I tried running, and it didn’t work. I suffered from shin splints. No matter what kind of shoes I wore, what stretching exercises I did, or how far I ran, it usually ended up with a sharp stinging pain in my shins. Not good.
I tried Pilates and yoga exercises, and they also didn’t work. It wasn’t the pain this time that made me stop, but a severe lack of motivation to roll out the mat and thrust my skinny legs up in the air. It was so boring. Not good.
I tried swimming, and it didn’t work either. Driving up and down to the local swimming pool cost me far too much time, and I noticed that swimming pools are difficult to carry around when I’m traveling. Not good.
I sometimes suffer from pain in my neck or my back, due to a lifetime of office work in office chairs. I sometimes feel like getting a heart attack when I have to make a quick dash to catch a train. And my butt has grown five sizes too large in the last 10 years, and somehow managed to wrap itself around my waist.
However, I noticed that any purpose that starts with “I don’t want” is not working for me. I don’t want pain in my neck. I don’t want to feel exhausted after a simple sprint. And I don’t want an increased waistline. It’s like Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory: hygiene factors are not the same as motivators. Decent health, good condition, and proper shape, are all hygiene factors for me. As goals, they are not inspiring. People prefer to take them for granted. This is why most of us, including me, would rather grab another handful of chocolates, savoring the indulgence with our eyes closed, so we cannot glance in the mirror.
I wanted to know, if I cannot keep up running, then why is it that other people can?
I have been reading about the habits of ultrarunners, about the long-distance running Tarahumara Indians in Mexico, about running on natural trails in the outdoors, and about running marathons while making a living as a writer. And I’ve learned a great deal. Finally, things are making sense. I noticed that none of the runners featured in these books refer to backaches or waistlines as intrinsic motivators. What keeps them running are entirely different things:
The human body was made for long distance running. Being able to keep a good pace for hours is what sets humans apart from all other animals. We’re not born to sprint, swim, cycle or fight. We’re born to run. Athletes who run marathon-length distances feel the thrill of what nature actually wants us to do.
Running is a competition against yourself. Sure, some athletes run marathons in order to compete with others. But for most people, this is not the case. Unlike football and other competitive sports, with long-distance running, most people merely want to say, “I did it!” instead of “I won!”
Running well is a puzzle to be solved. It appears that 8 out of 10 runners suffer from injuries. That’s because almost everyone is doing it wrong. They have the wrong form, wrong strides, wrong shoes, and wrong (or no) exercises. Learning to run well is like solving a puzzle. With some experimentation, there’s a solution waiting to be discovered.
We can run anywhere and anytime. Swimming requires water; fitness requires workout equipment; cycling requires a path; and football requires a field, two teams, a referee, and plenty of alcohol. And running? You can do that everywhere! In fact, there’s no better way to explore a city, or a park, or a forest, while running and enjoying the scenery.
Running is the ultimate freedom. Running is the only sport that, literally, doesn’t require any tools. Scientists are now convinced that barefeet running is (if you’re careful) healthier than running with shoes. And, as indicated by several authors, depending on where you are running, even clothes are optional!
A New Purpose
I looked for the purpose of running and I found inspiring accounts of people running because it’s the most natural thing to do for humans; it fosters self-improvement over competition, like a puzzle to be solved instead of a competitor to be beaten; and instead of imposing complicated constraints, it is a form of exercise that grants near total freedom.
There you have it.
I found a good reason to start running. It’s not about getting rid of my front-facing butt or catching a train without pain. It’s about the ability to explore the world, all by myself, in total freedom, and in full harmony with nature.