“The real purpose of running is not to win a race; it’s to test the limits of the human heart.” This is how American track and field and co-founder of Nike, Bill Bowerman, described why we run.
What an outstanding description of a sport that sees over 16 million Americans doing at least three times a week! Running is the fastest growing sport over the last decade with an increase of 300% in participation noted since 1990 in the US alone. Within this statistic we see the greatest increase in female runners where 25% of all runners were females in 1990, compared to 57% being recorded as female runners in 2013.
But what is behind this phenomenon? Why are people, and females in particular, falling in love with a sport that historically has been hated.
Why? Because running is an addiction, often a love/hate addiction, but a highly empowering and freeing addiction. We often hear people describe how they “caught the running bug” and that’s exactly what they are talking about. Once you find running, it becomes your stress reliever, your fitness regime, your “me time”, your obsession and your passion. This is why runners call themselves “runners.” They see themselves defined by their sport, unlike most other sportspeople who play a sport, we (runners) are our sport.
Having said this though, most runners fall into running, they don’t necessarily choose running as their main sport. I don’t think young athletes look at professional middle distance runners with dreams of aspiration, when compared to premiership footballers, swimmers or tennis players. So it is often by chance that most middle distance runners find themselves addicted to running, myself included.
I was always an active child running around, and growing up with 5 older brothers made sure I was able to run (away) fast. I started playing Irish sports in school, as most Irish children do, but not loving any particular one. This saw me embark on high school with no involvement in any organised sport which a teenage girl is probably the worst position to be in. So many changes are going on inside a teenage girl in terms of emotional and physical changes that I needed an active outlet. So at the age of 15 I simply fell into running because two girlfriends were keen to run for fitness. We then campaigned to our school to allow to employ an athletics coach and the rest is history. My love for running just grew and grew the more I ran, it wasn’t planned nor was it an aspiration of mine, but now I could not imagine my life without running.
As my love for the sport grew, as did my running success. Racing and competing became my drug. Even to this day, the adrenaline rush and natural serotonin high that I get from racing is like nothing else. It is this high that is addictive and makes me want to run again and again, even sometimes foolishly through pain. This is why running is such a rapidly growing sport, this natural high and sense of empowerment, freedom and adventure is hard to find elsewhere. You are in control of it, you can run as fast, as slow, as hard or as long as you want. It is just you, your thoughts and the road.
As they say, success begets success, and this is very applicable to running. Once you race or compete for the first time you then strive to beat your personal best time/placing and this is never ending. That’s what I believe Bill Bowerman meant when he described the purpose of running as testing the limits of the human heart. Testing yourself time and time again, and seeing how far you can push your body’s limits. Pushing yourself to be the best version of yourself, the best runner within yourself.
To those non-runners that I chat to I always say don’t knock it until you try it. That natural high I get from running, just me, the wind and the road, is a sensation that words don’t do justice to describe, you have to feel it. Experience it first hand and see if you can resist doing again and again, because I know that for this reason I will keep running for as long as my legs can carry me!
Happy running everyone!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Máire Nic Amhlaoibh
Máire began her career as an athletic therapist and trainer. Whilst in university she completed courses in trigger point release, kinesio® taping, massage, muscle energy technique and myofascial release to name but a few.
If you're suffering from sporting injuries our superstar runner Maire is also an outstanding physio at the UFIT Clinic.