Why We Run

A Very Brief and Oversimplified History of Running

Sometimes the first mile is the hardest.

Running as a sport has been around a long time – at least going back to the ancient Greek Olympic games and possibly even older. Early on running served the practical purpose of conveying messages relatively quickly between communities and military forces, at least if the legend of how the marathon came to be is true, and then later it became something that people did for fun.

To my memory running and jogging as a hobby really took off in the 1970s in large thanks to people like Jim Fix, whose book The Complete Book of Running is credited by some as kicking off the entire fitness “craze,” and Thaddeus Kostrubala who wrote the Joy of Running. Because of these two men and other fitness gurus at the time millions of people discovered the health benefits of running as a way to increase cardio vascular health and lose weight. It was no longer something that only boxers did in the movies during a training montage.

Running For a Cause

At the same time that running for hobby was gaining popularity it also became linked with raising money for causes. One of the most famous causes that comes to mind is Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope in 1980. Fox attempted to run east to west across Canada run to raise money and awareness for cancer research. And this after his own leg was amputated from the disease! Although the spread of his cancer eventually forced him to end his quest after 143 days and 5,373 kilometers (3,339 mi) his legacy lives on with millions of people around the world running in his honor annually while raising funds for cancer research.

Other groups followed this lead and it became a trend. Today on any given weekend you can likely find any number of 5k, 10k, half marathons, or full marathons benefiting a worthy cause near your home.

There is no doubt that running has become a powerful tool to raise awareness and funds for various causes world-wide.

Why Running?

So when answering the question, “why do we run?” I think that on the surface there are several obvious answers: health, sport, and fundraising. I myself participate once a year in a 5K run in my hometown which benefits breast cancer research: The Rose Run. Interestingly, this race is run both in the little City of Petersburg, Michigan (pop. 1,200 or so) and in Burbank, California (pop. a whole lot more). I get a kick out of that for some reason.

However, even though I do not consider myself a true runner by any stretch of the imagination – unless a bear or another large carnivore is chasing me so if you see me running you better start running, too – I can tell you that it isn’t any of the obvious reasons which keeps people running. It’s deeper than that and some of the reasons are conflicting believe it or not.

Here’s my list of the real reasons people run:

Alone Time: just you, some tunes on the phone, and nature. What a better way to get out doors and clear your head of the days worries and troubles or just to think.

Camaraderie: there’s a certain friendship among runners. This is similar to the instant connection most everyone has when they meet another person who engages in the same hobby/sport that you do, but it seems especially strong among runners.

The Joy of Participation: I had the pleasure of running in this year’s Rose Run with my niece. Our shared experience over that 5K has given us stories that will last for weeks and memories that will last much longer.

It Feels So Good When You Stop: not just because you can breathe easily again and your heart slows back down to a reasonable pace. Once those endorphins kick in you really do feel better and happier!

Satisfaction of Pushing Yourself Towards a Goal: there’s a certain satisfaction that we all feel when you set out to achieve a goal and then go out and do it. Whether it be 5K or a full out marathon – you can deservedly pat yourself on the back. Even if you have to soak your feet afterwards!

So that’s it. My real reasons we run. I’d love to hear what yours are – leave a comment and share!

Finished the race and I’m still smiling!

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

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