The one question that does not annoy me, even when it is incessant, is that why I run?! In fact, whenever this question is asked I might even be beaming with pride and joy. In a relatively short while running has come to define my personality. Not only in the sense that people identify me with it but that several traits in me are now adjoined with running.
This post is to trace the actual origin story of why I run or as some of you see it why I hurt myself!
The short answer is self discipline.
I had started running on a relatively regular basis during masters in Sweden. But this was the effortful, unenjoyable, peer pressured but ultimately utilitarian running. That which most new runners or non-runners end up feeling and imagine it to be. And I vividly remember how I felt then and try to be more considerate when running with newcomers now.
So what changed?
I started my PhD.
After moving to Copenhagen for my PhD in 2015, I was grappling with an entirely new research domain. It was hard. And I was trying to learn (a lot of new concepts) and conduct research that had to be productive under a well defined duration of time. I had to sharpen my skills of time management and focus. In attempting to inculcate new learning habits, I ended up taking MOOC courses like Learning to Learn, which I recommend.
And during this course, the idea of diffused mode of learning that happens at the back of your head when engaged in other activities, accelerated during physical activities, was reintroduced ( I had heard about this previously). I embraced it. And this time I believed in it.
Neither diffused mode of learning or running for fun worked. At first.
Irrespective of what the incentive is, it is hard to get into running and reach a stage where one can enjoy it. I was not enjoying the entire first year of running.
It is during these unexciting times, the newfound peer pressure helped. My research group had a thriving running group and was better to run with friends who keep you motivated. And it helped me get out on my (running) feet.
After a stint of stay in The Netherlands, where I had a new routine I ended up running with devotion and made a habit of it. I’ve written about this in another post.
Even then, I wasn’t running for fun. It was an exercise of self discipline. It took effort to commit and run 5km, 2-3 times a week, throughout the year. But making it a habit helped. And this self discipline seeped into rest of my routine. At one point my PhD advisor even noticed this, saying that after I had started running regularly, my project was making progress. At the least, in my head it had made me calmer and better focused.
What then about the diffused mode of thinking?
I have few anecdotal evidences, wherein I have solved a small research task and debugged my code, while running. But I wouldn’t cite these as the primary motivating factors.
By the time I was finishing my PhD, I was running longer and regularly. At this stage, I was running, not for any of the aforesaid reasons specifically but a new aspect had emerged: I was challenging myself. It does get mundane to be running the same one or two routes or the same distance every time! This has since led me to run short trails, and now longer on a regular basis.
And yes, by now it has also gotten to be fun! It is hard but fun in a unique way. The sense of accomplishment at the end of each run or after a new challenge is a precious reward. And these rewards can keep you going when there are otherwise problems and/or hindrances at work and/or on personal front.
This brings me to my current connection with running: it has also gained a spiritual status; in the sense, it can, and has lifted me up when the going has been tough. On a daily basis, to have something beyond one’s work to be content and feel proud of can improve the general well being. I’m fully aware this might simply be placebo effect. On the other hand, by being a believer in this regard I have gained immense benefits ( both physically and mentally).
In the end, if you ask me why I run now?! The short answer is that it makes me happy!