So, as Monty Python would say, 'now for something completely different'. I've been thinking a lot recently about how health media tends to push running as the be-all end-all of fitness. As the go-to, cheap, easy, ANYONE can do it sport. There are quotes about it, books about it, articles about it.
I'm here to say, I think that's straight up bollocks.
No, now, hear me out! The first thing to state is I. Love. Running. Secondly: No, I'm not elitist about it at all and suggesting that rubbish people shouldn't- I'm not a hugely talented runner, I kind of suck, and (unlike some others) I am enthused by the new wave of less 'serious' races (mud runs, colour runs, music runs) and ordinary folk tackling marathons, triathlons and the like.
Additionally, yes, it's great for more people to get involved with this sport. Yes, I adore discussing it with like-minded folks (and it also relieves the not-so-like-minded from having to hear me drone on). Yes, its great that people are being encouraged to get healthier.
But running isn't all there is.
I recently (ish- this blog post has been a few months in the making) had a conversation with a friend where she was complaining about her attempts to run. She was seeking advice that I was entirely happy to give, about if walk-run-walk is okay to start (100% yes), about shoes, about how often. This girl has started running on and off a few times. Throughout the conversation, however, I kept hearing the same theme... She doesn't enjoy it that much. She keeps getting niggle injuries, and bored, and demotivated, and shoes are expensive, and for what? She's not getting that much fitter in the sporadic nature of her training, and she seems to be picking up little pains.
In the cost/benefit ratio... Running for her isn't worth it, so why is she trying so hard?
In my opinion it's because running is pushed as the accessible sport, as the ideal weight loss tool, as the super healthy sport. It's because runners are a club, a cool family and sometimes people want to be a part of that. They get the big shiny races and medals and they're all dead skinny and do healthy things on weekends and will shine with health throughout their long lives.
|Courtesy of someecards|
Now, actual runners know that's pants. That realistically your relationship with running will dramatically arc up and down like the world's most nauseating rollercoaster whilst you battle injuries and demotivation, then suddenly you'll recapture the pure rush of being alive on an extremely sketchy downhill stretch of a hill race where your quad strength is the only thing between you and certain death. That being a runner doesn't guarantee that you don't actually spend your Saturday night shotting tequila off of the stomach of an ill-advised conquest then spend Sunday in bed eating hobnobs.
Running is actually reasonably expensive (though it has nothing on triathlon in that regard). You'll need shoes properly fitted for you. Those fittings only come from stores where the stock is up to date and highly branded. Newbies lack the confidence to shop online or on older discounted lines, or do so without the knowledge and pick up injuries fast. And in one of those shiny stores, shoes that may be perfect for you can run up to 100+ quid. Race fees can be daylight robbery (particularly the less scary, large ones), club membership can run into the hundreds. If you're at a university you usually need to be a gym member. You need some lycra. Enough for several outfits a week.
Then you get to start running, and that's it, right? That's why running is so easy, you just go. Well, maybe, if you're lucky. If not, you have some form of imbalance somewhere that you were never aware of that will rear its ugly head at some point in training and make you aware. If you are new to exercise in general (as many new runners are) you'll also be weak in some key muscles. No media article will have said 'start running! But, also, a sensible regime of strength exercises 3 times a week!'. You will never have read that.
Long distance running is hard on the joints, and can be harder if you are overweight. Irritating if you are one of many people who took it up to lose weight. Adding insult to injury, long distance running isn't even the best way to lose weight- sprint repeats and strength circuits will do that for you much quicker.
This may sound like I'm now actively bashing running, and perhaps I am using this article to vent a few of the qualms I have about my sport. The main point I want to make, however, is that all this is worth it if you love it. Loving the sport you're in is essential - you're much more likely to keep at it and live a long and healthy life that has a decent quantity of exercise. All sports will have expenses and drawbacks and injuries and associated strength training that will make you better and less injury prone.
The key is to find the sport/exercise or multiple sport/exercises which is/are your thing. Your thing might be boxing, might be salsa, might be basketball, might be high intensity weight lifting. It might be mountaineering/hiking, tennis, hockey, rock climbing, yoga, swimming, shark cage fighting, volleyball or laughing at the big boys and running away very fast.
If one of your motivations is weight, be assured that with a healthier diet and your choice of sport you can do it. You don't need to be a runner. Another friend of mine has just lost a ton of weight- he picked up rock climbing, loved it, now goes whenever he gets the chance and ate a bit healthier. He looks amazing.
So if running is the sport for you, excellent. If you try it (and please do try it) and its not, then try everything else. We all have different strengths and weaknesses, don't waste your life forcing yourself to do something you don't enjoy. I'm still going to keep trying everything else so I know what there is out there and also so I'm spending my healthy time as a pleasure and not a chore. If I pick up more things I love I can also use these things when running gets dull, when our rollercoaster is on a downhill sweep.
Like most things in life, its ideal if the things you have to do (like exercise, to be healthy) are also things you WANT to do. So go seek that thing, dive into new experiences (diving! There's another!). When you've found something that makes you feel so alive its worth the battles, you've found it. That last sentence probably applies to more than just running.
Is running your sport? If not, what is? Do you have other sports that are your thing?
PS: Other things I didn't mention: many disabilities (some obvious, some not) completely prohibit running, some orthotic, alignment and spinal abnormalities (sub-disability) do too, as do many illnesses. If I see one more article titled 'Literally anyone can run' I will scream, because misuse of literally should be a crime. They should all be re-titled 'Almost anyone can run for 50 metres if being chased by a bear, though some people sadly cannot'.