Special guest blog by Mathew Smith
I stumbled upon an activity last summer that made me very happy.
Pound, pound, pound. My feet slammed against the cement sidewalk with a force they haven’t exerted in decades. I was running, actually running!
I hadn’t felt like this since I was a kid. That feeling of speed and energy. It made me smile, one of those you-can’t-help-but-smile smile, a natural smile from that primitive part of the brain. I felt alive! I felt strong! I felt like giant breaths of air were coming into my lungs and going right to my legs bringing them the energy and oxygen they needed to keep pumping.
I turned another corner and had to lean into it–I was running that fast. I could actually feel the wind whip by my face, and the sidewalk was whizzing by. It was exhilarating.
I got home shining in sweat, legs wobbly, gasping for air…no I was not near death, I was feeling better than I’d felt in years. Who knew jogging could do that?
How did someone like me start running?
I was searching for answers as to why I felt so tired, uninspired, and unmotivated all the time. I happen to run, forgive the pun, across a book titled Running Is My Therapy by Scott Douglas. What caught my interest was that Scott’s stories were so relatable. He was using running as a way to boost his energy, feel motivated in life, and ease his mental ups and downs.
Even though I am not an athlete at all I was drawn to the idea of running. Then the science behind it closed the deal for me. There were actual details, facts, studies on how the brain reacts to running. It turns out running does a whole bunch of great things for the brain, your mood, and your energy level. Some scientists claim it is better than any antidepressant.
It is a well-known fact that exercise is great for the body. Running is one of those great ‘cardio’ gems. It gets blood flowing, really flowing for the half-hour or hour you run. But, as an added bonus your body keeps burning calories and moving blood around for hours afterward. This is especially good for the brain.
There is also something special about running compared to other cardio exercises like biking. It seems to harken back to our early years living on the savannah, hunting over long distances to stay alive. Our ancient ancestors were designed to be able to run long distances and those who could survived and past on their running genes.
Studies have found that something happens to the brain when you run, that it almost disconnects with your body, to be able to deal with the pain and strain your muscles endure. Sounds bad, but, it turns out this is a great thing. You get a big dose of endorphins, which make you feel great, and the break from mind and body clears your head. It’s almost like your brain goes on autopilot as all the energy you have goes into running. Your brain takes a breather. Which is great if you are someone who is anxious, dwells on problems, or just has a brain that feels like it won’t stop.
Then there are the social aspects. I found a running club in town that met two times a week. It was organized by The Running Room store and they touted it as inclusive to everyone. Hmm, I was a bit skeptical. I was picturing twenty gazelle type runners wearing those bright one-piece spandex suits and mirrored sunglasses talking about marathons and half-marathons. I called the store and asked about the running club–was it actually free? As a first time runner would I be okay?
I was told it was free (yippee). I was told there were plenty of first-timers, even non-runners (walkers they are called), and there would be a group I would fit into. I guess I was going to find out on Sunday morning if this was the crowd for me.
Saturday night, 2 am, I found myself driving home a couple of guys I had went out with that night. They were pretty drunk and planning on sleep their hangovers off in the morning, while I knew I had to get up early and make my way back downtown to go running. When the alarm clock went off five hours later I was feeling good.
As I drove to Running Club I recalled the previous night, having a beer with the guys talking about life. They had complained about their jobs and the struggles to make ends meet. They rehashed old memories, their glory days of years past (decades past in most cases). They didn’t mention any future plans, goals, or anything like that. To them, it was like life was something to endure.
The exact opposite atmosphere almost smothers me as I walk in the door of the Running Room. Even though it is eight am on a Sunday morning the room is buzzing with energy. Positive energy. There are half a dozen older ladies huddled by the door in their sweatpants and bright white running shoes. They are gabbing and laughing and saying, ‘good morning’ to all that enter. I’m instantly feeling better. Yes, there are a few one-piece spandex suited gazelles in the room, but, for the most part the crowd is middle-aged non-athletic looking people.
I actually spot a guy I know from my job. I’m kind of surprised to see him because he doesn’t strike me as a ‘runner’. I have only seen him in a chef uniform as he teaches in the culinary arts program at the college. He says, ‘Hi, are you part of the running club?”. I tell him this is my first time. He says this is his first time at this running club. He is with a friend and looking to do the ten-kilometre run. Then he is meeting someone about a second job because the summer is quiet for him and he hates to be bored. Multiple jobs and ten km runs, um, overachiever club?! This makes me worry. Is everyone here like this? Am I going to fit in?
I join a group and go for a run and soon realize something funny happens when you run with people. Your mind starts to relax and you feel more open. It may be that you are not face to face with someone, so it makes it easier to talk, or it could be that you feel good and just want to chat? So, I chat. I found it interesting to hear tidbits of the other runner’s lives because the crowd was so diverse. A mixed bag of people; a computer guy, a student/waitress, a teacher, a chemical engineer, a retired couple.
Our leader that day, Chris, is working on a Master’s degree in poetry. A poet who runs?! I was quickly learning that runners are not the typical athletic type. They come in all shapes and sizes. I might actually fit in here. It’s easy to talk to these people and I quickly feel part of the group. There was so much positive chatter about the future; everything from running goals to life goals. These were happy, motivated people. This was a great atmosphere for sparking happiness.
So what we have is an activity that has scientifically proved health benefits, an uplifting crowd of followers, little cost, and is for everyone under the sun? Who can say no to that? Your #HappyAct this week is to take a step, or many, towards those happy feelings that come with a jog.
Mathew Smith | You can meet up with Mathew every Sunday morning at 8am at the Running Room on Princess St. once the Covid-19 restrictions allow the Running Club to start up again.