Runners' World: Why I recommend running to everyone
Updated: Apr 19
I’m currently reading Haruki Murakami’s fascinating memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, and starting to think about my training plan for next year’s London Marathon, in which I’ve been lucky enough to secure a charity place – shameless fundraising links are coming your way soon! I also recently attended the 15-year anniversary of Parkrun at its inaugural Bushy Park event, where a staggering 1,800+ runners were involved, and am building up to a 10k race in November where I’m going to have a crack at beating my personal best.
So it’s fair to say I’ve got running on the brain, even more so than usual, and I thought I’d share with you some thoughts about why running is my favourite way to keep fit.
The first reason is very simple: I’m rubbish at everything else! I am a pathetic swimmer, haven’t ridden a bike since I was cycling around with my mates as a teenager, and am ‘blessed’ with the sort of puny physique that makes any strength-based exercise a pretty humiliating prospect. The silver lining on this scrawny cloud is, of course, that I have an ideal build for long-distance running. I used to do pretty well at these events at school, and when I ran the Wigan 10k in 2013 after a decade of smoking, drinking and minimal exercise, I was delighted to find I was still able to perform reasonably well.
The second is the sense of accomplishment. I’ve achieved a few milestones in the past 12 months, including my best-ever marathon time in Liverpool (although, devastatingly, still a single flippin’ minute over my target time!) and my 100th Parkrun (rewarded with a cool T-shirt), and there is an endless list to work through. I recently wrote a short horror story inspired by the Barkley Marathons (click here if you are unfamiliar with this infamous running event), a race that proves that whatever running goal you have just achieved, there is always another, tougher one out there to be tackled…
The third, and most obvious, is to stay healthy. But what exactly do I mean by this? Originally, I wanted to start exercising because my lifestyle was making me develop a bit of flab around my waist, and I didn’t have the desire or discipline to start dieting. This is a pretty vain motivation of course, but I think it’s important to be honest with yourself about what makes you happy, regardless of how shallow it might seem.
There’s also something deeper at play about my life expectancy, and a clanging realisation as I entered my thirties that the life of an inactive smoker is almost guaranteed to be shorter than that of a non-smoking runner – none of us can outrun death, but it seems silly to invite him in with open arms. I’ve got a lot more books to write first!
What I’ve discovered by running regularly is that not only have I kept the weight off despite a clinical addiction to Terry’s Chocolate Orange bars, I’ve also enjoyed a huge mental health boost. Much as I used to resent being told that going outside was important (while I sat in my fetid teenage bedroom playing video games instead of doing my homework), it really is true that even an hour spent outdoors engaged in physical activity provides your brain with an unparalleled chemical high. I’ve realised that on my darker days, the solution lies not in trying to think my way out of a malaise, but instead in just getting out there and pounding the pavement – by the time I arrive back at home, whatever problems were troubling me seem greatly diminished.
A fourth benefit of running is the access to an enormous and ever-growing community of fellow athletes. You don’t need to join a competitive running club (although this can be rewarding if you are as tragically competitive as I am); you’ll encounter hundreds of interesting people just by attending your local Parkrun. If you’re unaware of this global phenomenon, Parkruns take place at parks and green spaces across the world, and there will certainly be one taking place near you at 9am every Saturday (the start time may be different if you’re outside the UK). Click here to visit the Parkrun website to find your closest event – I hope to see you at Burgess Park one upcoming weekend! There are lots of other initiatives to enable runners to meet and mix with each other, as well as apps like Strava that allow you to share your runs (or bike rides, or swims) in the form of social media posts.
I’m realising as I write this that I could easily keep going – there is a seemingly endless series of reasons that I find running such a rewarding and worthwhile hobby. But, although I am therefore inclined to recommend running to everyone reading this, the truth is of course that everyone is different. So the only recommendation I wish to make is that keeping fit should be a part of your life – for its mental health benefits if nothing else – and that you should find a type of exercise that you enjoy, and can incorporate into your lifestyle. For me it’s running, but for you it might be walking, or tennis, or karate!
(Just don’t talk to me about boxing… click here to laugh at my recent charity match, where I was resoundingly battered by the annoyingly charismatic and hard-hitting Dom Esposito!)
Until next time,