Sunday, August 16, 2009

Why I run and why you probably should too

Some people run. Some don’t. The ones that run swear by it and the ones that don’t, well they don’t see how or why they should start. Ever since I started running (which is less than a year ago), I have begun to see patterns that prompt people to take up running and enjoy it enough to go for longer distances and bigger challenges. Hopefully, I can give some tips about making the transition from being a non-runner to a marathoner (if that is your goal). But firstly, a clarification.

Tread-mill running vs. Road running? When I talk about running, I am only talking about running outside (on a road or trail). Sorry about my strong views, but I don’t encourage anyone to run on a treadmill. Here are my reasons:

i) Treadmill forces us to run at a fixed pace – Think of how complex the human body is. When we are on the road, we are always alert and responding to the environment and our own physical condition. For e.g. after a tough uphill run, we will just slow down a tad bit to catch our breath back. Same thing goes for how we respond to changes in weather, how tired we feel etc. But with a treadmill, we put the onus on a machine to do what our neural network does for us and that is expecting too much.

ii) Treadmill promotes a vertical motion rather than a horizontal one – People say that running on the road is stressful to the knees and there is truth in that. That’s why we have to ease into running on the road. But treadmills, because of its fixed length, do not promote full length strides and actually cause an impact on the knees. To give an analogy, running on a treadmill is like bouncing a ball on a fixed spot while running outside is like rolling a ball on the ground.

iii) After 5 miles on the treadmill, you still haven’t gotten anywhere - There is something mildly discouraging about spending a lot of time on a machine that actually takes you nowhere. My coach likes to say, “When you run on a treadmill, it does the work and not you. You are just trying to stay on it.”

Here are my tips for a beginner runner:

i) Start slow and enjoy the experience – When you are new to running, your only aim should be to get out and have fun. So to do that, you always start slow and run at a comfortable pace that you can have a conversation in. And you just observe cars, greet other runners, look for landmarks etc. In other words, even though you are running, it is a laid-back approach.

ii) Overcome starting trouble by signing up for just 10 minutes – A lot of us don’t get out of the house to run because we think of the daunting distance that we have to cover. I have a simple tip that always works – I plan to run only 10 minutes every time I get out. So, irrespective of how tired I feel, I am not really worried because all that I say to myself is “just 10 minutes and I am done.” Why, because the first 10 minutes is the toughest and after that, I have enough momentum to keep going atleast for another half an hour or so.

iii) Find different routes around your neighborhood - Just start off in a different direction every time you run. And as you run, just look around and enjoy the scenery. Most times I don’t even listen to music because I want to absorb my surroundings and be alert during my run.

Now we come to the important question - Why run at all? There are theories about how the human body was designed for running but I wont go into the details (reference [3]). For me, the following reasons work.

i) Running time = Thinking time - This is my biggest reason because running is such a simple sport that you get into an autopilot mode after warming up. Soon, the mind gets clear and uncluttered and it is the perfect time to chew on half-baked ideas and come up with solutions. I can think of two ideas that I implemented at work that were a direct result of my running.

ii) Running (especially longer distances) is probably the best breathing exercise that you can do - The reason is simple; to run long distances you need to have rhythmic breathing. I follow the style recommended in reference [1], which is two inhalations followed by two exhalations and before I know it, I get the same results as some advanced meditation techniques.

iii) You always feel better after the run than you did before - There are many instances when I was in no mood to run but I have always felt great after every run. It’s almost like I have conquered a route and put my initials on it. Plus (unlike tennis which is my other favorite sport) I can never lose on a running day. There is no competition and to have completed a route means to have come back a victor.

So, here it is folks, my take on running and what I have learnt about it. Take it, apply it and thy go become a runner!!!

[1] The Non-Runner's Marathon Trainer
[2] Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner
[3] Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen


  1. Sang, awesome blog. I like your reasons. Let's play tennis or go for a run sometime.