1. The act of running; travelling on foot at a fast pace
I don't know if you've ever been for a run or a jog, but my dad started me off when I was young. I was never going to be the fastest in the world, but to this day I still run as often as I can. Don't worry if you've never done it before, running is natural; you don't need any special skills. You just need to start lifting your knees up alternately, and gently move slightly onto your toes. Put one foot in front of the other and then put the other foot in front of that one and so on. That's it! You're doing it. You're running!
You don't need any special clothes or equipment. You can run in anything, as long as it's comfortable. If you are going to buy anything, it's a pair of shoes, and that's it. Before all the medical profession start saying I am promoting something which you should be careful in doing if you are overweight or have a heart condition and that it's not good for your knees etc. I will just say I hope people exercise personal responsibility in everything they do, this being no exception.
So why is running good? We can go to gyms to get fit, even go on running machines and do aerobic classes, but nothing takes you back to your natural state quite like running can.
Humans evolved into great hunters, tracking prey for days to bring back food to their families, and we covered great distances looking for water. Unfortunately, modern culture has meant that that the closest thing to hunting we do, is in the local supermarket for a breast of chicken in a white wine sauce, and maybe a bottle of chardonnay!
We lead stressful lives, working long hours, spending precious little time with our family and friends. We eat unhealthy food. We drink too much alcohol and smoke too many cigarettes. We spend too long in air-conditioned climates and polluted atmospheres - but there is a cure. Running. For all those people who are saying: "I could never run," as they sit in the bar with a cigarette, beer in hand; remember you did it when you were a child, and it's not that difficult to pick up again.
Find a route that means not too many cars or pedestrians. Decide how long you want to run for.
Put on a pair of shorts or tracksuit, t-shirt, and a pair of comfortable shoes.
Start running as slowly as you like.
Stop if you have to.
I'm not going to pretend that everyone will find this easy, but I promise it will get easier the more you do it (like anything). In the beginning you will feel like an old steam train being started after fifty years of inactivity, which is pretty much what is happening in your body. Think about this when you use all your muscles together like this, propelling you forward. Think about this when you use your lungs, helping you to breath more oxygen then ever before.
You cough and splutter, and ache and moan, and groan, just like the steam train, but once it's going, it becomes a finally tuned machine, with every part working in sync, just like the human machine.
Your body is already prepared for running, it has been for thousands of years. It is just waiting for the first steps, the raising of the knees, the putting of one foot in front of the other. It will do the rest. It will start the heart pumping faster to get the oxygenated blood out to those muscles. It will work the lungs to get more oxygen into the system, and prepare the sweat to cool you down. This is an amazing machine just waiting to be allowed to work. It's waiting for your instruction.
I won't bore you with the amount of kilo calories you will burn when you run, you can look that up for yourself, but for one thing, you will feel better. Why?
Many of us have sedentary (requiring sitting or little activity) jobs, yet our bodies are ready for action -we need to be using the energy we have stored - yet we sit in cars and offices all day, doing little or no real exercise, and the only time our heart rate goes up, is when we (or someone else) makes a mistake at work, or someone pulls out in front of us when we're driving. In both cases, stress has built up in the body as well as the mind and needs to be released.
It must be noted that a man doing a physical job will feel better than an office worker at the end of the day. Although he may be tired physically, he has worked out any stress he has in his body or mind. So if you can't work it out at work, you need to do exercise afterwards, that's why the city gyms are so packed these days, full of stressed-out city workers.
Most sports need either two or more people to play, or require specific equipment or location. Running requires none of those. You can run in a park, on the streets, from your front door, from the office, in the mountains in the forests, or by the ocean. You only need a pair of shoes. You don't need to compete with anyone else. And when you are out running, you don't need to worry - in fact, worry is the last thing on your mind for two reasons:
Running releases endorphins which are a natural pain killer.
You have to concentrate on your breathing!
Running is nature's mood lifter; it can lift a low mood or stop anxiety in minutes. This isn't a medical fact, I'm telling you this from experience. I suffered for some time with anxiety and panic attacks and running was the only thing that helped me. It cleared my mind of all the nonsense that was going on, and calmed my shaky body down too. You see, there is no time for feeling bad when you've got to keep putting one foot in front of the other for the next five miles.
Your brain starts to regulate itself, your breathing calms down. You start to notice feeling significantly less stressed. You stop thinking so much.
One thing that happens when I run is that I take more notice of things. I start to notice people, buildings I hadn't seen before, I pay attention to my environment, it becomes more than just a run, it becomes like a mini-adventure! What will I see today? What will make me laugh? What will make me sad?
In fact, a large part of this book is the result of observations made over years whilst running, because with a clear mind, you can see further, and that's one thing running gives you - a clear mind.
The first thing I noticed were the cars, not because I had really thought about pollution in a deep way before, but because the fumes were making choke. I really couldn't breathe when I was running, and believe me, when you're running, the last thing you want to be breathing is anything less than pure O2!
I also noticed that whilst car drivers were in the traffic queue, beating their fists on the steering wheel, urging the traffic to hurry up, I sailed right by them in their shiny cars, with nothing but foot power!
I felt better that day. I felt like I understood something that was so much more than just caring about the environment. I could feel them looking at me, as if to say: "I'd swap this lump of metal right now for a pair of those shoes," and I realised that for all the money they had invested in their cars, in that moment, they actually envied me. For a runner that's a great feeling, even if it is only in your mind.
There are many things you start to notice as you go for a run, both about yourself and the outside world -some good, some bad. The main thing you notice is the feeling of being free. Free to experience the world at first hand, to get up close to things, to animals, trees, people. To run wherever you choose, to change direction a million times, and no one tell you you're going the wrong way; to breathe the oxygen that gives us life, to use the muscles in our bodies, to appreciate what an amazing species we are, and what we are truly capable of.
Remember, you don't need to take a university degree to find this out, you just put one foot in front of the other and let yourself fall into a run, it's that easy. There's no competition with anyone else, you don't need to enter a race, or time yourself, you just need to get out there and experience life.
At the end of your run as your system starts to slow down, your heart rate returns to normal, you have a warm shower or bath and just relax. Total relaxation. No urges to do anything - your mind more at peace, your body calm. It sure beats having a drink or a cigarette to "relax" any day!
I am not trying to convert you to a new sport, or get you to spend money on running shoes, I just want to share with you something that has given me years of joy. Something that helped me relax, feel good about myself and get out into nature, whilst getting fit at the same time. You may have your own sports and hobbies, but if you have never been for a run then I urge you to try it.
In the beginning you may only run 100 metres, but the more you do it, the better you will feel. What have you got to lose? You start to lift your knees up, put one foot in front of the other, the body starts running... You can stop any time you like, for as long as you like, and you never have to try it again. But if you can, try to experience the joy and freedom of running.
Remember. It's free!
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