Photo by Jenny Hill on Unsplash

The Life-Changing Benefits of Long-Distance Running

Challenges produce life.

Luke Beling
Jul 28, 2020 · 5 min read

I’ve loved exercising for most of my life. I’ve never been in terrible shape or physically lazy for too long. From an early age, I experienced the wonder of a serotonin pump after a good work-out, and that feeling kept me on a short leash. Perhaps it’s the reason why I’d never given myself to long-distance running before a few months ago. I figured I could get what I needed in twenty minutes instead of an hour and twenty minutes.

Furthermore, the monotony scared me. Could I keep my body moving for that long? What would my OCD-type brain do with so much time, repeating steps over and over again? A short while ago, a friend of mine asked if I wanted to start running with him once a week. My usual excuses flared up like a chronic injury:

“Well, I’ve got a sore right knee.”

“I need to save my body for my job.”

“I’m not sure if my wife would be okay with me leaving the house for that long.”

She heard the last one, then quickly chimed in, a dream catcher holding nightmares:

“I’m okay with it, Luke. You should start running once a week.”

My friend promised we’d start easy, walk if need be, so I reluctantly agreed.

Benefit #1 Commitment

What I quickly noticed about running when compared to the rest of my exercise habits is that I simply couldn’t be done when I got tired or bored. I could walk, sure, but it didn’t change the fact that the only way back to my car was to complete the mileage I set out to accomplish. The pain of commitment confronted me like a floodlight to a bank robber hiding in the dark.

So many of my life goals begin with the end in mind as though all I need to do to finish them is to start them. But how many of these hold me with no other option but completing my dreamed about intention? Long-distance running is a grueling reminder that commitment is the only way to get back home when things get difficult or tiresome.

Benefit #2 Silence

The last four run’s I’ve completed have been over six miles long. For the seasoned runner, this is paltry child’s play, but for somebody like me who’d never run more than three miles in a single stretch, this is a push to my outer limits.

Lately, during the last two miles, I’ve been turning up the heat, pushing my motor to burn out. What begins with a small increase in pace ends in a sprint to the finish line.

My friend likes to talk when we run, but when everything is hurting and crying out for relief, what I need most is silence. The first few times, out of courtesy, I replied and continued in conversation. But on our last run, I politely replied,

“I need silence!”

There’s an undeniable connection between silence, mindfulness, and being present. We often think the chaos in our lives demands our immediate attention, resources, understanding, and plans to fix what’s wrong or hurting. But the pain of the last mile of an eight-mile slog is a prophet shouting from the rooftops,

“Be silent!”

The silence helps me stay focused on my breathing, watching my steps fall in front of each other, concerned with only one thing, reaching the finish line.

Benefit #3 Proving Myself Wrong

I didn’t honestly believe I couldn’t complete a six-mile run before undertaking my first one. I just thought that I’d be miserable during its entirety. I could burn the same amount of calories playing an enjoyable game of tennis or touch rugby, or catching waves at my favorite surf spot.

My friend likes to push me. He runs eight-minute miles, quite comfortably. When he noticed, after a few runs, I was holding my own, he started prompting some time goals, commenting on each mile’s pace.

After our first long run at around six miles, we’d come in at an eight-minute-twenty pace. I could hardly believe it. It’s not the speed of sound or anything, but here I was just a few weeks ago wondering if I could even finish a six-mile run or walk if need be, let alone achieve it at a decent pace.

Something happens to our worlds when we accomplish feats we formerly believed too painful even to attempt. We believe again. Like a small child, our ceilings become the stars and dreams we’ve long hidden under the losses of the daily grind surface to remind us of what is truly possible.

The new realization I’ve found (that I can successfully run more than five miles) has given me the courage to re-think a list of other pursuits so quickly thrown out the window because I’ve thought of them as being too difficult.

Photo by Hunter Bryant on Unsplash

A Challenge Is an Invitation

It’s remarkably easy to slip away on currents that keep us motionless. We’re only moving because life is continually unfolding, disregarding any notion of slowing down to hold our stride.

A challenge is a demand that will require our belief when our belief is nothing more than a carcass collecting dust. A challenge is life’s way of reminding us that we are destined to get better, stronger, more creative, and thrive despite mounting evidence pinning us to walls of doom.

It has taken me six months to get over the feeling of dread and replace it with excitement when anticipating my Thursday evening runs. It’s not that they’ve become comfortable. Instead, it’s in the hardship, anxiousness, and pain I’m finding an invitation to ascend the mundane and enter into a flurry of life.

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