My journey to loving running was a tortuous one. It began at my small high school in Portland, Oregon, where the cross-country coach, often too short on athletes to field a competitive team, would poach members of the soccer team for important races. During my junior year, I was one of those reluctant recruits, and over the course of a half-dozen races I learned two lessons. The first was that I was reasonably fast but would never be a podium threat. The second? That running sucks.
I realize that statement doesn’t exactly square with the headline of this essay, but bear with me. After 25 years of lacing up my foam-cushioned shoes and heading out the door nearly every morning, I think I’ve collected a decent amount of wisdom about the sport, the most important of which is that you can’t skip over the part of running that sucks. You can learn to move through the discomfort of pushing yourself physically and the boredom of traveling the same neighborhood route for the 50th time, but on some level, on most days, there are long stretches during which even a slow jog can feel more like work than play. This is especially true when you’re just starting out, and it’s why a lot of people give up—or never fully commit in the first place. Who wants to subject themselves to that kind of suffering?
It’s a fair question, but with an undeniable answer: A lot of us. There are 55.9 million runners in the U.S. alone, according to market-data firm Statista. You see us on the streets every morning during your commute, and you should definitely join us. Ask a hundred runners why they’re out there and you’ll get close to a hundred different reasons. Motivation is a very personal thing. But there are a few common themes that keep people in the game, despite the suckitude.
Running is the key to unlocking a life of adventure. The fitness base it builds translates to nearly every outdoor sport, from hiking to climbing to surfing. If you can run, almost everything else is easier.
Running has essentially no barriers to entry. There isn’t any expensive gear required. You can run in a cheap pair of Chuck Taylors and jorts. Or go barefoot if you like. No one in the running community cares if you’re wearing a simple cotton T-shirt or a $ 95 moisture-wicking performance top.
Even if you think you’re not a runner, you are. Maybe it’s been years, but you almost certainly know how to run. If you’re looking to start out, just run 100 yards down your block. Slowly. If that’s when it begins to suck, that’s OK. Walk for the rest of your “run.” Tomorrow try 150 yards. Congratulations—you’re now a runner. You don’t have to bag a marathon to call yourself that.
A good soul-cleansing run is accessible anywhere, at any time. Your running shoes won’t get a flat tire. Your daily run doesn’t depend on fresh snow or good surf. You can run when it’s zero degrees and when it’s 100 degrees. And you can set out from any front door—whether that’s your house or the hotel you’re staying at in Midtown Manhattan.
Those are the practical reasons to take up running. But here’s the truth: most of us, including me, learned to love running because it’s a drug. The so-called runner’s high—a shot of endocannabinoids that kicks in after 30 minutes or so—is real. It’s also free and healthy for everyone. String together a few runs and you’ll probably feel it. String together a few weeks’ worth and it will start to alter your brain chemistry. I know this because on the days I run, I have less anxiety, think through problems clearly, and remain unflappably optimistic. On the days I don’t run? Best to keep your distance. That’s what really motivates me to run every day, and why I think everyone else should, too. It’s why I can tell you that while there are things about running that will always suck, they don't really matter—that pushing through the suffering to achieve a goal, whether two miles or 26.2, is worth it. Because running will change your life.