Let me say this upfront: I hate running! Being bent over, hands-on-knees, while gasping for air and inhaling exhaust fumes is not my idea of a fun day out. And the sweat? Don’t even go there.
Despite this, I run. This is an enigma often encountered, but not clarified, so let me try and give you some insight on the reasons why running – despite its poor reputation as a thing that “runners” do – is something that I do, that you can do, and that anyone looking to do some form of exercise can learn to do . . . and love.
Running is cheap
Ignore the hype. Forget about the latest, ultra-light, gel-soled running shoes that cost a small fortune. You can find a good pair of entry-level running shoes for about R500-R1 000. That’s it. You’re geared up and ready to run.
It may be that running is not your first choice; perhaps you wanted to try cycling, maybe even rock climbing. That’s great, but try running first. The average bike costs quite a bit more than the average pair of running shoes. Other compulsory extras include a helmet and at least padded pants if you do not have glutes like Brad Pitt’s. Then there are optional extras like cleats, sunglasses, and hydration packs. The list goes on.
You will need some clothes for running, but not necessarily the latest high-tech gear. Branded tracksuit with UV-protection made with moisture-wicking material? Pass. Old T-shirt your wife wants to upgrade to a dust cloth? Bingo.
Running starts now
OK let’s give the cyclists a break, and say you were thinking of giving squash a go. Unless you are lucky to live near a court or have a gym membership, the average person has to drive at least 10-15km to get to the nearest squash court. With fuel prices at an all-time high, this is a fair expense for your consideration, and that assumes you even have a vehicle to begin with.
Other obstacles in your way to becoming the next world squash champion are obligatory court bookings, proper shoes, and the like. As a side note, what kind of sport needs 4 walls and a person? When I was a boy and had no one to play with, my dad would say “kick against the wall”. Squash holds the dubious award of requiring both. I digress.
Running is simple: walk out the front door and start running. No matter where you live and what environment you find once you leave your front door, chances are good you can run on it. Road, gravel, beach, and mountain - anything goes. No special terrain required. No driving. No bookings. No walls and no partner. This brings me to my next point:
Running is you
High up on most people’s list of reasons not to exercise is “I need to find the right partner”. Most people recommend group activities to stay motivated, but dependency on a partner comes with its own set of challenges, whether it be conflicting schedules or last-minute cancellations. If you are disciplined and self-motivated, then running might be for you. Whether you feel like running in the morning, or taking the day off, it’s OK. It’s all up to you. You are the master of your own running destiny.
However, if groups are your thing, and you need people around you to keep going, then a running club will satisfy your needs. Here you will get the coaching and training to get your running career going. There is bound to be a club in your suburb or surrounding area, and some that cater especially for beginners. Sign up and get moving.
Running is anyone
When I hear that song by Freshly Ground about the “fat thighs", its hard not to think of most of the runners I know. Whether you are a bit overweight or scrawny, young or old, male or female, running might be for you.
Enter for a league race on a Sunday morning and you will see that runners doing the race are not much different from the general population strolling through Canal Walk on a Sunday afternoon. You will probably see a few of the same faces! Contrary to popular belief, we are not all athletic types with washboard abs who appear to never have consumed a Steers burger in our lives. Although we love to run, we love to eat too.
Running is big
Running is a big sport. If you have ever seen the television coverage of the Two Oceans or the Comrades marathons, then you will understand what I mean. What this large community creates for you – the budding runner – is accessibility. This is evident in the vast amount of information available, large amount and variety of running events – whether they be road races, trail runs, or cross country – large number of running clubs, and running gear even in the most pedantic of retail stores.
Running is therapy
Many runners will tell you that once they hit the tar, the stresses of the day melt away. The single-minded focus required to keep your limbs moving and your breathing even as you pace yourself through the kilometres create a Zen-like state of mind known as the “runners high”.
This is the ideal time to bounce those ideas around in your head, such as how to solve that tricky problem at work or that leaking tap at home.
Running is health
No article is complete without mentioning the health benefits of running. Although well documented, these include improved cardiovascular health and bone density, as well as an increase in lung functioning and energy levels. Running is also good for boosting your immune system, lowering your blood pressure, and reducing insulin resistance. Best of all, though, it means improved weight management!
So there you have it. No matter your size or age, sex or shape, running could be for you. Not only is it great for your mental and physical health, but it’s also one of the cheapest and most accessible sports. How much better can it get? To you, the aspiring runner, I wish many happy kilometres. Lace up, and Godspeed.
What is your favourite workout? E-mail us at email@example.com
Resources: Website for list of running clubs in Western Cape; Race calendar 2012
(Health24, January 2013)