The value of running

I was always a bad runner. Oddly enough, it wasn’t so bad when I played soccer or rugby, and when I joined the Army, I was minutes faster than others on the indoor assault course. It was only when I was running that I didn’t seem to be able to adopt the meditative mindset to run down a dirt path. I also know that running has good effects on the body, improving lung function, boosting the immune system, and lowering the risk of blood clots, heart attacks and strokes, as well as preventing high blood pressure and osteoporosis, but it doesn’t motivate me.

Of course, body type matters, and those who start out with a pronounced disadvantage like obesity have to make an extra effort to overcome the resignation that sometimes sets in. I was never truly obese except later in life before my wife and I changed our eating habits, exercised more and went outdoors and lost a lot of weight as a result. That’s when she discovered she could run. The secret was smaller steps, and once she mastered them, she had no more problems. Apparently, it was balance and rhythm that held her back, but as her sense of balance improved, she was able to run. I must concede that I just didn’t get the positive hormone boost from running, although I did notice that when I walked for over an hour, after about ten minutes, something changed, and it wasn’t as unbearable after that.

There are other problems, of course, and the later you start, the more likely you are to develop them. I have a problem with lumbago and sciatica, which begs the question of whether these are the reasons I can’t run or the consequences of not walking. My orthopaedist advised me not to run after I had my problems with lumbago, and I willingly complied after having a feeling like my lower back was flopping about after every step. Of course, slowly approaching 70 is not the best age to start running. I don’t have balance issues, but coordination could be a problem. The latest cross-training machines give my legs a run for their money, and I quickly went back to the bike or back to walking on the simple treadmill. A big issue, I found, was stretching either before or afterwards – I prefer to stretch afterwards, which relieves much of the discomfort almost immediately.

I think the main reason many people can’t run is because of the pressure we put on ourselves, and instead of relieving the tension, we cause it. I often watch young people at the gym really pushing themselves when running for a few minutes but then stopping and preferring to lift some weights. This is quite a problem because moderate running is also recommended to reduce stress and depression, which have become serious problems today. I must confess that I am a little jealous of those people who seem to have a natural spring in their steps and who go bouncing down the road, as though it was no effort. Especially smaller people with the right proportions deem to have an easy time, but I’m sure there is more effort involved than I can see.

I think the most important thing is to start early in life to find our balance, coordination and rhythm – and especially the rest that allows us to move with less effort. The longer we wait, the more problematic it becomes. I don’t think it’s about being able to run a marathon, even if people have such ambitions, and a leisurely pace is recommended for most. For most people, sixty minutes is enough, especially if you lead an active life anyway. If it becomes a daily exercise, less is more, and it is recommended to run 30-45 minutes until you reach a fitness level that allows more. It is also important to have rest days in between: two a week at first, and then you can reduce them to one when you notice that you feel comfortable running.

It may be strange that someone who has confessed to being a non-runner is recommending that people take it up. It is because I can see the benefits and would like to see myself enjoying them, but there are also reasons why that isn’t possible. However, I think society as a whole would benefit if we were more active, and if running came naturally to many more people.