What is the point of running?

Many non-runners struggle to see the point of running. Despite the well-known benefits of running surely there needs to be something more to get runners out of bed, off the couch, and maybe out into the rain to go running. The desire to go running is inexplicable to many people, and pretty pointless to most of the rest. For runners to get the best from their sport for them the point of running is whatever motivates them.

Do runners need ambition?

Runners who enjoy racing do need some ambition to help them get started and keep going when times get tough. For them, the point of running is to achieve their ambition. Having an ambition isn’t the same as following a training plan. When designing a training plan each component must be both measurable and achievable, but that’s not the same for ambition. An essential feature of a training plan is that it must have a series of defined ingredients, each of which must be within the scope of the athlete. There would be no point to guarantee failure by setting a target of a series of repetitions, each of which was faster than the runner’s personal best. But that reality check is not the same for ambitions. I recently came across a plan I had drawn up when I was about 15 to break the world record for 5,000m before I was 25. Needless to say, I failed …

I fell behind my schedule within a year and now know it would have been totally impossible for me to hit my adolescent target. Was I discouraged? Not really, and even at the time I probably never really believe it was achievable for me. Even so, setting an impossible goal didn’t do me any harm. I trained harder and won more races than I would have done without my teenage dream. Dreaming your own dreams can set you up to succeed. The risk is that if you try to follow targets set by other people you could set yourself up to fail. The skill of the top coaches is to match the ambitions of their charges to what they can achieve.

Running doesn’t need to mean racing

Ambition is a driving force for runners who live to race, whether over 60 metres or 60 miles. But what is the point for runners who run for any other reason? Even the weekend jogger needs to have a purpose in mind. The target could be just to get round the park without stopping, which for some might well be a notable achievement. Without a framework to set your running in context, how will you know where to run next? Or how far or fast? Or how many pounds you have shed?

Because running can exist for itself, with no rules or competition, it is easy to start running by yourself, without any special clothing, equipment or even shoes. For many that is one of its joys. After achieving a minimal level of fitness, the runner is in total control of route, pace and distance. However, unless you have some purpose in mind, ultimately running can be as boring as just kicking a ball around aimlessly. As runners we all need to know what the point of running is for each of us as individuals.


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