I wanted to start this blog by talking about the paradox of running. However, as someone who failed English in the Junior Cert, the first thing I needed to do was double-check that paradox was indeed the right word. A piece of advice. Do not Google the word paradox if you have any plans for the rest of your day. After an hour or two of clicking, scrolling, and eyebrow raising, I stumbled upon ‘Zeno’s Paradox’ – which provided no help in understanding the word, but it was rather apt and thought-provoking all the same. Zeno proposes a race between Achilles and a tortoise where the tortoise is given a 100M head start. He questions if Achilles will ever catch up with the tortoise, since every time Achilles needs to move that last tiny inch to catch him, by the time he does so, the tortoise has moved forward again. I spend another period of time pondering this before navigating my thoughts back to my original running paradox: How is running so painful for one, yet so pleasurable for another? And, I assume what every newcomer to running wants to know, when does it switch from pain to pleasure. Well, a bit like Zeno’s problem, it is hard to pinpoint the exact moment, but with the inevitability of Achilles catching the tortoise, you will – someday – begin to find running pleasurable.
As someone who has travelled that journey a few years ago and hasn’t looked back, I want to share two simple ideas that could help you move a bit further down the road.
Lose The Headphones (at least every now and again).
This is the one tip that I give to anyone who’s starting out as it fosters many benefits. Okay, I understand that people enjoy listening to music and podcasts when running. So do I. However, I am suggesting that every 3 or 4 times you go running, just leave the headphones out and see what it is like.
For me, despite wanting so badly to be Buddhist Monk esque when it comes to mindfulness, I struggle to keep my thoughts under control, or to ever stay focussed on any one thing. Except when I run. When I run, my thoughts – whether I like it or not – are focussed on my breathing, my steps and maybe my pace if I’m training or racing. But, every time I go running, even if it’s over an hour, I couldn’t tell you one other thing that I thought about other than the actual process of running itself. Running – without Blindboy or The Second Captains – is my mindful escape from everything.
The other important benefit of leaving the headphones at home is more about your running performance. When running any sort of distance over 200M, the importance of running economically, outweighs the importance of being able to run fast. To run economically we need to relax, put less stress on our bodies, and use less fuel. But when we listen to music instead of our bodies, we shut off that essential feedback mechanism, our ears. It’s a bit like driving down the motorway while blaring the tunes, only to realise when the song changes that you’re still in 4th gear. So, if you do ditch the headphones on your next run; listen to your breathing. If you find your breaths are becoming too fast and too laboured, slow down a bit and retake control of your breathing. In, out, in, out, in, out, as consistent as a metronome. And, listen to your feet. Don’t plod and pound the ground. Run lighter, on the balls of your feet. Imagine you are running down the street in your bare feet – there’s the makings of a poem in those last two sentences. By softening the impact between your feet and the ground, you are softening the impact on your ankles, your knees, your hips, your back, and your head if you happen to be hungover.
Bury The Expectations.
People who take up running often feel fooled. Even lied to. We’re told about all these amazing things that are going to happen once we start running, yet it doesn’t turn out to be true. When we start running, we expect to feel fitter, lose weight, smile more, and look like someone from an ad for toothpaste. But in reality, we just get tired. We get pain in muscles that we didn’t know we had, we get smelly clothes, uncooperative bowels, blisters, and to top it off we have to go out and buy a new weighing scales because the last ones just had to be broken, surely.
In the short term, the physical health benefits are so subtle that you will use as much energy looking for them as you will actually running. It takes a long time to train our cardiovascular system and unless you are superhuman, you will not notice any changes in the first few weeks. Maybe not even in the first few months. But, like season 2 of The Wire, running now is an investment for the future.
Although, there are some instant benefits to running. Now, these might sound a bit airy-fairy to some of you, but I can assure you that they are as real as the sweat that will be rolling down your forehead. When you run – even if you think that you’re no good – your brain is producing endorphins and dopamine that make you feel good. Simple as that. The problem is, many of us are too busy to even notice. I must put my hands up here. Most days I come in from my run and go straight for my phone to upload my run to Strava, as if there are thousands of people waiting to see how Brian did on his ‘Evening Run’. But, some days, when I’m being good to myself, I just sit there and feel the chemicals flow around my head. And I usually smile. So, my advice is not to forget about the physical benefits but just pack them away for now. Focus on how running makes you feel rather than how it makes you look. If you do that, I think you will begin to enjoy the process of becoming someone who runs for pleasure. And before you know it, you’ll be there.