We’re all familiar with the major benefits of running: combined with a prudent diet, it helps to control weight; it boosts the efficiency of the cardio-pulmonary system, it may even stimulate a general sense of well-being, aka ‘runner’s high’. This is all very well but rather boring - if you don’t mind me saying so. What about those many little-known, really useful benefits of running? They’re not listed in books or discussed in serious articles, but I bet your non-running friends and family relate to them better than all the high-faluting stuff about improved muscle-tone and all that. During my last long run, I thought of several:
It’s a perfect excuse to get away from boring parties
It’s ten o’clock on a Saturday night and the party is so boring you’d rather be doing anything else, except maybe your taxes. You know you’re doomed when the host takes three minutes to describe just the first tee-shot on what promises to be a numbingly long, minutely detailed marathon golf story. Tomorrow is Sunday so the old ‘have to go in early to the office’ excuse won’t cut it. That’s when you suddenly remember the 7 am start of the annual ‘Run for your Heart’ 5K, or a long-standing commitment for the weekly long run. If you’re anything like a typical runner, all the people at the party will by now know your weekly mileage, how many marathons you’ve run, your favorite Gu flavor, how you clean smelly running shoes and so on. So they certainly won’t mind you leaving early. Trust me. They may even wish you luck.
Running is something you can do without your glasses
Like many other people, I’m pretty useless without my glasses, and my eyes don’t much take to contact lenses. I’m ok indoors, but without glasses I can’t drive, can’t go to a movie, can’t even beat a kid at ping-pong. Sure I can stay home and answer e-mail, get on Facebook or water my herb garden, but that’s about as exciting as it gets. Anything too physical and I perspire to the point where my glasses slide right off my nose. Happily, when I run, it’s a case of ‘no glasses, no problem’. Even at top speed I only cover about one mile every eight minutes or so. Which means that there’s little chance of running into a wall, or a lamp post.
You learn a lot about wildlife
Unfortunately, mostly wildlife of the deceased variety, i.e. roadkill. Even so, it is educational and let’s face it, you’ll never get that close to real live squirrels, raccoons, opposums, armadillos and what have you. Now and then I actually come across something that is alive, other than birds and stray pets. Just a couple of weeks ago there was a huge snapping turtle hunting under a bridge in the Edith Moore Nature Sanctuary. Pity I couldn’t see it too well without my glasses… A running friend once told me about finding a dead copperhead snake one morning, on the road shoulder. When the dead snake recoiled as he leaned down to look at it, my friend belatedly realized that it was not roadkill. Took a few seconds off his usual time for the route.
Complete strangers ask you for directions
Nowadays practically anyone can circumnavigate the globe from a handheld device but that was not always so. Until just a few years ago, people had to find their way around town using a map. Or directions. So they would get lost and stop – usually in the middle of the road – and ask a runner for advice on how to get to the street they can’t find. It used to happen to me all the time and of course I would try to help, even though I might be in completely unfamiliar territory, miles away from home. Not too long ago I persuaded a guy who was looking for a church on Memorial Drive to make a u-turn and go back a ‘few miles’ the other way. I found the church half a block further, in the original direction the lost person was going. Oops.
You pick up all kinds of useful things
Money, primarily. My wife is a lot better at this than I am, for reasons already mentioned. She hardly ever comes back from a run without a few coins. I also consider errant golf and tennis balls to be fair game, unless there is somebody looking for them at that very moment. Sometimes people will even give you things, like a Sunday newspaper. That’s what I got – all five pounds of it – from a street-corner vendor the other day. No, I did not lug it all the way home but it’s the thought that counts, right? I think the strangest item I ever came home with after a run, was a magazine with very few articles. Who knows how it ended up in the muddy ditch on Taylorcrest Road where I spotted it. I suspect it’s the work of a mother who borrowed her son’s car, throwing out a few magazines along the way. Thanks.
You get to use running-related acronyms
Runners use lots of acronyms which are peculiar to running and exercising such as PR, PB, MP, BQ, LSD, DNS, DNF, XT, RICE, ITB, PF, AG, HRM, MHR, WR, OAB, HM, DOMS, ART, SRD and so on. The sooner you get to know these, the better your ability to talk meaningfully to other runners. Of course it won’t help you converse with ‘normal’ people because they don’t talk about things like personal record, personal best, marathon pace, Boston qualifier, long slow distance, did not show/start, did not finish, cross-training, rest/ice/compress/elevate and so on down the list. Normal people just talk about football, family, food, kids, dogs and stuff. Too bad.
You find out about useful products
When you first start running, you might think it is a fairly simple activity for which you need running shoes, socks of some kind (or not), a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, maybe something to keep you warm on a cold day. You would be wrong. As we all know, there is a lot more to it. For one thing, there is a bewildering and constantly changing variety of running shoes. And we’re not talking about the color. You have to pick from motion control, stability or cushioned shoes, depending on whether you have a low or high arch, flat or neutral feet and whether you are a supinator or a pronator. Supinate? Pronate? Can’t we just run? Stick around for a while and you’ll discover special trail running shoes, racing flats and – lately – running shoes that look like gloves for the feet. What?
That is just the start. How many serious runners do you know who run without some kind of electronic timing device? We want to know how fast we are running, the total elapsed distance, average pace per mile, our heart rate, calories consumed and how close we are to the nearest coffee shop. Of course we want to know all of this instantaneously. And be able to download all the information to yet another electronic device to waste even more time poring over the data later. On yesterday’s run I gained a total of 327 feet in elevation. Wow.
Seasoned runners (that would be runners that have experienced several significant running injuries) discover a whole world of paraphernalia to help them prevent, manage or recover from injuries. Don’t know about the Strassburg sock? Ask around. It is a night splint for the treatment of plantar fasciitis. Suffering from anything else? Don’t worry, there is a product out there just for you. Knee braces & sleeves, ankle wraps, Achilles tendon wraps, foam rollers, ‘the Stick’, nipguards, Body Glide, compression sleeves, blister patches, shoe inserts and dozens more. We haven’t even mentioned hydration equipment, sunglasses, caps and visors, gels, bars and supplements. Get out the credit card and let’s go running!
You look forward to getting older
Once they reach about 24 or so, most non-runners don’t like to get older. You don’t look so good, some of us lose a lot of hair and it gets awkward when people don’t recognize you at a reunion, or vice versa. Or some kid at the movie theater box office gratuitously offers you the ‘senior’ discount. Thanks. For most people, big milestones birthdays like 40 and 50 are dreaded as much as they are celebrated. That does not apply to runners, particularly the ones who enter a lot of races. They can hardly to wait to turn 40, 45, heck even 60 and 65! Why? Because it gets them into a new age group, duh! Suddenly they are competitive again, maybe even eking out an occasional age group win or place. As the years go by, injuries take their toll and many runners become bikers and then walkers and then - whatever. So keep at it and by the time you are in your 60’s and 70’s, the competition won’t be nearly as tough. By then, you might need shoe inserts, a few splints and braces, and you may already have had a knee scoped or undergone some other orthopedic procedure just to make it to the next age group. New or newly competitive runner? You’ve got a lot to look forward to!