Learning to Love Running

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The only things we do regularly are things we like — or love. In some cases, it’s simply joy. Sometimes the joy is from pain, or from learning to conquer. And so in my quest to become a better runner (most recently with running in Iten, Kenya, the “Home of Champions”), as I read of amazing runners, I began to ask myself: Where is my passion? How can I learn to love running?

learning to love running
Learning to Love Running – a guide on learning to love pain

Honestly, I’m a long way off. I would much prefer to do a 30 minute CrossFit session or 200 burpees (as much as I hate burpees) than to go run any distance. But running is something I believe we should do as humans. So what are the ways in which I can learn to love it? Here’s what I’ve found so far.

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Running for loving the pain

My friend Hetti described this as “loving the suck”.

David Goggins, an endurance athlete that was once a Navy Seal (though he believes that endurance running is the harder of the two things) is my favourite author on seeking to conquest pain. He talks about pain as a weapon you can use to improve yourself to “callous your mind” against other pain that might arise in the future — even outside the realm of endurance sports.

David goggins - someone who taught himself to learn to love running
David Goggins, an endurance athlete and scholar on using pain to improve ourselves

When searching for a quote in Goggins’ book, I was shocked to realise the word “pain” came up a staggering 157 times. A lot of this is from his childhood, describing emotional and physical pain of the endless beatings his father would inflict on him and on his mother.

But a lot of his pain was self-imposed. And it was not some kind of self-loathing; he recognised it as a tool to help himself become better.

Similar to using an opponent’s energy to gain an advantage, leaning on your calloused mind in the heat of battle can shift your thinking as well. Remembering what you’ve been through and how that has strengthened your mindset can lift you out of a negative brain loop and help you bypass those weak, one second impulses to give in so you can power through obstacles. And when you leverage a calloused mind and keep fighting through pain, it can help you push your limits because if you accept the pain as a natural process and refuse to give in.

Goggins, David. Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds (pp. 158-159).

The approach of “loving pain” never really appealed to me. I want to love for love; not out of some kind of sado-masochistic pleasure.

I think Murakami captured this best in What I talk about when I talk about running:

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you’re running and you think, ‘Man, this hurts, I can’t take it any more. The ‘hurt’ part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand any more is up to the runner himself.

Haruki Murakami: author, endurance runner
Haruku Murakami, author and endurance runner

Running for love of conquest

For many people, running embodies pursuit of a goal.

Running a certain distance, sometimes in a certain time, gives you a feeling of exhilaration. That’s why there’s a passionate and supportive community on Reddit’s r/running who follow a program called “Couch to 5K”. Or the many people out there who aspire to complete a Marathon (or some portion of one).

Running isn’t the best way to lose weight (in fact, it’s fairly well-proven that diet is a much more important factor than exercise), but exercise plays a big role. So for many, running is part of a goal to reach a certain target weight, body composition, or something similar.

Finally, for established runners, running has many, many goals in it to pursue:

  • Finishing a difficult race
  • Getting to a certain time or pace
  • Lowering your heart rate
  • Running a certain distance per week
  • Running a marathon in every continent (Andrew Warner‘s goal for 2019)

Some people feel that goals orient them, and some are more driven by a process of reaching them. When I went to Iten, I was intent on running 10km a day the whole time I was there. That is, until I realised how much harder the altitude made it. My goals then shifted to running every day until I could run 10km at that altitude, a goal which I met in the two weeks I spent there.

What I don’t like about goals is that there’s nothing beyond them. What do you do once you’ve run a Marathon? Run another? And they’re limiting psychologically because if you don’t reach them, you feel like a failure. So much of what is underlying our success is self-love and self-belief: respect for ourselves and our abilities, and belief that we deserve to be happy with what we have, and that we can achieve more if we choose. Goals are an embodiment of that, but really they flow naturally from our own attitude towards ourselves. So I don’t set arbitrary “goals”, just because it’s not where I get joy.

Running just for love

Finally, many people just fall in love with running in itself.

This is a captivating idea for me. When I hear of people running for love, I realise that either I learn to love, or I find what I love and pursue that. And run out of duty.

I found a mesmerising post on Reddit which said it perfectly:

I run through heartbreak, disappointment, fear, happiness, success, for fun, or for training. I’ll run through rain, sunshine, fog, wind, in cold and hot weather. I’ll have a crappy day and almost convince myself I deserve a day off. Then I’ll end up running and changing the entire narrative of the day to one that is positive and excited. I’ll dream of races, training plans, or watch running videos on YouTube. I can’t stop running. I don’t want to stop running. I’ve quit inhaling smoke and I can breathe better than I ever have. I’ll forego drugs or partying to go on a long run and I’ve never regretted it. I’ve signed up for races I thought I had no business running and the feeling of finishing them is one I find myself chasing. If there ever was a secret sauce I had been missing for my life, running is it. I’m just grateful I eventually found it. So grateful that I tell all my friends to start running. It’s like my religion, except church is 6 days a week. I almost can’t even believe it’s legal. It’s a crazy way to think and feel — except if you’re a runner. If you’re a runner, you get it. It’s a nice and supportive community because we don’t run against each other. We run against ourselves. And that’s what life is. Facing down your fears, chasing your dreams, and realizing you are more capable than you ever could have imagined. I have running to thank for being there through all of it.

Do you feel like this? I don’t. But I want to. And I deserve to, and so do we all.

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