I am not sure exactly when I became a runner, nor for how long I will be one. But I am sure that when I think back over 2023 from a personal point of view, running is the first thing I think about.
Most of us discover the need for exercise at some point in our lives and for years I have been in the habit of doing a short daily workout, hardly even a workout, but based on the old 5BX plan which takes all of 11 minutes. 5BX includes running on the spot which is effective but quite boring. I replaced it with going out for an actual short run and omitting the jumping jacks.
Then a couple of things conspired to persuade me to do more running. It was partly a side-effect of lockdown, when my wife who was on furlough did the NHS Couch to 5K programme which was followed by an addiction to Parkrun, free 5K runs which take place every Saturday morning at numerous locations around the UK and some worldwide.
Second, an event called the Winchester Half Marathon passes our house and I found myself thinking that I would like to do it myself.
I decided that I might as well join in with the Parkrun and soon enjoyed the challenge of trying to improve my time week by week. That began in July 2022.
I was enjoying it enough that in April 2023 I booked myself into the Winchester Half for September. That gave me 6 months to train, more than enough. I increased my daily run to a 15 minute hilly run three times round the block near my home. I started doing a long run on Sunday mornings, working up from 8K to 10K to 12K and up to 20K, just short of the half marathon distance.
The Winchester Half is somewhat hilly so I booked for the flatter New Forest Half Marathon earlier in September as a practice. That went OK despite rain and I finished in 2:03:50. Winchester went a bit better and I did 1:58:27. Ambition fulfilled.
I was enjoying it too much to give up though, and since then have joined the local Winchester Running Club and booked for several more events next year. I also did the AWS re:Invent 5k in Las Vegas which was fun if a little odd in the way it was organized!
I have started running relatively late in life and wish I had done it earlier; but it is also fun to do something new. Often I meet people who tell me they also loved to run but had to stop due to injury, sometimes knees, sometimes something else. I do not think running is risk-free but I am convinced that it is more likely to do good than harm. I have just read Daniel Lieberman’s book Exercised; Lieberman is a professor of biological sciences and writes that “the negative effects of too much exercise appear to be ridiculously less than the negative effects of too little.”
Even the risk to knees is not clear-cut. “Physical activities like running that load joints repeatedly and heavily do not cause higher rates of osteoarthritis and may sometimes be protective,” writes Lieberman, referencing a 2008 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
There are consequences though. I have lost weight. My resting heart rate has slowed. And it is time-consuming, especially if one trains for the longer distances.
I realise though that I may not always be able to run. That for me is all the more reason to run while I can.