Written by Sue Fuller-Good (MSc Physio WITS) Physiotherapist with a special interest in the mind-body connection
How to start running: the hardest part about running is starting.
Sometimes we just need someone to take our hand and help us out of the starting blocks.
The benefits of running: Running benefits our cardiovascular system, our musculoskeletal system and our circulatory system. It causes the production of serotonin which is a feel-good hormone that makes us feel happy and energised. It clears the brain and helps with stress management. It's fun and feels terrific (maybe not in the first few tries, but after that).
The things we need to be careful of when running: Starting slowly is key when we start running. Our cardiovascular system gets stronger and fitter long before our tendons and ligaments strengthen up to enable the increased load and number of steps, so we must go much slower than we would like to in pace and in progression of distance.
Someone said to me when I came home from a run, pouring with sweat and looking very unladylike: “I would just love to be able to do something that could make me feel as marvelous as you look right now! You have obviously had a very spiritual and exhilarating hour!” She went on to ask: “Could you teach me to do that too” I was so surprised, I could not think what she needed to learn except: she could and she should! Her comment inspired me to write this article, which could hopefully inspire more people to try it!
Running requires commitment. It is tough especially when you first begin, your lungs burn and feel as if they will explode, your legs ache and feel a deep lameness that screams of a need to rest. The most important lesson to be learnt from keeping going even under this dire discomfort is that we do not know our limits and our limits are way beyond where we imagine they are.
We limit ourselves terribly by never discovering our capacity, and we also allow ourselves to avoid discomfort. Discomfort and pain are an inevitable component of life in this world and the sooner we lose our fear of pain and discover our potential to survive pain, the sooner we can grow and develop without being held back by fear.
Running teaches us to meet a challenge and resist the temptation to quit at the first onset of either difficulty or pain. It teaches us to “dig deep” inside ourselves and find our reserves and our ability to endure and survive. Life is tough and many people quit at the first sign of an obstacle. People often choose the easy route, the safe route, the one with the least challenge. They seldom veer off the safe and comfortable, familiar path, unless they are forced off it.
Running teaches us to go into unfamiliar territory and hang in. This can empower us to trust ourselves to handle the tough path in life. It can enable us to accept challenges without being afraid and without being tempted to give up when the going gets difficult.
Running never ceases to be a challenge, as one can always run further, faster. It never gets easy. Running may even teach us to see pain as a friend, as a teacher and something the human body is equipped to cope with. Running may show us how to be victorious over our own weakness and fear. Of course, this needs to be balanced with wisdom. Part of the euphoria that accompanies a hard run is the sense of accomplishment, the sense of being victorious over you.
Watching how you operate on a run can teach you a lot about yourself and show you some hard truths. If you observe how you handle yourself when you start to feel pain, you will see whether you allow yourself an “out,” make excuses, cut corners effectively cheating yourself or whether you push yourself too hard. You will see whether you dig into your inner reserves and find the power to cope, but with compassion and kindness.
Having this honest look at yourself can enable you to stretch and challenge yourself or if you are on the other end of the spectrum reign yourself in a bit. Run by run, you can disallow the excuses. You can see your sudden need to tie your shoe a bit tighter, or remove your outer layer of clothing for what they are… possibly excuses for taking a rest before the end. They may be a dishonest way of getting a rest, that you actually could manage without. You can challenge yourself to stay focused and endure, or take the honest route and say: “I’m taking a rest, because I cannot find the reserves to continue, I’m too tired!”. It’s all okay, its just a great place to see yourself in action.
Many people make excuses for themselves before they even begin… “I am asthmatic”, “I have an injury”, “I am too heavy to run”, are a few examples. These people may be afraid to fail or they may be afraid of being uncomfortable and so they deny themselves the freedom and joy that is their right.
Running can teach us to be free. Running provides us with a means of exploring our physicality, our endurance and our ability to move and go. This is freedom and joy! Many people prefer to stay confined in their own safety nets. They prefer not to venture into the realm of the unknown. Running can give people a freedom no-one can ever deny them except themselves.
Running can provide a forum for meditation, for serenity, stillness, peace and communication with your higher self. Since it is a sport that requires hardly any concentration at all, it is the perfect sport for developing the ability to just “be”. The time spent moving freely can provide the means from which a person can get to know themselves. They can find the place they occupy in the harmony of the Universe. Time for meditation and contemplation are seldom available to people at any other time in the rat race of life.
Running provides a forum for finding discipline and commitment. These are the two qualities, without which running is impossible. A “successful” life also requires these ingredients. A runner who ran with “ten out of ten commitment” would run so hard that they may vomit or lose control of their bladder. A runner who stops after five minutes because of exhaustion and discomfort may be living their lives at a level of commitment of one or two out of ten.
An ongoing running program can provide a person with the capacity to keep stretching themselves until they can find their own ten out of ten level. This finding could empower them to change the entire way they live their life.
The same can be said about discipline. Participation in a running program may provide a good mirror to your level of discipline. How many times do you allow yourself not to bother? How often do you accept your own excuses and fail to go for a run or to do your best? A person who gets out of bed six out of seven days and trains no matter what the weather, life events or state of their health is living at a high level of discipline. Maybe too high? But on the other end of the spectrum is the person who keeps promising to get up and never ends up doing so. Where would you fit on the spectrum?
Running also teaches people to focus on the “now”. If you have 50 minutes to run and you constantly count the minutes you have left, you will be much more likely to quit than if you focus on the present moment and be in that minute. If you are running up a steep hill and constantly look at the top and where you have to run to, you are much more likely to stop and walk then if you enjoy each step and focus on each moment and never look how far you still have to go. You will suddenly find you are at the top and you may not even remember how you got there!
Goal setting and dreaming is another critical part of successful living and that is what running is all about. Today you went 20 minutes, so next week you will go 25. Whatever number of kilometres you would ultimately like to run requires stepwise increments in training. Many people would immediately allow self-doubt to crush any vision of being able to run a long race, but the slow and steady improvements seen with the consistency of running are encouraging.
If you can find your discipline and commitment, your ability not to quit and set yourself appropriate goals you COULD actually do anything you put your mind to doing.
Last but not least, running provides a means of enjoying the gifts of nature that are all around us. It provides a space to enjoy the sunshine, fresh air, blue sky, bird song and beauty that many people fail to ever notice. If you forget to notice the gifts of loveliness that are all around, you are forever poorer for it. Who on Earth wants to be poorer? So why not get out there and try a running program? It is available to all who have two legs that work, not matter what your level of health or fitness. Just try. Remember you have to push through the pain to find the joy. And feel free to substitute walking for running. Its just as beneficial! I haven’t been able to walk or run for many months now and I miss it so much. I’ll never take it for granted again.
Have fun and remember movement is magic!