In health and fitness circles, running is often spoken about with relevance to weight loss and cardiovascular benefits. People are boxed into believing that to lose weight or improve their fitness, they must run. While we explain this and understand that the physiological benefits of running are undeniable, we often exclude the psychological benefits and create a barrier between introducing new runners to the benefits of running.
Think back to your childhood and adolescence, years spent running around school yards, exploring on foot, a time when movement and exercise had no relevance or relationship. We ran freely, without pain, without counting calories, without a care in the world. Our feet were a mechanism of transport, a pathway to the nearest corner store or a friend's swimming pool on the other side of town.
Somewhere between then and now we have lost that relationship with movement. The adult world is now set up to make living as easy as possible. We drive from point to point. We sit down at a desk all day. We walk on escalators as soon as we disembark an aeroplane. The world is designed to be pain-free, hassle free and user-friendly. What we experience though is quite the opposite. We ache from sitting all day. Our muscles tighten from inactivity and shortened range. The journey to and from work by car becomes stressful as we sit in traffic. We carry our stress through each of these activities until we are in a continuous cycle of pain, stress and imbalance.
This is exactly where running becomes an invaluable solution. Running encourages a certain mindfulness within. Our thoughts track from the most basic 'where will I place my next step', to the more complex deeper psychological questions we all experience in one form or another. Running, forces you to switch off from the everyday, stripping things back to their simplest form. You are travelling by foot, completely ignorant of the line of cars backed up on the road next to you. The stressful conversation you had at work is replaced with a rhythmic breath, meditative the longer you move. The colour of the leaves, the sound of your feet on the ground and the chill of the air all present themselves, offering you time to appreciate the landscapes we so often neglect.
While our body rewards us with a chemical release, we are rewarding our minds with an opportunity to switch off from the world we live in. The journey doesn't have to be a struggle. Walking the kids to school instead of driving. Running home from work. Heading out with work colleagues during your lunch break. Exploring a new part of your suburb or city by foot. When we engage our bodies, we engage our minds, stepping away from the comfortable structures and routines that we have in place.
Professional ultra marathon runner Scott Jurek sums it up perfectly when he says "the longer and farther I ran, the more I realised that what I was often chasing was a state of mind - a place where worries that seemed monumental melted away, where the beauty and timelessness of the universe, of the present moment, came into sharp focus."