The physical test of running is something that has emerged as one of the prime factors to why more than 11 million runs were recorded by Brits in 2015.
Road running, in particular, poses the athlete a daunting, yet appealing physical challenge. Runners relish the pain. It’s one of life’s great contradictions; it’s something that hurts so bad, but, in actual fact, can make you feel so good. Suffering is essential to the overriding beauty and mystery of sport, especially in running. It gives your run some meaning, and it’s no coincidence that the word used to mean the same thing as ‘passion’ stems from the Latin ‘pati’, to suffer.
So when a friend and I decided we would set ourselves a running challenge for 2016, we didn’t quite realise the effect it would have on us, both physically and mentally. The challenge? Run 2016 kilometres in 2016.
On day one, New Year’s day, I was hungover, it was cold outside and I needed to run. I dragged myself out and clocked in my kilometres, and from then on it became a habit I’ll hold on to until I’m immobile. But this piece is more about the behavioural nature that running can induce. Leading a hectic lifestyle, as many of us do, we don’t get much time to ourselves. Running offers catharsis, a time to reflect, and it’s something I’d now struggle to be without. Most would say that the advantages of running centre around your physical health, but it’s also so much more than that. It’s a want for more in life, a want to fulfil potential.
There’s a fine line between being a dedicated athlete and being addicted to running, but in the modern day it’s recognised that exercise addiction can be a legitimate problem—akin to alcoholism, binge eating and other addictive disorders.
There is also something to be said about the endorphin that exercise releases, which can improve your mood. But what are the risks of this? People who are exercise-dependent need to run, otherwise their mood is strongly affected, something that I’ve experienced since settling into my running routine. Physically, there is an increased risk of injury and exhaustion. While these are similar to the effects of overtraining, a person who is exercise-dependent would likely continue to exercise when overtraining symptoms begin to appear.
Truthfully, my born again love for running has been instigated by a need to defy the aging process. Naturally, I want to prove that physically I still have what it takes. But if I don’t, do I still have the mental strength to get these weary legs over the line anyway out of sheer stubbornness?
This year, I stood by the roadside at mile 21 of the London marathon, watching on as strangers and friends ran by, almost every one of them at a point in their exercising lives they would rarely, if ever, visit again. Their faces were grimacing in pain, but were also alive with effort and determination. Each one of them, soon after crossing the line, would be glowing with an overwhelming sense of achievement. Some would be moved to tears, some would collapse in exhaustion. It may only be chemicals shooting around in your brain, but after a long run everything seems right in the world. All is at peace.
To experience this is a powerful feeling, strong enough to have us coming back, again and again, for more.
If you would like to keep an eye on Alex’s progress, or even donate some of your hard-earned money towards the 2016km in 2016 challenge, please follow the link here. Thank you very much in advance.