The truth about running

As I was running in torrential rain whilst trying not to be blown off my feet during the latest storm, my mind wandered to the newspaper article I had read that morning. It was another feature set out to debunk several myths about running and encourage more people to take it up. Although I didn’t disagree with the essence of the article I realised that this was the second time that I had read something on the very same topic in only a matter of days. Whilst I pondered to what extent there was any mythology about running that was stopping people from lacing up their trainers, I was momentarily distracted and misjudged the depth of a very swampy puddle. I felt the surge of icy water engulf my feet as my shoes sank to the puddle’s depths and it occurred to me that neither article had mentioned this.

No one ever comes clean and tells you the truth about running. Maybe it was about time to let the uninitiated know what they will be signing up for. As a veteran runner, I feel dutybound to share this so what follows are the harsh realities and the inconvenient truth about running.

PB & J refuel bars

You will look stupid but runners don’t care
Some runners would argue that the most important and the only essential piece of kit that you need to take up running are a good fitting pair of trainers and the rest is all surplus garb. But those runners would be male. For women, getting a supportive running bra is absolutely on par with your trainers. Other than those basics, it really doesn’t matter what kind of kit you run in. Although, this is not to say that you have much choice in the matter. Most running apparel is indistinguishable from one brand to the next because it is designed for comfort. So runners end up wearing an unofficial uniform of sameness but one that stands out, nonetheless. It is not always flattering as it ranges from the very clingy to compression-fit and comes in bright flashy colours, glow-in-the-dark jazzy patterns, go-faster stripes or black. It’s not even a matter of cost because often the more you pay for comfort and quality in running kit, the more you will lose in attractiveness. It is just a universal truth of running.

Like any normal person, you will likely feel quite ridiculous by what you are expected to wear while running. You will wonder if you look more like a cape-less superhero or an early 80’s aerobics instructor. However, since all runners dress the same, you will fit right in. In fact, the more often you run and are exposed to other runners, the more acclimatised you will become to bad fashion. You will even start to like it and may find yourself starting to check out the outfits of other garish runners you encounter as if you are watching a running catwalk. I recently went on a long run in Majorca where every other runner was sporting a similar version of the same Spanish winter running kit. After running for almost 2½ hours, I finished believing that I may need to buy a jaunty running snood.

It doesn’t take any skill to run but you will still look weird
The good thing about running is that we all know how to do it because we picked it up in childhood. It doesn’t mean that everyone can naturally complete a parkrun but at least running isn’t the sort of skill that you have to learn like riding a bike. However, we are all different shapes and sizes and we run according to what works best for our body. Which means that everybody has their own ‘unique’ running style.

If you make the mistake of seeing your reflection whilst running on a treadmill or look at a video of yourself running on someone’s phone you will find out what everybody else already knows. You run really weirdly. It might be the way your feet hit the ground, how you hunch your shoulders, the way you swing your arms or even breathe but there is something that you do that makes you look gormless. Whatever the reason, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it unless you have a lot of time, money and determination to get your gait analysed in an effort to try and change your innate running style. Instead, look around at all the other runners out there and you will discover that they also run weirdly. The only difference is that either they don’t know it yet or they have accepted it. Speaking for myself, I know that I run with the little moving arms of a Tyrannosaurus Rex but at least one that can go the distance.

Running can be shockingly awful but you almost always feel better afterwards
Whether you blame the climate crisis or the many badly named storms hanging around there is no hiding from the fact that the weather is often changeable but usually crap. Which means that unless you confine your running to the monotony of a sweaty treadmill, you will often have to run outside in unfavourable conditions. Even with the right kit, running in gale force winds and having the rain hit your face like needles is absolutely knackering and is a largely unpleasant experience.

It may seem nonsensical that runners are not put off by such harsh conditions and even look forward to their next run. But another truth about running is that it is as much of a workout for your body as it is a break for your brain from any stress. Running gives your brain a nice little holiday so no matter what you are facing in life, your head will be in a better place to deal with it after a run. Which means that runners will overlook all the effort and pain and put aside the hellish experience they have just gone through and still be up for doing it again. Somewhat like childbirth.

You will find yourself signing up for things that you didn’t expect
If you take up running thinking that it will be nothing more than a good way to keep in shape which allows yourself to keep eating cake you couldn’t be more wrong. Once you are feeling the physical and mental health benefits of running and it becomes part of your routine you will find yourself tempted to join the masses. You may think that you can try out your local parkrun or sign up for a fun run as a one-off but you will be running on a slippery slope.

Once done you will be looking for more. Before long, you will be collecting technical t-shirts and finishers medals and start signing up for events that are even more challenging. Sometimes it doesn’t even happen all at once. Even when you think you know your limits somehow running can move the goalposts when you least expect. For years I always claimed that I never wanted or intended to run a marathon until I signed up to do my first one on a whim last year. Unexpectedly and unbeknown to me I qualified for the Boston Marathon which I am now running in April this year. After which I have signed up for the Dixons Carphone Race to the Stones, a two-day endurance trail running event covering 100km (and I am actually looking forward to it!).

You will turn into a running bore but you will have plenty of company
Once you call yourself a runner, you will want to let everybody know. You will likely try to bring up your latest run into the first 5 minutes of any conversation without even noticing. Then you will start to gravitate towards other like-minded runners. Your non-running friends will look at you as your eyes light up while you ramble on about interval training and wonder if you have joined a cult. They would be right because the numbers of runners are only increasing with the success of parkrun, ‘Couch to 5km’ recruits and the vast number of friendly running clubs that keep sprouting up. Which means that you will never be far from a friendly running bore who’d be interested in having a chat with you about your trainers. Many years ago, I worked for someone who also ran. Once he found out that I was a fellow runner he spoke to me more about my insoles than anything else that was remotely job-related. I still bump into him now and then and his first question to me is always, ‘How’re the insoles?’.

A foam roller is a necessary evil
If you want to keep running in the future you need to take care of your body and avoid injury. Sounds easy. But this last truth about running is literally painful to share. One of the best ways to help you stay injury free is to use a foam roller. It will relieve muscle tightness, soreness, inflammation and increase your circulation and your joint range of motion but it can also be an instrument of torture. It can reduce even the hardest of runners to tears as they try to roll out a knot or two. But the more that you use one, the less it hurts. Or at least the more you will be used to the pain. In fact, seasoned runners spend most of their time on foam rollers just rolling around, searching for more pain to iron out. The most afflicted will also use a ‘stick’ roller but that is just a little bit too hard core. At least if you have ever wondered where exactly your IT band is, you will find out.

So putting mythology aside, this is the truth about running. It’s not pretty or easy and full of sunshine and unicorns but it is the probably the single best thing you can do for yourself. Not only for the physical and mental health benefits that you gain from running but for the new friendships you make while doing something that at times is monumentally tough. For me, it is simply a way of life and I hope to pass this on to my children. Perhaps one day us runners will become the majority but in the meantime, I’m off to look for a snood.

The recipe this week is all about refuelling after some very long runs while I train for the Boston Marathon. These PB & J refuel bars contain a yummy combination of good carbs and protein that will help your body recover in time for the next workout.

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