Running has truly changed my life. I never thought that because I never understood running as a form of exercise.
When physical harm is looming, our natural response is to run. It’s human nature — we either fight or flee. Most of us choose to flee— I would surely run if a wild animal would charge at me. But I also found that our fear mechanism kicks in when we face emotional challenges.
During the first two weeks this year, my grandmother passed away, I broke up with my girlfriend, and I started to dislike my job in London because of office politics. Everything seemed to work against me.
My life felt stuck. So I decided to run. It was my natural response. I just wanted to getaway. I laced my shoes and started running — by the time I came back, I felt tired and energized at the same time. I knew I was on to something.
I’ve always exercised since I was little. I played basketball through high school. In my adult years, I’ve practiced different sports — I tried kickboxing, tennis, squash. But I never got excited about those things.
So I did what most people do when they don’t want to get fat — go to the gym. In a way, going to the gym is lazy. You hop in your car, do some light to moderate exercise while you have a chat with a friend or someone you know from the gym. I’ve been doing that for the past ten years for 2 or 3 times a week.
Once in a while, I would get hyped about running. However, I always picked up running for the wrong reasons. I used running as a reason to buy new Nike’s and compression clothes. Or I decided to run to lose weight or become more healthy.
Other times, I went for a run on Sunday morning to get rid of the alcohol from the previous night out. My running stints never lasted longer than 2–3 weeks. I would lose interest in running. I just didn’t understand it.
Why would anyone go through the pain of running? Especially when the weather is bad. Who does that? I’d rather go to the gym with my friends, talk, and pick up some weights.
But I found that pain is precisely the reason I started to run again. When my life was not what I wanted it to be, I was upset. I felt like punching a stranger on the subway. But instead of getting busted by a British police officer, I decided to run when I arrived home one day after work.
It was a cold January day, and I only ran for 3 miles in a time that I am too ashamed to mention. But my time is not what’s important — during that run I finally got it.
My stamina was synonymous with my life at the time — it was bad, but I knew it would be better if I kept running. If I would fight against the wind, rain, cold, and my thoughts of giving up, I would eventually improve my stamina and be a better runner.
My life has improved at the same rate that my running pace and stamina has improved. But running has the most impact on my productivity, mood, creativity, and overall livelihood. Scientific research backs all of this.
Dr. John Ratey wrote a book about the effect of exercise on our brain, called Spark. He says:
“Cognitive flexibility is an important executive function that reflects our ability to shift thinking and to produce a steady flow of creative thoughts and answers as opposed to a regurgitation of the usual responses. The trait correlates with high-performance levels in intellectually demanding jobs. So if you have an important afternoon brainstorming session scheduled, going for a short, intense run during lunchtime is a smart idea.”
Every time life became difficult I would give up. When I wanted to travel the world after college, I decided that I did not have money — so I told myself I should save money. Years passed, and that round-the-world trip never happened — I was scared to be away from home for a long time.
Now, when life is difficult, my response is different — I love the pain and struggle instead of shy away from it. I owe this to running.
And the best thing about running is that is easy to start. You just go. You decide when, where, and how fast.
To me, running is exactly like life. It’s hard, you do not always want to do it, summers are better than winters, and you feel better when you have new shoes. But it’s worth it. After the pain comes happiness, both in life and in running. That’s why my life is moving forward again — I’ve never stopped running for a day. You should try it too.