Running: Learning to love it

sport, tracks, running

“Get on the line.” 

Those four words are a big guy’s worst nightmare. Your coach might as well tell you “time for an asthma attack.” As a lineman, running just sucked. The act was something that I felt that I never signed up for. I played football to put people into the dirt – not to close every practice wheezing in misery. I don’t believe that I ever once enjoyed a “conditioning” segment in all of my playing days. Hills, 40 & 100 yard sprints, and jogs around the field always felt like a punishment and not something that helped me become a better player. Alas, you do what coach says.

I now love to run. Once or twice per week, I will run between a 5k and 10k (3.1 miles to 6.2 miles). I recently hit a PR (personal record) of a 10k in under 48 minutes. If you asked me if I could do that 5 years ago, I would tell you that there was zero chance I would ever voluntarily run more than a charity 5k – but here I am.

So what changed? Was it my body or my attitude? Putting one foot in front of the other is still the same act that it was when I weighed 280+lbs – or is it?

Firstly, the physical differences have 100% helped me approach running. It is no longer a painful or injurious task. Primarily because of weight loss and deliberate work on flexibility and mobility, running is now tangibly easier. Swollen knees and hip flexor pain have been eliminated by weighing less, good nutrition, and proper stretching/exercise. 

Prior to beginning running, I recommend addressing any major joint or flexibility problems. For me, this meant strengthening and stabilizing my ankles (which have been sprained countless times over the years,) improving general flexibility in my lower trunk, and foam rolling the hell out of my calves and hamstrings. If running is not currently in your exercise routine, you ought to ease into it. This means start by walking or hiking. Dip your toes in the water first and feel it out. Walks turn into jogs, which turn into runs and then maybe races. It can be done.

Secondly, I’ve learned how to breathe. From age 8 to 21, I was prescribed an albuterol inhaler. The device protected me from asthma attacks and helped combat attacks when they appeared. General aging and an improved diet (mainly cutting out gluten, which makes me congested) helped me conquer asthma; I no longer need two puffs from that little device, because I can now breathe properly. 

We take breathing for granted. Although it is one of the most important processes that we do, its easy to breathe suboptimally. Running, though, can teach you to breathe well. This means taking oxygen in through your nose steadily and exhaling carbon dioxide through the nose or mouth in the same manner. A great strategy for this is 2:2 or 3:3 breathing pattern in which you simply inhale for 2 or 3 counts and exhale for 2 or 3 counts. Running forces awareness and control of your breathing, otherwise, you are going to have a bad time. With time and practice, running will improve your breathing and cardiovascular health. 

Lastly, the experience of running has developed in me both courage and mental toughness. The act is tangible, which makes it possible to see improvement and continually outdo yourself. You went this distance, you beat this time, you achieved this pace, etc. As you run more, you will get better, faster, and more confident. The act signals to yourself that you can do more or do better than you currently believe. When running, the default is to feel sorry for yourself or to feel pain and tiredness. You can stop or quit at any time, but, that you choose to keep going, conjures a unique confidence. Running enables you to continually push beyond what you think is achievable. If that is not courage, I do not know what is.

I am not saying that everyone should adopt running as their favorite exercise or hobby. I do believe, however, that humans are built to run and meant to run. You can always start, even if it is with walking. Running is not easy, but it is worthwhile. It is in testing the side cramps, wobbly legs, and tight lungs that you gain both mental and physical strength. I love running, because it keeps showing me that I can do more than I think. You can too.

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