Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Runner's World

It is a physical activity, and it is a sport. It happens to be something I'm terrible at, but who really cares? When I'm curious about something, I will write a post about it. It forces me to learn and research stuff, as well as try it out myself. Oops.

Memorial Day weekend in the United States kicked off the unofficial start of summer. Have you been working out?

If you didn't see my posting of this exact video coming, shame on you. When we run, we sort of wish we were Rocky, without the pounding down of egg yolks and fighting Russians and--well, you get it. It's a huge cardio workout, it's scientifically proven to relieve stress, and it exists in just about every contact sport and more. Aside from riding animals, running was the primary means of transportation for all. The human feet became rugged after traveling many miles here and there, and the invention of shoes made traveling in different terrain much easier than before. We are a country with many a couch-potato-turned-fitness-guru citizens existing everywhere. For most people, it began on the treadmill. Whether it was walking or the "oh screw it, I'm all in," today's culture that includes the New Year's resolution and the beach body leads the blind that start something and drop it if they don't see results in a week or two.

For the runners that didn't quit, however, changes do occur.

When you run by yourself, regardless of whether you listen to music or not, this is the time where you are in touch with your body and see how you are. It might be rotten for the first ten seconds, because you'll most likely say, "Oh dear God, I'm in horrible shape," but to feel how many muscles are in action and how your organs react to the full-body stress that is ongoing is an indescribable feeling. When one has a strong will, the rush can keep going and going until an individual can run for a half hour without stopping. Moods can change--heck, lifestyle can change because it can not only aid you, but aid the people around you. Running with people is a good way to bond and maintain a similar goal. It might not just be for fitness, but for friendship as well.
Speaking of a similar goal, a growing trend that has been occurring lately [well, around me at least] is the surge of 5K races to raise money for specific causes. They seriously came out of nowhere, but when someone can identify or have someone they know that could benefit from this cause, they will train and do the best they can to make that person they know proud. Just as the Susan G. Komen three-day walk benefits breast cancer research and the ones who walk will do it for loved ones and friends, runners will take part in 5K's, 10K's or even half-marathons for a good cause not only for their friends, but themselves. Groups of friends will get together and race together; although they don't really keep track of how fast they go, they may see how far they've come since the beginning. It's a slough of feel-good energy that explodes in numerous rewards during these races.

Since we're talking about running and feel-good energy, it's only fair for me to throw some science into your face. It makes the world go 'round, people. Get over yourselves. While running, there are numerous chemical occurrences going ballistic all up in your body. Your heart rate goes up, resulting in the blood pumping faster and taking in more oxygen than ever before. That's the first stage of detoxifying your body. On top of that, you're obviously going to be sweating a lot, leading to the second stage of detoxifying the body (this is why it's important to shower after a run...that stuff can clog back up in your skin). The third and final stage happens in the brain. Remember when I said that running relieves stress and staves off depression? If you run long enough, the body may undergo a lot of added stress; the brain will shoot off a bunch of neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins to fill your system. If you're familiar with these terms, they're responsible for making the body relax and feel good. What happens here is called a "runner's high," and yes, it causes a natural high that can rival the purposes of drugs and other medicine. So, if you happen to see a friend who is a fan of running and using these means to keep sane, you will understand why. The same applies to the CrossFit phenomenon--that's another day and another post.

