When I was 17 years old, I was a smoker, and not particularly healthy. You could say I was a little rough around the edges, but I had good intentions.
From as early as I can remember my uncle was sick with asthma, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary emphysema (COPD), and emphysema.
For most of my life, he was in and out of the hospital with asthma attacks. Then came a time when the doctors said he had to quit smoking or he would die. I was really close to my uncle; he lived with us for some time, so the news hit me hard. It made me realize I couldn’t continue to smoke and I needed to get my life on a healthy track.
I made a deal with myself that I would start running. On days I ran I did not want to have a cigarette. Ever since then, running has been a go-to for me whenever I need to get my butt in shape. Over the past few years it has become a daily habit.
When I run, I love the way my legs move swiftly along the ground, the deep breaths into my lungs, and the way that nothing else matters in that moment. I am just content to be doing what it is I am doing.
It does not matter if I feel tired or my legs are sore, I am doing something I love. In the best of moments there is almost nothing better—and in the worst moments I still feel good about what I am accomplishing.
Here are eight ways that running has improved my life and has the potential to improve yours too if you would just lace up and get out the door—the hardest part, by the way.
There is something about running that makes us want to keep going no matter what is happening in our bodies. It may be a personality trait of runners, because most of my friends, including myself, will keep pushing through pain until we actually fracture a bone.
Two years ago, I took a 30-day running challenge. I was so stubborn that even though my shins hurt when walking down the street, I would not stop running until the doctor put me in a boot. I guess we get addicted to the sense of accomplishment. Happily, since then, I have been learning to listen to my body more (yoga is helping with that too).
After running for three hours on any given Saturday morning and training for six months, you realize that events take time to work up to, such as training for a marathon or your fastest mile. You cannot just walk out the door and do it. You have to set out a plan months in advance, take care of your body, and then execute the plan.
Mind and body connection
If you want to sustain a lengthy and fruitful running hobby, you need to learn to listen to your body’s needs for more sleep, rest days, and high-quality food that doesn’t upset your stomach (nobody wants to stop for a bathroom break while running).
In order to improve your running you need to be consistent. When you run at least three times a week your breathing will start to even out and you’ll begin to run a little bit longer each time.
With consistency, your stride will begin to feel more natural and you will not feel so beat up after every run. There will still be some runs when you feel beat up, especially if you are training for a race and pushing your limits. You might even experience the elusive runner’s high.
When you have a goal like running a 5K every day you have to make time for it. I find it helps me to avoid procrastinating because I know I have to get something done before a certain time so I can get my run in.
You end up accomplishing more than you thought you ever could, especially if you join a running group. When you all start to run together, you get out of your head about your limits, and sometimes you end up just following the group and going six miles instead of five miles (happened to me last night). I never imagined I would run a marathon, and yet here I am, nine marathons down and one planned for next fall.
Another awesome side effect of running is meeting people outside of your work or school circle which can make for fascinating conversation. Over the years, I have developed a running family, and we share many fun activities outside of running too.
Runners love to talk about running to anybody who will listen, and we are often so passionate about it, that it makes other people keen to try.
Many people say to me that they can’t run for a variety of reasons, but the truth is you have to start somewhere. For most of us, we can start right where we are, with one foot in front of the other. It might not feel natural at first, but a new skill almost never does. But with practice, patience, and time—it can.
It does not matter how fast or how far you go. When we move our bodies in this way we feel like we are doing what we are meant to do. I have not found any other activity, other than maybe yoga, that feels like this. It is a total mind-body connection and when you get “in the zone,” nothing else matters. It is just you and the earth below.
That was just the beginning of my uncle’s inspiration for me. As I mentioned before, he was very sick—he was either in a hospital or at the doctor’s office on a weekly basis for many years. He developed heart failure; he also had to use an oxygen tank and a wheel chair. He went through so much but always had a smile on his face.
He figured out how to make things okay for himself and enjoyed his life. He took pleasure in the smallest things; just a simple chat with the bus driver would brighten his day.
Even though my uncle has passed away now, he still inspires me to show gratitude for all that I have and to take pleasure in the small things.
I am forever grateful.
Author: Yvonne Perry
Image: Francisco Osorio/Flickr
Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina