August 13, 2013

SUMMARY: This is a guest post from Susan Olding, award-winning writer, poet, and avid exerciser – albeit reluctant runner. Susan’s one of my coaching clients. In this guest post she shares her love/hate relationship with running. And, she illustrates why sometimes, even if we don’t like a particular form of exercise, it can make sense to add it to our rotation. 

I don’t like running. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say I hate it.

To begin with, I’m slow. My all-out sprint is another person’s gentle jog.

True, I’m in my fifties, but that’s no excuse. People a whole lot older than me regularly zip past me on the sidewalks, chatting to their buddies, bopping to their tunes, and barely breaking a sweat. Meanwhile, I’m gasping for breath and gritting my teeth in determination. It’s downright humiliating.

When it comes to technique, the best I can say is that I manage to propel myself along. Oh, sure – I’ve attended a couple of clinics. And I tried to put the instructor’s advice into practice, consciously leaning forward, reminding myself to pull. But I can’t say it’s made a lot of difference.

Maybe that’s why I have never, in all my life, experienced a runner’s high. In fact, I might be the only person in the world who’s actually subject to a runner’s low. That’s right. A low. I’ll hit the road in great spirits only to break down in tears before I’m halfway home.

But if running’s such a drag for me, why on earth do I do it?

I hit the pavement and gave some thought to this question. And here’s what I discovered!:
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1. Running beats burpees.
Enough said.

2. You can run almost anywhere. 
As someone who travels a lot and can’t always make it to the gym in an unfamiliar place, I appreciate a form of exercise that can be done almost anywhere, almost any time and at my convenience.

3. Running is easy to fit into a packed schedule. 
Sometimes it’s not the workout itself that we don’t have time for. It’s the extra hour of commuting that we just can’t face. But no matter what, I can always fit a short run into my day. That makes it a favorite fallback option. If I can’t generate the motivation to do anything else, at minimum, I can go for a 20-minute jog or a few sets of intervals. And something is better than nothing.

4. Running gets you outdoors.
For me, this is one of running’s chief benefits. Fresh air, the varied greens of leaves, the blue of sky and water, snow crunching underfoot, misty rain, a prairie horizon or a mountain view – it doesn’t really matter. Whatever the conditions – as long as they’re not abysmal – time outdoors refreshes and rejuvenates in a way that time in a sweat-soaked gym never can. So on a day when I have otherwise been stuck indoors, running is my workout of choice.

5. You can run alone; you can run with others.
I work. I parent. I volunteer. I help to care for an aging family member. So, like most of us, in my ordinary day-to-day activities, I’m often responding to other people’s needs. That’s why I’ve come to think of exercise time as me time. A time to give some attention to myself.

But in a super-busy gym, finding genuine alone time can be difficult. You need to share the equipment. You’re forever running into people you know, who want to talk.

Running puts me out of range, allows me to be by myself, with my own thoughts. Truly alone. I treasure it for that quality.

At the same time, it doesn’t have to be done alone. It works just as well if you come together with others – either to support a cause, or to socialize in a healthy way. The popularity of charity runs and running clubs attests to this. Joining a club or a class is a great way to make fit friends.

6. Running can get you in shape for activities that you enjoy more. 
Hiking, ice-skating, dancing – all are easier as a result of my relatively frequent, relatively short runs. I often do sprint intervals, and as a result, my endurance for other sports has increased.

7. You don’t have to think while running, but you might generate some great ideas! 
When I’m working out with weights, I have to plan. I have to decide whether or when to add weight, and how much. I have to count my reps. I have to calculate the best time of day to go to the gym. In short, I have to think.

I know – it’s hardly rocket science. And there is a zen-like rhythm to it that is very comforting in its own way.

But there are days when I’d rather not make any decisions, no matter how small and insignificant. Running lets me go on autopilot.

Paradoxically, this puts running right up there with shower time as a fount of creative ideas.

When our minds are free to wander, they often generate solutions to sticky problems. And when pushing and straining hasn’t yielded up an answer to a dilemma, a short run will sometimes flip the switch. I’ll leave with a knotted forehead and come home buzzing with possibilities.

8. Running puts you in good company.
Some of my most respected friends, associates, and mentors like to run.

And some of them, like me, don’t much like to run – yet they choose to do it, anyway. Take my coach Dr. John Berardi, who once confessed in a Facebook post that he wasn’t much into running. I could identify.

This man has devoted his life to the study of nutrition and physiology. He doesn’t love running, yet he includes it in his exercise rotation. Hmmm. Surely there is a message for me there.

The truth is, if all of us did only the forms of exercise that we like or are “good at” we wouldn’t be building our fitness. Combining activities, aiming for a full range of different movement types, is the most likely to lead to lasting health benefits. And challenging ourselves to try things that aren’t easy for us is in itself a recipe for growth.

9. Running keeps you humble.
It may sound twisted, but for me there is a real benefit in knowing and accepting that this is something I’ll never really be great at. Meanwhile, as a modest practitioner myself, I can better appreciate running skill and talent in others.

10. Running reminds you to be grateful. 
Not long ago, as I was jogging through a lakeside park, I came upon a group of older folks out for their own daily perambulations. Some of them were balancing with canes or crutches or pushing walkers..

I’ll bet they weren’t all super-motivated to go outside that day. They certainly didn’t know they’d rock their workout. Yet there they were, giving it their best. Each and every one of them.

My legs may not be fast, but they can carry me. My lungs may not be mighty, but they give me breath. My heart may not be the strongest, but it is open.


Readers — What about you?

Is there some sport or activity that you avoid because you dislike it or aren’t good at it?

What benefits might there be in adding it, at least temporarily, to your own exercise rotation?

Until next time,
– John Berardi

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