Why Do People Run?

Why do we do it?   No one is forcing us.  As Christopher McDougall points out in his brilliant book, Born to Run, we no longer need to chase down our food.  So why do we do something physically and mentally challenging, and occasionally painful, if we don’t have to. Why not just take it easy?


This was the conversation inside my head early this weekend before the Cherry Blossum 10 Mile run in the Nation’s Capital.  In fact, it’s the same conversation I have before any race.  Why would anyone in their right mind stress themselves out, get out of bed at 5:30 am on a weekend to go for a run.

I spent the first 2-3 miles of the race observing people trying to answer that question.   From what I saw, some folks run to challenge themselves, some run for others, like the a guy in a yellow kilt running for fallen combat soldiers, the woman with a picture of her deceased cat on her shirt, and of course, the group of sickos who do it because they actually enjoy it.

Me? Well, I’m another story.  It’s taken me many years, several races, and 10 miles this weekend to figure it out.   The truth is, I hate to run.  It’s a means to an end. I like to race, but I hate to run.  It’s a legacy of growing up playing sports, where running was a “have to” and not a “want to.”

Up until my 40th birthday, I had successfully avoided running, while slowly turning myself into a “fat and happy” sedimentary “couch” potato.  That was until a colleague of mine issued the challenge of doing a sprint triathlon as a way for us to celebrate our 40th birthday (thank you Patrick).

Since that time, I train regularly and do various types of endurance races.  Along the way, I dropped the 25 lb. bag of potatoes.   I’ve gotten into a routine of training, but I hadn’t totally figured out why I continue to do races until this weekend.  Alone with my thoughts for the next hour and half or so, I committed to figuring it out.

I know that I need to pick events that give purpose to my training routine.  But the epiphany came at mile 5 when I realized that I think I actually like to scare myself to remind me not to become complicit and/or too comfortable again.  My approach is to pick events I’ve never done, and to usually do them alone, because it heightens the fear factor.

The days and night before the race is spent stressing myself out about the course layout, logistics, and perhaps, most importantly the locations of bathrooms.  But along with the fear and the stress, I know there is also the heightened sense of accomplishment.

By mile 9, I realized that this habit had spilled over to my work life.  I left a comfortable position three years ago to enter a new industry, and to start a new business with gyro.  I “had it good,” but I decided shake things up, I had become in a sense “fat and happy” in my career.

Like training, we can easily fall into the “habit” of just going to work everyday.  In fact, some probably dislike it as much as I dislike running.   And I wonder if that might be because our work life sometimes lacks that “event” to give it purpose.  It’s easy to fall into a routine and become comfortable.  Life itself can be complicated, so why make it more difficult?

Perhaps a big, fat scary goal is what is needed give greater meaning to our work, and to reenergize us.  With that fear of the unknown, and/or the unaccomplished, also comes the reminder of what it is to be alive.

Yes, it can be painful and uncomfortable, like how my lower back and calves feel as I write this, but you may also be pleasantly surprised.  A sense of accomplishment can fuel the need to set bigger, more challenging ways to push yourself, becoming a habit.  So, if you get a chance to be alone with your thoughts, ask yourself “why do you run?”

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