Growing up, I see myself as a stocky person, a relatively short person who is muscular underneath a layer of fat.
Not-so-clear videos from the late nineties show me at four years old, running around the garden topless on a summer’s day. Looking at those videos recently, I thought to myself, “Wow, look at that big fat tummy long before I started binge munching while watching the best shows on Netflix.”
Apart from a couple of years playing badminton in my teens, competitive sports and exercise were not an integral part of my life (unless we count the number of times we frequented the sushi train restaurants with friends when things got competitive as we consumed plate after plate to see who could eat the most.
In 2019, however, after an inspiring conversation with a keen runner (who was also my personal trainer at the time), my sedentary days were out of the window.
The man was in his late thirties and a marathon runner. I could not suppress my curiosity, so I had to ask him why he would put himself through that kind of misery. I was curious to know what does he get out of running distances up to 42 kilometres. Having well and truly caught the running bug, I can see the reasons.
It is widely accepted that running is beneficial to our health and fitness, but I get so much more from running kilometres after kilometres. Running has encouraged me to adopt a healthier lifestyle and, more importantly, a life worth living. Here are seven ways how running has transformed my life for the better.
1. I Have Better Control Of My Mind
“Wouldn’t you rather sit in the comfort of your own house and watch dozens of videos of people making a fool of themselves?”
“Your body was never designed for running. Who do you think you are? Eliud Kipchoge?”
Ah, the mind continues to speak.
On days I usually run, thoughts like these never fail to come out of the deepest voids of my mind. They would try to glue me to the cosy couch to make me feel guilty later on for not moving my legs on the treadmill.
“I believe in mind over matter and doing anything your mind set on.”Elizabeth Taylor
Do not get me wrong; there are days where the kind thing to do is abort a run—especially if I recently injured myself physically or the weather is less than ideal — but that is not normally why I encounter internal resistance before and while running.
“Come on, that is fair enough for today,” my mind continues to speak softly.
“Hell no, the only way is forward and onwards,” I responded.
Sometimes, the weight I try to lose is not on my body; it is in my mind. Our minds will always try to hold us back, but we do not have to respond to every thought. We can become more conscious of when our mind is attempting to put us in our comfort zone. As runners, we know that there is no finish line. Hence, when our minds try to shame us, stand firm and keep running forward.
2. I Learned The Importance Of Rest and Recovery
Ever since I started running, I have been giving myself more tender loving care and become more accepting of my need to take the time for my body to rest and recuperate.
“There is virtue in work and there is virtue in rest. Use both and overlook neither.”Alan Cohen
Every time I return home from a run, I usually perform a couple of light stretches before going easy for the remainder of the day. The reason being I have discovered that I need to give my body a well-deserved rest, or it will eventually fall apart.
Previously, I saw rest and recovery as things only the weak would do, and it was in some way, self-respecting to keep myself occupied throughout the day, every day. That mentality is all gone now. I currently believe that there is a time to push ourselves while in doing mode and a time for simply being. Both are equally vital to our general well-being.
3. A Reminder To Keep My Chin Up And Press On
A few months ago, while on the run, a sense of fatigue just hit me like a tonne of bricks. My eyes were looking at the ground, my pace gradually decreased in intensity, and my legs felt like jello. An agonising feeling slowly flooded my body as I looked at the distance I have yet to cover.
“When you’re going through hell, keep on going.”Winston Churchill
I recognised, though, I was hitting the “runner’s wall” and recalled the Navy SEALs’ 40% rule — that even though I felt tired for a short amount of time, only 40% of my potential was expended.
I stopped for a while and took a deep breath before slowly raising my chin so that my eyes were running parallel to the surface of the ground. I was now looking dead straight, my eyes glued on where I wanted to go, the path ahead. Inside my head, I repeated, “one, two, three, four,” again and again, commanding my feet. Afterwards, I sped off.
