I started running in college. Or, I should say, I started to love running in college.
Growing up, I always enjoyed hiking, biking, and solo activities that got me outside. Looking back, I must have been drawn to the mental stimulation of nature. As John Muir once said, “One day’s exposure to mountains is better than a cartload of books.”
You can’t help but learn from nature. And not so much about the trees and the animals, but about yourself. It’s cliché to talk about wandering off into nature, and meditating.
But truly, a hike in the forest seems to have a descrambling effect on the mind. You may bring your anxieties to the trailhead, but you’ll mount the summit with clarity and contentment.
Many runners claim to do their best thinking and deepest introspection during a run. It’s certainly the case for me. This is my time – it’s my chance to put things in perspective and reflect on important decisions.
I’m not surprised that research links exercise, particularly walking and running, with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s no mystery: sports and physical activities are tests of grit and wit.
For me, combining fitness with nature is the ultimate brain workout.
Where To Run
Many people tell me they hate running. Nearly all of them cite boredom as the reason. Of course, if you are running on a treadmill, you will find running dull after a few miles. I say, if weather permits, run outside.
You can find a few go-to spots near you, like a park or a trail. Change it up every so often and drive to a new location. With mobile apps like Footpath, you can pre-plan a convenient route in the time it takes to drag your finger across your phone. I started to love running because I loved nature—the sights, sounds and smells. But inhaling the fragrant scents of rush-hour gym traffic is not the kind of natural aroma I had in mind. Luckily, in California, I have endless sun and an embarrassment of natural riches: parks, nature trails, beaches, and foothills.
Running takes me to all these places as quickly as my legs will allow. Boredom is never an issue. With that, I'd love to share some tips with you on how you too can fall in love with running. Here we go!
Or maybe running takes me as far as my feet will allow? When I started running, I wore cheap running shoes. Whenever I ran long distances, my feet would ache. After one half-marathon, I could barely walk for days. Exercise can be painful or physically discomforting, but there is a problem when the pain lingers for days. A friend recommended that I switch shoes. I did my research, got a foot analysis, and invested in some Asics. I noticed a difference right away, and I haven’t had any foot problems since.
So, my suggestion is, don’t run cheap. Invest in quality shoes. Also, understand your feet. Some people (like me) are flatfooted and need arch support. Find the shoe that takes you where you need to go. Be sure to replace them often. Think of it like getting new brake pads: you just have to do it after so many miles. I usually replace my shoes after each marathon.
We all chafe. And it hurts. It really hurts. So, be sure to wear quality running clothes. Avoid itchy fabrics or materials that rub against your skin. If your clothes feel like sandpaper after a few miles, it’s time for a change. Also, consider preventive measures like chaffing ointments and for guys, NipGuards.
Not literally. When I started driving to new running locations, it occurred to me that I carry so much stuff around! What do I do with my keys and wallet? Do I run with music? Should I hold my phone or get one of those running armbands?
I’ve found it best to become a minimalist. I buy running shorts with a zipper pocket if I need to stick my driver’s license or car key somewhere. Not keys, but rather, a key. Have you ever tried running with a pocket full of keychain ornaments and seven different keys attached? Leave the wallet. Take your driver’s license and a debit card.
If I want music, I run with Bluetooth cordless headphones. I don’t use an armband, and I hold my phone in my hand. Figure out what works for you. But keep it simple.
Many runners talk about “the wall” when it comes to long-distance running. For lack of a better description, the wall is when your mind and body turn into concrete. Your legs stop working. Your breathing becomes labored. Your feet are heavy. And your mind is saying, “No!”
For me, this happens around mile 16. It could be mild dehydration, or possibly you’ve just run out of “fuel.” When we run, we burn through the energy we’ve stored in our bodies. Once we hit the wall, it is already too late to chug a Gatorade and fuel up. It takes time for our bodies to convert carbohydrates into the fuel we need for long-distance running.
So, be sure to hydrate and carb-load well in advance before a long run. Most research indicates that carbs should be the primary component of a runner’s diet in the days immediately before any long run. When you think about it, this is the best rule of all. Who doesn’t love Italian food?
My wife finally forced me to go to a dermatologist. For some of us, sunburns are just a part of life. I’m used to it by now. But as we age, our skin becomes a tapestry of our choices, which brings me to my final suggestion: use sunscreen and take care of yourself!
One more thing John Muir said was, “The world is big, and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.” Amen to that. But in the meantime, don’t take your body for granted. You only get one.
By Rob Coleman