, I run for love.