When life throws rocks at us, it is standard for our heads to drop down as a means of self-defence. However, we cannot remain in that state forever. Moving forward may be a virtually impossible task, but at the end of the day, there comes a time when we have to face them head-on and seek the courage to press on.“When you’re going through hell, keep on going.” — Winston Churchill
4. Running Helps Me Appreciate My Body
“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.”Thich Nhat Hanh
One of the saddest observations in life is the media’s increasing efforts to project to us what a “perfect” body looks like. Frankly, the majority of us do not fit that ideal profile. Consequently, many people consider exercise a form of punishment for not being fit or overeating the day before.
We need to eliminate that mindset. Instead, we must always view exercise as a celebration of our body as it is. When I complete a run, I thank my body for a job well done. I am lucky enough to possess a green bill of health, a blessing and a discreet luxury not everyone has.
I have a friend of mine who suffers from a chronic health disorder. Although his physical potential is much more restricted than others, he lives his life every day feeling grateful for what his body does enable him to do. For example, he cannot participate in a full marathon, but he is appreciative of the fact that he can still walk — and he has trustworthy friends who will be his eyes and ears when he cannot advance through the dark.
5. A Reminder That The Most Difficult Part Of Any Worthy Endeavours Is Just Beginning
“The hardest part is starting. Once you get that out of the way, you’ll find the rest of the journey much easier.”Simon Sinek
Once I have my running shoes on and am on the move, the initial resistance fades away, and I get on with it. I have never, after five minutes of running, decided to quit and make my way back home.
This reveals an interesting truth, one that many know but are not aware of when they start an arduous journey: so often in life, the most excruciating part of any worthy journey is just beginning. If you long to write a book, the hardest part is sitting down to write those first few words. If you need to start an uncomfortable discussion, the most challenging part is gathering the courage to say, “Hey, we need to talk”.
On days when my mind tries to put up a resistance and start a battle, I gently remind myself that the biggest obstacle is putting my running gear on and heading out the front door. Once I am in the open, I have emerged victorious — and I almost always enjoy the feeling that comes soon after.
6. Running Has Taught Me That Your Diet Is Not Just What You Eat
Since running, I am now far more conscious of what I am consuming, both physically and mentally.
I sense the difference when I have been consuming well and am hydrated compared to when I run on a tummy filled with junk food and dehydrated. What we insert into our digestive system makes a difference.
“Diets, like clothes, should be tailored to you.”Joan Rivers
However, it goes beyond the food and drinks you consume. The types of media we place in our heads also matter. Why? Before leaving home for a hike, I read a local news item about a landslide that happened not far from where I was hiking. I knew it was improbable that I would find myself as a landslide victim. Nevertheless, it did not stop my mind from falling into a state of panic whenever I hear cracking noises from the trees.
On the one hand, when I read an inspiring story before heading out, I notice a spring in my step and feel empowered as I run. It is almost as if my running shoes have added spring in them that propels me further forward.
If the media I expose myself to influences my life (either beneficially or detrimentally) in the short term, just visualise the affect it has in the long term. By removing all the junk in my diet, I am one step closer to having a healthy mind.
7. Running Reminds Me of What Is Possible
Perhaps the most significant way running aids me in living my best life is by demonstrating to me what is possible. I can now run faster and farther than I ever thought possible, way further than my sceptical inner critic would have anticipated.
I have evolved from being someone who would hardly run to someone who runs at least four times per week. Most of all, I have evolved from being an individual who dreaded even the thought of running to an individual who looks forward to and, dare I say, loves running. If I can turn myself into an avid runner, just picture what else I can do.
Do I believe running is for everybody? I do not think so.
Despite that, I do agree that everyone can benefit from the wisdom I obtained from running. Do not let your mind run wild. Take control of it.
If there is something you want to do, take that step forward, no matter how small. When things become more challenging, press on. Be grateful for what you can do instead of paying attention to what you cannot.
It is not laziness if you decided to take the time to rest. Saying that you have no time to relax is like saying you don’t have time to stop for gas because you are too busy driving.
Be wary of what you consume and how it influences you. Lastly, always remember that you can do so much more than you think if you believe in yourself.