Marathon Training Diary, Week 2: Why do we run?

11 July 2016  |  Alex

Perhaps the most common reaction that other people have to finding out that I am a long distance runner is to ask "Why do you run?" It is a fair enough question – running takes up a lot of time, can have very unpleasant effects on your body, and leads more often to anguish than elation. And yet, it is one of the most popular sports in the entire world – races such as the London and Berlin Marathons regularly have upwards of 30,000 finishers; for the New York Marathon and the Great North Run, that number is closer to 50,000. Long distance running is a very popular pursuit in countries as diverse as Finland, Kenya and Japan. So the question remains: why do so many people love running?

Why Do We Run?

I suspect that if you asked 100 long distance runners about their motivations and the specifics behind why they run, you would get nearly as many answers. Even the way that you approach the question can colour the answer – from an evolutionary standpoint, anthropologists believe that our ability to run for a long time allowed early man to hunt down much quicker animals, essentially tiring them to death. (This article gives a good account of the specific advantages that we have over our animal competitors when it comes to going the distance.) However, just because we can run long distances, doesn't mean that we do – there are far more people that don't run marathons every year than those who do – so what motivates the runners that doesn't affect the non-runners?

It is a question for someone with a greater mind than mine, I am afraid. What I can say go into is the reason that I personally run: because I enjoy it. This is a bit of a glib assessment of the reasons and motivations behind my running, but I think that at the core it holds true for anyone who spends their life following a pursuit to which they dedicate a lot of time. If you don't enjoy something, you don't find the motivation to stick to it. I have only been running seriously for a couple of years – before that I was a highly unmotivated person and I did almost no exercise whatsoever. I had played sports in the past, but always in a casual capacity and never with much gusto or dedication to practice. When I was finding that I was becoming out of breath climbing a flight of stairs, I decided that I could do something about it and so I started to run.

I joined a gym with the intention of spending roughly half the time on doing cardio and half of the time working out muscles. While I was only running two or three kilometres on the treadmill at first, I found that I was enjoying this far more than the dull repetition of lifting weights (though I know many people that are bored to tears by running that love lifting weights). In the end, I started doing more and more running and less and less weightlifting until it got to a point where I started to run outside rather than on a treadmill and forsook going to the gym altogether. Two and a half years later, I'm running most days, have run two marathons and I've still got no muscles (on the top half of my body, at least).

Feet of Clay

Most people (apart from the Quentin Tarantino types – no judgement!) find feet to be unappealing, unaesthetic or even downright disgusting. However I think that it is a truth that is universally acknowledged that a runner's feet are especially bad – I certainly know that mine are! The first time that I lost a toenail due to running, I was pretty much terrified; now, it's par for the course. It is getting to the point where, after a run yesterday, I happened to look down and noticed that there was a lot of dried blood coagulated around one of my nails, I reacted with a nonchalant disinterest. I am resigned to my nails being twisted, my feet being swollen and gnarled, and basically that entire region being nothing more than a source of pain for as long as I run.

My Week in Running

After last week's half marathon, I thought that I would push myself a little more this week and try some hill running. Being from Sheffield originally (a city, for those of you who don't know, that is so hilly that they can't find a flat enough plane to place an airport, making it Europe's largest city not to have one), I am no stranger to running up and down hills, though I can't pretend it is my forte. My big run of the week consisted of a long trip out to and back from Bexleyheath, going up the unremitting Shooter's Hill on both trips. Altogether this was roughly 26 kilometres, give or take.

Top 5 Running Songs of the Week

Vashti Bunyan – Feet of Clay

Moaning about my own podiatry problems earlier got me thinking about this song from cult folk favourite Vashti Bunyan. With a repetitive piano strain building up with lush orchestration, this is definitely more of a "stay on pace" song than a "get your blood boiling and smash out the next mile" song.

Blood Orange – Champagne Coast

Having gone to see Blood Orange in concert last week (and sacrificing a day of running to do so), I've been listening to a lot of his stuff recently. I find that his music really helps me hit a groove and makes running more bearable when I'm feeling close to quitting.

Wilco – Shot in the Arm

Definitely a song to listen to when you are flagging, Wilco's "Shot in the Arm" provides you with a little aural encouragement.

The Fall – Hit the North

Being a northerner living in London, I like to get back to my roots from time to time and The Fall's bellicose music strikes a real chord with me (pun intended).

Beyonce ft. Jay-Z – Crazy in Love

The one problem that I find with listening to this song while I run is that it really makes me want to stop and do the dance from the video (spoiler alert: I'm a terrible dancer and would look like an absolute fool should I stop and try).

That's all for this week, folks. Check back next Monday when the topic is going to be Boredom (so you know it will be a really fun read!)

Want to share your own story about how you became a runner? Leave us a comment below!