Bloody science

Sod the scientific warnings – here’s why I’ll keep on running

By , Saturday 1 December 2012 06.00 EST


Bloody science. For a discipline that’s supposed to be all about accuracy and provable facts, you never know where you are with it. Barely a day goes by without the papers reporting a new study that seems to contradict a previous study on the same subject. “Forget about X, it’s all about Y”.

Exercise is no different. One day it’s good for you, no caveats. The more the merrier. Off you go and get a sweat on. The next: whoa there. Be careful. It might not be good for you, you and you. Take those new studies, which state that running a lot (more than between 20 and 25 miles a week) may actually take a toll on the heart. As such, trying to work out what the best course of action is can be confusing. My advice? Ignore all the white noise and go with your gut instinct. If you enjoy a sport and you feel it’s doing you good – well then, in a way it already is just by virtue of that. It’s self-fulfilling.

Running is my thing. I did it before it became my job, and I’ll continue to do it even if I stop writing about it at some point. Here, in no particular order, is a far-from-exhaustive and distinctly non-scientific list of reasons why I love running, and why I will always do it no matter what theories du jour lie in wait in the future.

I enjoy it

Pretty hard to argue against this. If you enjoy something, it’s worth doing (apart from murder and arson and, y’know, stuff like that).

It cheers me up

If I’m in a bad mood, I stick my trainers on and head out the door and, to quote The Great Suprendo, piff paff poof, my gripes and worries are obliterated by the rhythm of my breathing and the patter of my feet on the ground. Plus, the endorphins produced will set me up for the rest of the day. Also, you can add me to the long list of people who think that this particular study is seriously flawed. During a 12-month bout of depression two years ago, running helped where medication couldn’t – and for that reason alone I’ll always be grateful to it.

It makes me feel healthier

Are you happy, scientists? I used the word “feel”. I’ve been a runner for 10 years, and at 33 I’m in much better shape than I was a decade ago. I weigh less, I have more lean muscle, my heart is healthier, my cholesterol has dropped, my confidence is higher and I feel good. And judging by the number of letters we get at Runner’s World from people of all backgrounds whose lives have been similarly transformed, I’m not the only one.

It makes me a better person

I’m nicer to be around, I laugh and smile more, I’m more considerate and I’m more productive and imaginative at work. And who doesn’t want that?

It gives me headspace

In a world of careers, families, smartphones and being contactable almost all of the time, the chance to take myself “off the grid” is a precious thing. I do my best thinking when I’m pounding the streets (or park, or trails). I solve problems, make lists, brainstorm, hatch cunning plans, think about loved ones, daydream about nothing in particular … And it’s awesome.

It’s free and anyone can do it

Running is as expensive as you want to make it. Sure, if you want you can invest in a £150 pair of trainers, a GPS tracking watch so complicated that Q would never let Bond anywhere near it, and all manner of clobber designed to make you warmer/cooler/dryer/less smelly/faster/less achey, but all you really need is time, and somewhere to run. You don’t even need any lessons as you already know how to do it! Yes, even you, the one who hasn’t even run for the bus in 20 years and is chain-dunking Hob Nobs as you read this – you can do it too.

It brings people together

One of my absolute favourite things about running is seeing other people doing it. Fat, thin, short, tall, fast, slow, Juicy Couture tracksuit, 118-style vest. We’re all members of a very inclusive club. A nod and a smile as you run past in the opposite direction makes you feel as though you’re in on the secret too.

You get out what you put in

Team sports are great but sometimes it’s good to test yourself against … yourself. There’s no one else to blame if you have a bad run and nobody to share the glory with if you smash it. In other sports (Olympic badminton seemingly excepted) you have to be as competitive as possible. With running, you can give it your all and train hard for a race if you wish, or you can just go for a slow plod with no real target in mind. It’s your call.

It’s elemental, my dear Watson. Humans were made to move. It’s how we survived in Woolly Mammoth Times, running away from stuff to avoid being eaten. Running towards stuff to try and eat it. Running was essential. Not any more maybe but it’s a primal human instinct. Every time I run, I marvel in the fact that I am lucky enough to be able to do it. To feel the wind in my face, my heart pounding and my limbs moving in beautiful synchronicity with each other. Less able-bodied people never get the chance. Running is a blessing, studies be damned. or

Illustration by heoh, September 5th, 2010.

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