Why run?

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Rechov Rakevet, a train line in Jerusalem that doubles as a walking (or running) path.
Rechov Rakevet, a train line in Jerusalem that doubles as a walking (or running) path.

This is one of a series of posts I’ll make on running, in the lead-up to our mission to run distance in Kenya.

One of our missions (really, one of my missions) coming up soon in our plan is to go running in Kenya. I’ve been preparing for this, ramping up distance, pace and technique, and wanted to start discussing why and what I’m learning.

Let’s start with the “why”. Why run?

The main reason I run is simple: running scares the #*&$ out of me. I’m not good at it. Short or long distance, I’m off pace, run out of puff and always know I’m not pushing my hardest. I am slow at sprinting, slow at distance running and generally have a lot to learn in form. And running demands waking up very early to have the world to myself, which nobody objectively likes, even if the pre-dawn morning air is amazing yada yada… we’d all rather be resting.

Enough with the self-deprecation. Now for some facts in my favour: Those who know me know that I’m reasonably fit. Not excellent in any one thing, but mostly balanced. I have a resting heart rate below 50 bpm, can hold my own in power lifts, do hundreds of reps of bodyweight work and have very low body fat for my age, which is older than you think. I’m generally “the fit guy”.I have a resting heart rate of below 50.

And so, given all that, I think I should be able to run (and swim). But I can’t.

So why is running important? Or rather… why is running important to me?

Let’s start by discarding why it’s NOT important. Firstly, some people talk about running as a survival skill. Like you run from your preThat’s fine, except I am surviving without it. Also, running can take you to beautiful places. Well, so can walking! So those arguments aren’t enough.

So many people shy away from it, for various reasons. Legendary trainers like Martin Berkham (the person who brought ‘intermittent fasting’ mainstream) say cardio is not the most efficient way to get lean (true, but running isn’t just about getting lean). Various commentators will claim it can damage your joints, impede your mobility and stunt your ability to put on muscle mass (also true).

But running is important to me. Here’s why:

Reason 1: Running is hard, and I’m bad at it.

Running is really hard. Have you tried it? It’s really, really hard.

The fact that it’s hard and that I’m bad at it is probably the most important part, to me.

In the verbal commentary for David Goggins’ Can’t Hurt Me, a book about embracing suffering, finding strength within yourself and becoming your own hero, David describes that he got into ultra running because he missed the suffering of Navy Seal BUD/S training (a well-known grinder that separates chaff from wheat), and running was harder.

People see I’m a Navy SEAL and they say “Oh, this must be easy for you.” Well I don’t see Navy SEALs doing this shit!

David Goggins (audiobook, commentary)

Despite how popular running is as a sport, a lot of people hate running. In the CrossFit community, it’s common for people to randomly tell you they hate running. They’ll groan at the idea of running just a kilometre.

When someone tells me the hate something and are bad at it, it’s motivation for me to be better. I see an opportunity to get ahead on something nobody else wants to do. If you tell me something’s incredibly hard and nobody can do it, especially not me, then watch out.

The problem, of course, is that there are many things that are hard and people say nobody can do, so I have to be selective.

Which is why I need reason 2…

Reason 2: Running is a universal sport.

In the spirit of what we’re doing in Discover Discomfort, the universality of running means it’s a great way to connect with people from everywhere.

Running is a universal sport, available to people of all social classes from all walks of life, anywhere in the world, available to people even with physical handicaps.

You can run anywhere where there’s a surface, or just a treadmill. You don’t need anything. You don’t even need shoes — you can run in boots, or barefoot on a soft enough surface.

In the Olympic scene, France and Great Britain dominate cycling, which needs high-end gear at the upper echelons of the sport. Germany and Great Britain dominate equestrian sports, which definitely need a horse.

But lower GDP-per-capita countries lead in running. Jamaica crushes sprinting, and Kenya is renowned for producing legions of distance runners. All they need is a track (and shoes).

Meanwhile, even in wealthy countries, something like 10-20% (depending on source or definition) of people consider themselves casual runners.

You don’t need special weather conditions to run, any special terrain (you can go both on- and off-road), or fancy equipment. In fact, an emerging body of knowledge is pointing towards zero-drop shoes, or minimalist shoes.

The universality of running, of course, means it’s really easy to do it while we travel, too.

What’s next

As I train up for our Africa stage, I’m exploring a few topics like

  • How to run safely and not damage yourself (mobility, technique, gear)
  • The “ideal distances” to run: short, intermittent, distance
  • Measuring improvement in running
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