Why I run everyday
I love running. It has transformed my life, my health and my mental wellbeing. Although I didn’t start properly until I was in my late 30’s. Like most people, I had previously run when I was a kid in P.E. at school. I remember the 100 metres on sports day and a stormy cross-country run, covered in mud from slipping in the rain and running hell for leather to the finish line. I loved it and came in the top 10 of my school. Running in my adult life though was minimal, barely managing more than a light 10 minutes on the jogging machine at my local gym. Then, when I was heavily pregnant in my mid-30s, I decided I wanted to run a marathon. I could barely move and for some reason, felt I wanted to run 26 and a half miles!
After my baby girl was born, the training plan for a marathon went out the window. I barely slept in those first 7 months, like most newborns, she demanded all my attention and I was exhausted. The following year, I started to put together my training plan and gradually, from a light 5km, I started to enter 10km races and then worked my way up to a half marathon. I completed the full marathon a year later.
I’ve now been running nearly every day for nearly two decades – I love it! The benefits of running have been profound both physically and mentally. It has helped me maintain the same – or similar – physique and weight that I was in my 30s in my 50s, and has helped boost my mental health along the way.
Running, for many, has the power to positively impact our mood, including the management of stress, anxiety and depression
Running creates an endorphin release in the body – the chemicals that are natural mood boosters. These endorphins can also help to reduce pain. Previously, I had a global role as a director in a tech company. I worked 24/7 and while stressed, running was my medicine.
Every day before work I ran, even when I was travelling abroad it helped me deal with the pressure of my role. It helped lower my stress cortisol and feel calmer again. Thanks to running, I saw more of the world too. Rather than going from plane to hotel, to office, I took the time in the very early mornings to explore the cities I was in. Some countries were easier to run around than others – highlights included running around a picturesque Lake Michigan in Chicago, along the Hudson River in New York and running up a secluded hill in South Korea to be met with a stunning temple in the midst of dawn. There were also places I stayed that were terrible for running. The middle of Bangkok with all its pollution and no proper pathways, alongside wild dogs running after me in the back-streets. One of the worst places was staying a week at an airport hotel in Canada with only the arrivals area to run around, everyone was standing outside smoking and stacking suitcases into taxis, not ideal!
As I get older, I find that my brain also needs running just as much as my body. Running has scientifically been proven to boost the production of BDNF – a protein that promotes the growth and maintenance of brain cells. Additionally, running enhances cognitive function by increasing blood flow to the brain, helping to promote new neurons, and enhancing the connections between existing ones. This can lead to better memory and a sharper focus. Indeed, many of my best ideas have come from my morning run!
Many people believe that running is not for them or that they 'cannot run'. But unless your doctor has told you otherwise, or you have a medical condition that prevents you from doing so, then I believe most people can give it a try.
If you are a beginner, then you can start with the 'Couch to 5km' program. You start by running for one minute, then walking for one minute. You then gradually build it up to running longer and walking less until you reach your goal. Participating in running groups or events can also help motivation, as well as goal setting for a particular target you want to reach. It can help socially too, having like-minded others around you for support. There are plenty of welcoming Park Runs out there for beginners to join, and thousands of other races available, from 5km to ultra-marathons. I now have many medals to show for all the races I’ve entered over the years which I am very proud of.
If you are going to get started, then my advice is to invest in a good pair of running shoes. Go to a sports shop to have your gait measured and see what type is best for you. Many people get injured simply by wearing the wrong type of shoe.
Try and do a bit of a warm-up before you run, and some light stretching when you wake up. Walk for five minutes when you get out of the house rather than going into your run straight away. Post-run, always do a deeper, longer, leg stretch to avoid lactate acid build-up and help avoid cramps. Running can also be tiring for the arms, as you are moving repetitively. I always stretch out my arms and shoulders up and down, then twist the torso from left to right, which helps release tight muscles.
Some people have a schedule for running which is great, but don’t get caught up on this if you miss out on some of your sessions. I, for example, always go for my longest run of the week on a Sunday, and then Monday is recovery day as I know that the start of the week is always the busiest day work-wise and can be my lowest energy day. Try and find a schedule that works for your energy levels and weekly timetable.
Always listen to your body. Sometimes sleep needs priority over a run, and that is okay. If you find that you’re coming back from a run in pain, it might be your posture. Take a step back, align yourself, do some stretching and maybe practise some yoga. Pace yourself, don’t push yourself so hard that you get injured and can’t run.
Once you’ve got started, it's good to track your progress. There are loads of apps out there for your phone or smartwatch, so you can start to measure mileage and speed. If you have a goal to do a race, then gradually building up mileage over a few months with weekly targets is best.
Everyone’s body is different, so do what works best for you – you need to enjoy it! I love to be outdoors in nature, in all weather, and find it a great meditation – a peaceful time to think. Others love to listen to music and run to the beat to stay motivated. Some people get through audiobooks or podcasts. Experiment and see what works for you.
The great thing about running is that it's free and is a powerful and accessible tool for improving mental health, particularly for those dealing with stress or depression to help improve mood. Remember that progress may be gradual, but the journey itself is an achievement that can bring positive changes to your life. Enjoy your run.