Why do I Run?

More Than Enough Reasons

Steven H. Rossi
For the Washington Running Report

Why do I run? I have asked myself this question often since I started running in April 1984. If you are a runner, this is a question you may have asked yourself, too. Perhaps your non- running friends have also asked, and you were uncomfortable when you could not give them an immediate answer that satisfied you.

I have often felt that the people who asked me why I run were sorry they did. Perhaps they thought they were going to get a quick, canned reply like “I enjoy it” or “It’s fun.” Instead, they discover their question triggers a more complex response. Even after years of experience, I am not sure I fully understand the reasons. As a recent dad, I anticipate the question someday coming from my two children. I want a well thought-out answer, though I bet they may ask, “Why don’t adults run?” since running comes naturally to children. Here are my reasons for running.

Reason one: Reduces Body Fat and Strengthens the Heart

When I first started running, I was twenty-eight years old and had lost 25 pounds seven years earlier by eating a well-balanced diet based on the four food groups a college nurse gave me. This method of eating educated me about the basics of nutrition. I have been eating this way since 1977. In 1984, I went to a health fair and learned that approximately 20 percent of my body’s weight was fat! I was disheartened, since that was about 5 percent above what was considered healthy for an average man of my age.

To add to the emotional injury, I also learned that my resting pulse rate was eighty beats per minute (bpm). A man with strong heart muscles has a pulse rate of seventy bpm or less. Not good, and the evidence that I needed to change was to mount. My brother, who had not starting running yet, heard of a book, “Fit or Fat,” by Covert Bailey. According to Bailey, to obtain a resting pulse rate of seventy bpm or less, I would have to get my pulse up to a training rate of about 140-150 bpm during exercise. After reading it, I checked my exercise pulse rate by going for a stroll, only to learn I could reach 140 bpm simply by walking! I was discouraged. My body was very much out of shape. I decided to start an exercise program. My brother joined me. I tried to jog one mile slowly, but could not. I had to stop and walk. Part of the problem may have been that I ran in a pair of sneakers. But later that same week, I jogged the full mile three or four times. After two weeks, I gained enough confidence to buy my first pair of running shoes. What a difference! I felt as if I were running on pillows! During the next couple of months, I gradually increased my distance to three miles, which I maintained for about three years. As a result, I reduced my body fat to about 14 percent and my resting pulse to about sixty- five bpm.

Reason two: Improves Physical Health

My parents frequently stressed good health as the most important thing in life. As I continued my running routine, I began reading articles about good health. They confirmed the new way I was eating and exercising was even better than I had imagined. I then learned that exercise and a well-balanced, low-fat, high fiber diet helped prevent the two major killers: heart disease and cancer. Living this way also helps keep blood pressure low and bones strong. In addition, it contributes to better blood circulation, increased energy level, stress reduction and longevity. Running also improves the immune system. My personal experience shows that not only has my number of illnesses decreased since I started running, but the duration of each sickness has shortened, too.

The runner’s lungs process larger volumes of oxygen which enrich the blood stream and brain. I think better and sleep more deeply when I am in peak performance. A runner gets extra benefits from exercising outside: fresh air, sunshine, and a change of scenery. Sunlight provides the body with the best source of Vitamin D and improves ones spirits.

Reason Three: Raises Self-esteem

For my first three years of running, I always wanted to run on a flat surface. I ran to and around a neighborhood track, and was back home in about a half-hour. In April of 1987, after studying a marathon training plan, my brother and I decided to train for the Marine Corps Marathon. The schedule would increase our mileage from the amount we were presently running up to the mileage we needed to finish a marathon.

Our marathon training was extremely exciting. We watched our bodies change during the training, not so much in weight, but in shape. I lost fat that I did not know I had, including two inches around the waist, and I gained muscle tone. My resting pulse rate decreased to forty-eight bpm, and my body fat fell to 11 percent! My brother and I completed the Marine Corps Marathon, convinced that we could do anything, since we had achieved the impossible We ran a 26.2-mile distance!

One lesson learned from training was the importance to drink water every 20-30 minutes during exercise to stay well hydrated. Before, when I had run only thirty minutes and felt I had reached my limit, I had misinterpreted what my body was saying: not “stop running” but “take in fluids.” Still, the most important thing I learned in training was to develop and stick to a plan of action. Although I have run many long-distance races, my first official race was the 1987 Marine Corps Marathon and I have run it annually ever since. Running a marathon each year would be enjoyable. Marathon running has made my weekly running, and everything else in life, much easier.

Reason Four: Boosts Mental and Emotional Health

When I am not in training, I run about 30 miles a week (six miles five days per week) with an occasional longer run on the weekends. I use these runs not only for physical endurance but also for creative thinking, peace of mind, and sometimes prayer. During these daily “vacations,” I inevitably discover a better way to perform a task, improve a product, or develop a stronger relationship. Although I usually run alone, I particularly enjoy the in-depth discussions and ideas exchanged with running partners during long training runs the conversation. My brother and I trained together and finished the 1987, 1988 and 1994 Marine Corps Marathons. My wife trained and finished the 1992 Marine Corps Marathon with me. We now run as a foursome rolling our children in a double jogger.

Reason Five: Setting a Good Example

Being a marathon runner gives one instant celebrity status with those who know you. Whether they approve of your accomplishments or not, most admire your discipline for doing what seems impossible, running a 26.2-mile race and finishing. I applaud those men and women who make headlines, finishing first in races or breaking records. Still, the people I’m most impressed with are a bit less famous. I am especially proud of my wife. Having never run in her life, she finished the Marine Corps Marathon after only sixteen months of running experience. I have mentioned her zero-to-marathon accomplishment to other marathoners. None of whom had ever heard of anyone finishing a marathon after such a short training period.

Also deserving of praise is the fellow I met at my first marathon who had run more than 100 marathons. What is even more impressive, he is also blind! Then there is the woman who has run as many marathons as I have but she is more than eighty years old. I also met a man with cerebral palsy who is run ten marathons. He runs his distances the same way he walks every day, on metal crutches! Of course, there are many wheelchair athletes and Special Olympians who complete marathons every year,. I also admire the many thousand marathoners who run to raise funds for specific diseases like leukemia and multiple sclerosis each year.

When I think of the accomplishments of these people and the odds they have overcome, I have two thoughts. First, I laugh at the artificial barriers I had set up for myself. Second, I hope to encourage others to accomplish the things they think are beyond their capabilities. It is a tragedy that most of us do not even try the things we would like to do because we fear failure.

If you are a runner, I hope I have given you some answers in case you are ever asked, “Why do you run?” Also, maybe you will consider training for a marathon if you have not already. If you have not tried running yet, I hope my story motivates you to start.


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