The Benefits of Running

You can look just about anywhere in print or online to find literally hundreds of benefits of running. Primarily, these benefits run the gamut of all the different aspects of mental and physical health and wellness. What I find most interesting and intriguing, however, is that no matter how universal the overall benefits of running are, there is a unique quality in each and every individual’s experience. And those universal benefits suddenly take on a very specific form that shape the exclusivity of the experience. And if you check back with a person who sticks with running over a period of years, the experience and perception of the overall benefit grow and transform, almost always becoming deeper and richer with time.

For many of us, the ‘beginning’ is a call in life for change – some internal voice that seems to say ‘if not now, then when?’. For me that moment came when I was 35, going through a very difficult time. I’ll spare everyone the boring details. One day, though, I strapped on some basic tennis shoes, went out and huffed and puffed and panted through a half mile run on a hot summer day. It hurt. I felt awful. But I felt a sense of accomplishment that required approval of no one. So I repeated that process for the next few weeks, feeling better each time.

I realized at some point that there were ways to measure the accomplishment. I determined that I would participate in a 10K. It was October. My children were young, around 11, 8 and 4. I dragged them out with me to Denver’s City Park on a chilly Saturday morning. I remember they were bundled in their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sleeping bags and blankets. I ran the race, finishing just below 40 minutes. I felt slow. But participating in the event inspired me. It inspired me just as running that first half mile had inspired me.

And that’s my point. For me, the consistent, yet transformative condition of running for me has always been inspiration. First it was internal. Then it morphed into participation; then competition – with myself. Indeed, a few years later I participated in an event that was hosting the Masters Championship and I came in 2nd. But I didn’t even know what the Masters Division was – and it didn’t mean that much to me that I’d placed in the division. I recall that I was more focused on whether I’d accomplished consistent negative splits and had achieved a goal; my new inspiration was discipline.

Over time, the inspiration became pushing into greater distances and different terrains and new gear and studying nutrition. But each inspiration faded. And so did I.

I experienced a fall in life later. It was much greater than a stumble. And it presented me with the greatest challenge I’d ever faced. Again, I’ll skip the boring details (it’s actually quite embarrassing – and very well documented). Coming through this challenge I began digging deep into my faith and exploring those pieces of past inspiration, the rise and fall, the shine and the fade. And I began running again.

I participated in a local marathon that year. I was somewhat inspired. But something else occurred. I began to inspire others; not by intent, but perhaps by nature. Long story short, I was given an opportunity to help train a group of men to participate in a marathon. One of those men was my eldest son. Suddenly I was inspired again – not at all by myself, but by those men.

We trained, we participated in 5K’s, 10K’s, half marathons, and we celebrated our individual and group accomplishments together. We experienced hardship. We saw members of the group stumble in life – and fall. Sometimes they got back up. Sometimes they literally and/or metaphorically died.

The group completed the marathon. We celebrated. And I was blessed to have shared with this group of men what was, for many of them, the single endeavor in their life where they had begun with a goal and had actually completed it. They inspired me.

For the next four years of my life I worked to find more people who had experienced hardship and disappointment and ‘failure’ so that I could share the benefits of running. It was, perhaps, a very selfish endeavor. And it paid dividends. We brought 400 men and women over full marathon finish lines – and all the shorter races that lead up to it.

Truthfully, the inspiration never faded. After the four years, and after experiencing all the hope and accomplishments along with so many comrades, the toll of the loss that accompanied that period of time took its toll. You see, many of these men returned to a place from which they could not run. And at times the place to which they returned resulted in extreme loss; for them, for their families, for me.

It was around that time that I became inspired to create a run/walk event for Denver Children’s Home. I did this for a couple of reasons; one reason was to step back from the one-on-one interaction required to feed my addiction to inspiration. Perhaps I could create events for local nonprofits and still speak my truth about the benefit of running, with perhaps a quieter and less pronounced voice.

I had become inspired again. The second reason – or cause – for my new project, my new inspiration, was to create an event that might benefit an organization that had touched my life at a very young age and had taught me about life, about inspiration … about myself.

This brings me to my conclusion. For me, the universal benefit of running is inspiration. It has been the one universal, yet specifically exclusive element of my experience with running that has been consistent and yet has transformed.

Run on, my friends. Perhaps we run to or from something specific, something sublime – something internal or external. We need not know. We need not judge. We run.