It’s fair to say that running changed my life. It’s not an over exaggeration. I went from someone who thought running wasn’t for her to someone who left her career to spend more time running, writing about running and helping others to find good health through running. I can honestly say when I started out, it was absolutely not my intention that any of that should happen. It wasn’t even on my radar.
In trying to understand how to help other people to become active, I’ve been reflecting (as you know, I do a lot of this!) on why I started running twelve years ago. What was it that I was looking for? What did I need that I thought running could give me? And, in turn, how does that influence what I now say to people to encourage them to be active? I wanted to share it with you to see if you identify, if you are a runner or to see if it would encourage you if you were thinking about running. These are the conclusions I’ve come to:
- It might not have been running. Ultimately I just wanted to get fit. It could just as easily have been cycling or swimming. Running was the most accessible to me at the time. I didn’t need to buy anything, learn how to do it (at least I didn’t think I did) and it was quick. I could do it from my front door in a few minutes and as a working mum with three kids of pre-school age, time wasn’t something I had a lot of.
- I needed to prove I could do it. I’d tried running eight years previously and thought it was awful. My intention to run a half marathon was quickly given up when my knees hurt and each run left me feeling out of breath and pretty useless. I‘m stubborn and I don’t like it when I can’t do something. I’m prepared to work hard to achieve things and I didn’t like that running had one up on me.
- I wanted to look different. I was flabby and unfit. My body had stunned me by its amazing capabilities to give me three children in close succession but it changed a lot in the process and I certainly wasn’t loving how it looked and felt. I wanted to be lean and toned and to look like what I perceived a runner to be. In hindsight I know I was being hard on myself, I was really fine and normal and I shouldn’t have felt any pressure to change but I did.
- I needed peace. I needed to be away from the constant demands of work and young children. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed them but I needed to be inaccessible for a short time with no risk of someone calling for me. I needed quiet. My mind needed space and I longed for more than one minute undisturbed. A friend was up for running with me and I wanted the novelty of being able to finish a sentence.
- I needed to get better at something. I’d learnt that being a mother is really hard. After number three I’d realised that you have to lower your expectations in a lot of areas. Your house is never going to be as tidy or clean as you want it to be. You’re never going to feed your kids as healthily as you’d ideally like. You won’t manage as much professional development at work as you know you should. etc etc. I was fed up of not meeting the high bars I set for myself so I wanted to start from scratch and get better at something. I needed to feel and see self-improvement and taking up running which I knew I couldn’t get any worse at seemed a good move.
- I wanted an adventure. I was ready for something different, something unknown. Life has to be a bit predictable when you’re tied to work and childcare routines. We’d gone off script and spent a year in New Zealand just after number two had arrived but this was a distant memory and I certainly wasn’t up for travelling again at that point. I wanted to just do something random. I had no idea that my running would become quite the adventure it has!
It’s funny looking back at my motives. When we talk to people about why they should start running or getting active now, we often focus on the health benefits. I’m not sure the usual explanations about how running would improve my sleep or reduce my risk of disease would have made me want to do it. I didn’t see that I needed the mental health benefits either. Yes, I knew I needed peace and quiet but it didn’t go any further than that. Using running to manage my mental health is probably my biggest driver that keeps me running now. Back then though, ultimately, I just wanted a different body, to be away from the house and to succeed at something when I felt I was being a bit rubbish at all the other things I was trying to do. I hoped running could offer some of that.
We need to carefully consider how we frame our conversations with people we are trying to encourage to be active. Rather than simply sharing our stories and giving advice, we need to ask questions. New habits are very hard to form and to really find the motivation to introduce something new into your life, you have to get to the depths of what you need, what you’re looking for and why you want to do it. Everyone has different reasons and motivations. Only then will a new habit form and be long-lasting. Just listing the benefits of being active is not enough. It has to get personal.
Thankfully, running ticked all of the boxes for me. It delivered! It was more luck than judgement. If you had told me what would happen over the following years, I would have laughed in your face. I wasn’t looking for a new job, to travel the world talking about health and running or even a book deal. No, I simply thought I’d have a bash at it and hope it made me lose some weight and have an excuse to get out for a chat with a friend. Funny old thing running.
Why did you start running?
Featured image: Credit to Horst von Bohlen