I took it to the social media realm to see people's thoughts and opinions on running and jogging. In fact, the reason why I am writing about this is because so many people I'm friends with on Facebook have pictures of them being involved in 5K's and "Color Runs" and "Tough Mudders" and the like. I'm an outsider of that culture, so out of curiosity, I requested to pick brains. On Facebook a few months ago (because let's face it, I haven't written on this blog in nearly two months), I had asked what had gotten people into running, whether they had ever run something along the lines of a 5K, and what are the benefits they got out of it.
Lauren McGowan states: "I got into running/jogging for fitness purposes and stress relief. It was fun to see progress from being able to only run a mile to being able to run multiple miles without stopping. It truly is about conditioning your body." She notes that when she does benefit runs, she loves it "...because it is great to get together with others to go for a run and sponsor a great cause. ... As far as the benefits, it just feels good to accomplish something that you set forth as a goal and hey, as a t-shirt hoarder, you can never have enough."
Kaitlin Reinsel states: "I got into running because of my major in college. As a pre-health student I'm constantly reminded of the importance of exercise and health. ... For me there are numerous benefits to running. At the age of 16 I weighed 165lbs, which is considered overweight for my 5 foot frame and since my family has a history of both diabetes and heart disease, running allows me to have a sense of control over both of these factors and allows me to live a healthy lifestyle. On top of that running gives me confidence. I know that with each stride I take I'm doing something to benefit my body. Lastly, running allows me to relieve stress and concentrate."
Brian Barrish noted that he got into running for fitness and preparation for football (soccer). In taking part in races, he commented that he got into it "...[t]o experience the competitive side of it, by shock I mean against myself. Also, the endorphins and the adrenaline that go into it and the battle against yourself cannot really be duplicated." On benefits, he states that he has "...[a]n appreciation of what my limits are, as well as what limits I can break. Also, it's a great way to be alone with yourself mentally for 30 minutes while just concentrating on your breathing and your running."
Stan Croussett gave me an account on how he got into his culture. What began as a beginning of being a fast runner, he grew into a cross-country runner with help from his friends and fellow teammates. From issues stemming from incorrect shoes (he told me he originally ran in basketball shoes) and the stress and pushing of cross-country running, he was extremely sore and his limits were tested. However, he said: "I needed to keep going. I had gotten addicted. I know. It sounds ridiculous. Just seconds after running that torturous 14-lap practice I wanted to quit. I had downright called it insanity! But I could not wait for Monday to come around and I could get on that track again." He kept going, and ended up being a decorated runner in his high school years. He has competed in other races, saying: "Outside of school I have ran a couple of 5Ks though, and mostly they're in preparation for the season, other races, etc. ... If you aren't in an organized league, you just run them to test yourself, really. You get so addicted to running that you just want to compete with yourself."

As you see, it isn't only a competition against other runners, but it's a competition with oneself. How far can one go on a run? Isn't it always good to prove yourself wrong? Whether it's for a good cause or not, the marvels of a human body and how it can outlast mental limitation is proof enough that this is a sport. Like other sports, it isn't for the faint of heart, and it is possible to train for speed and endurance. Plus, it is also extremely important to do a little homework and prepare correctly, such as wearing the proper footwear, knowing to stay hydrated, and know how to breathe.

From my standpoint, I was never a runner. In fact, that was my least favorite part of practices. The major reason was because I could never get the breathing part down. I had a total understanding of the "in through your nose, out your mouth" idea, but it never wanted to work when I ran. For my 23+ years of life, it has been my fitness weakness. So on that note, it wasn't like my legs refused to work or that I couldn't take the stress; heck, when I tried out for my high school soccer team, my legs could take it, but even after doing the 2.5 mile conditioning for four days straight, I was still beyond winded because I didn't know how to breathe.
Oh, for the record, I got cut after day four. They couldn't handle me. (ha ha ha)

However, I decided to try something new this time around. I've been walking as a form of exercise for years (in fact, it's better on the knees than jogging), and as I walked, I would work on the breathing aspect. My sinuses were irritated after the first few times, but I got the hang of it.
Heart pounding and breathing struggles aside, I jogged a nine-minute mile. Truthfully, I don't think I went long enough to get the "runner's high" that I had previously mentioned above, because if that happened, I might have pushed it more and gone another half mile or so. However, there was a lot of satisfaction on what kind of progress I made, regardless of the pace I went. It's rather evident that a lot of runners felt the same way when they began their journey as well.

Running certainly takes dedication, and those who stick around long enough definitely reap the rewards; however, there are people that take it to the next level and get obsessed over it. People of a certain age may constantly train for marathons and constantly run them, when (according to scientists) that isn't the absolute healthiest thing to do. We all need to heal, but it's that chemical rush that keeps the runner going into the ground almost literally. This isn't to sad that those people are bad, but just as people can be addicted to what drugs provide for the body, they can get obsessed over what their own brains do under that stress.

Every day is a test. Does one succumb, or do you stay on top of the runner's world?