Running is becoming ever more popular these days, and anywhere you look you are bound to find a jogger or two. It seems strange that rather than enjoying the greatest invention of human civilisation – the comfort of the indoors – people would rather brave the cold and rain and push themselves to the brink of death and back again. Running culture involves the following. You must own a pair of ugly, neon coloured running shoes. You must tell all your friends that you run and how amazing it feels. You must then have an Instagram on which you post weekly running pictures, with the sunset in the background, an inspirational quote about running and life, and #[insert distance ran here]. Have you seen one of those posts and said to yourself – hey, that could be me! I should start running! I’ll be doing marathons in no time! Let this be a warning: as someone who has gone through that running episode of my life, it’s no easy ride. A newbie runner will typically go through several phases as they try and commit themselves to this new hobby.
First, there’s the inspiration phase. You’ve eaten another bucket of KFC and throw the remains into yesterday’s McDonald’s paper bag. You look around the room – first at the Coke cans, then at the beer bottles, then finally at the stretch marks on your belly. You give it a poke and it wobbles hello back to you. You decide it’s time to turn your life upside down and get fit. You go online and watch motivational videos on Youtube, and listen to Lose Yourself by Eminem. With little hesitation you order a pair of Nike Air shoes, your first major investment in this new hobby. You go to bed with a smile on your face thinking that tomorrow will be the first day of your new, healthy life. You think about your acceptance speech at Mr Olympia 2020 as you doze off.
Second, there’s the high phase. You’re starting your first run, and you’re all ready. You’ve designed what you think is the best running playlist in the world on Spotify. The likes of Papa Roach, Linkin Park, and Slipknot will be with you all the way. You’ve got your brand new Nikes on, and they make you feel like you’re walking on a cloud. You’re doing some stretches that you think are good for you because you’ve seen it in a movie once. In reality it looks similar to a bowling ball trying to fold itself in half. You think you’re ready and set off. You run a grand total of 2 km this time – enough to get you out of breath and red as a sunburnt tomato, but not enough for any injury to your virgin legs. You’re proud of yourself. You look at the sunset with a broad smile on your face, feeling the calories evaporate from your skin into the cool autumn air. You take out your instagram, snap a selfie, and spend more time thinking about the caption than you did actually running. You feel elated and great. This must be what the runner’s high is all about.
The next phase is that of pain. The novelty of this new hobby has worn off, and so has the fun. You start each session excited, putting on your earphones and thinking that you’re going to run better and faster than ever before. But after 5 minutes when you start gasping for air, you regret all the decisions in your life that has led you to this point. You think about how this must be like for a fish out of water – and indeed isn’t that what you are? What are you doing anyway, you’re not a runner! You’re a stay-at-homer! Slipknot singing about murder no longer motivates you – what’s fuelling you now is pure self hate and determination to prove your friends wrong when they said you’ll give up after two weeks. You’ve got to be better than that. It’s only been five days. So you keep on running, heading for your usual direction into the sunset except this time, it seems like a storm is approaching and of course, you don’t have your umbrella.
After pain, comes the phase of deterioration, a.k.a. how you bargain your way out of this. You become reflective about how life is short and how you shouldn’t be doing things like you don’t want to do like fighting in a war, working a low-paying job, or running yourself to death. You skip sessions for rationalised reasons such as that knot in the knee acting up or the weather forecast predicting a 30% chance of rain (why take the chances? You’ve never been the wild type). You try and make yourself feel better by eating a salad and boiled chicken for dinner, which is topped up with Cookie Dough ice cream because you don’t like going to bed hungry. And before you drift off you tell yourself…tomorrow. I’ll make up for it tomorrow. This helps you sleep because today’s problems have been resolved by becoming tomorrow’s. Your friends ask you how the running is going and you are too ashamed to say, “I don’t like running because every time I do I feel like I’m dying from the ground up.” Instead you tell them that all is going well and you’re on track to your goal at the end of the month. And it’s true. You’re on track to quitting.
And finally, the running escapade of your life ends. You’ve not worn your jogging shoes in a week. Your lifestyle is back to normal. Any weight that you might have lost, whether real or imaginary, is back on after a night out. You initially feel guilty but have come to live with your shortcomings. This is a sign of maturity, you tell yourself. I have come to accept that running will never be my thing.
Now cycling on the other hand…