A lifetime ago, during my freshman year at Oberlin, I called my dad on a lonely Friday night feeling homesick, left out, like I needed my dad. Oberlin was a dry town, and the college did not have a Greek system. That night, like many other Friday nights that year, my friends were out smoking weed (wasn’t my deal), hanging out with their significant others (mine was at another university hundreds of miles away) or working their way towards Carnegie Hall in the practice rooms of the Conservatory of Music. Meanwhile, I was playing my thousandth game of Tetris for the night.
My dad had some shady advice for me on the phone that night. He suggested I go to bed early, wake up early and go for a nice long run. Ha! I was a gymnast growing up, and a diver in college. However, up to that point in my life, running was just that awful day every week in gym class when I had to give myself a diaphragm cramp on purpose. I laughed heartily, assured him there was no way that sounded like a good idea, and I’d check in later in the weekend. That night I fell asleep before midnight, woke up before 08:00, laced up my tennis shoes, and set out down North Professor Street, running next to the corn field at least a mile before I could even make a left turn. Four miles later, I’d completed my first “long run.”
And the rest is history.
Over the next couple of years at Oberlin, my friend B and I used to run at midnight for a study break. She’d kick my ass, but she stuck with me because our run ended at the ‘Sco for an hour of dancing to the 80’s before calling it a night. Soon after graduation, my long run looked more like 10 miles. It was then that my uncle, a four-time NYC Marathoner, told me that even if I didn’t realize it yet, I probably had a marathon in me. Dozens of pairs of running shoes later, with the encouragement of my three running gurus, I finished my seventh marathon a few months ago through the five boroughs of New York.
For me, the truth is, running is not about the marathons or the PRs (Personal Records). “I run to keep on running.” And living. I read that quote in an old 1970’s running book my uncle lent me (when I first became one of those annoying people who could talk about running for over an hour straight without realizing other people were bored to tears.) I didn’t know what it meant then, but it lingered in my mind, and I’d subconsciously reach for it as a mantra when I didn’t feel like lacing up my shoes for an early morning weekend run or if I felt like cutting one short. And then someone asked me one day why I run all those miles, and that was my answer. Yes, it keeps me in shape, yes it allows me to eat those fries or extra manchego, but more than that, running keeps my mind, body and soul at seriously low levels of stress and anxiety. Running is my Prozac.
So here’s my top ten list of “Why I run” or “The Benefits of Running.” The list is inspired by reading some recent literature to support what I’ve personally experienced. In medicine (and in life) we’re driven by evidence, so even though I knew in my heart it was true, it’s nice to have science in my corner. While there’s actually a ton of evidence out there to support this list, I’m offering just a few articles to whet your appetite:
Wild Med Girl’s Top Ten Reasons to Run
- It feels so good when it’s over! Not just immediately, but over the course of the week, I feel significantly less stress and have a minimal level of anxiety compared to periods when I don’t run. This is a strong argument in the form of evidence that exercise is an effective anti-depressant and ought to be discussed in physician’s offices as a treatment plan. Here’s some evidence that running regularly decreases anxiety.
- Running is good medicine for preventing BAD medical problems. The trickle down effect – the more you run, stay in shape and keep your weight down, the less chance of developing arthritis, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease and stroke.
- Running is good for the bedroom! And if you’ve got that goin’ on, it bodes well for your long-term relationship. ‘Nuff said…
- What Happens on the Long Run Stays on the Long Run. I’ve had some of the most intriguing, mind-blowing conversations with people on the trail. My theory is this: when your body is at it’s VO2 Max, your mind becomes disinhibited, and you’re about as honest as you get. Either that, or you don’t let facts get in the way of a good story and entertain the hell out of your running partner…
- Running is Social Whether it’s Meetup or Facebook or mapmyrun. When I first moved back to Philly from NYC, I put out a Facebook Status Update asking if anyone was up for a long run. Val, an aquaintance from med school, commented “How long are we talkin’?” Five years later, Val remains one of my favorite go-to gals for getting out there rain or shine, single digits or 90-degrees at 9pm. It’s also awesome casual networking time. Here’s a post-run photo from my Wilderness Medicine Course with Guest Faculty Dr. Luanne Freer, Director of Everest ER
- Running is awesome alone time. While I love running with people, my solo runs provide that “me” time as well, when I can mull something over, do some decision making – the kind that only I can make, do some soul-searching, play through that “movie-in-my-mind” of a great past experience while doing something productive, or just clear my mind.
- Running is a fabulous way to explore a new locale. I’ve explored cities from Venice, Italy to Witchita Falls, TX in my running shoes. It’s absolutely the best way to check out your new surroundings when you travel and even in your own backyard. It can also be the REASON that you go to a new locale – to run the Munich Marathon right before Oktoobre Fest or this awesome marathon in French Wine Country where you sample a different wine every mile…also famous for being the LONGEST marathon in the world.
- You know you’re a runner when… – You can join in those conversations that bore the hell out of non-runners.
- The Signs:
- Running, especially meeting goals, gives you confidence. When I crossed the finish line of my first marathon, I knew that if I could do that, I could do whatever I set my mind to. Training for that race was so hard, so challenging, that everything else seemed like child’s play. I use running as a metaphor for life: it’s REALLY hard sometimes, but when you just keep putting one foot in front of the other, you discover that you can do it!
So on this last Friday night in February, if you’re feeling a little bit lost or a little bit lonely, consider going to bed early, waking up early and going for a nice run. It just might make your weekend. For me, it was a life-changer.
PS – I also love running marathons and then celebrating with something that looks like this: