Let’s be clear. I hate running; I think it’s daft as hell. It looks stupid and feels like death. I’ve also always had an inkling that its health benefits have been grossly overstated. You ache for the most part, you want to stop the moment you start, and once you’re done, your only reward is asthmatic heaving a la beached whale. Or is that just me?
Still, I’m part of a running club that meets all over Singapore every Saturday night to run anywhere between 6 to 8km. I’ve been at it for some months now.
Why do I do it, you ask? I don’t know either, but in an effort to find out, I had to do some soul-searching. Unfortunately, when you’re conducting research on running, the best way to gather evidence is to do more running. And so, to explore the recesses of my subconscious, I begrudgingly laced up my Nike’s and hit the tarmac, my stomach swelling with anxiety before my first stride.
Could health be the reason I was ambling around like a fool? I recalled a study I read recently that found running any amount in a week, drastically reduces your chances of getting all types of cancer and heart disease.
I’d be lying (or extremely edgy) if I told you I wasn't afraid of death. Although I don’t spend every waking moment looking for the reaper over my shoulder, I do give it a considerable amount of thought. The fear of a life cut short before I’ve reached my prime is up there with some of my biggest fears, between air travel and dirty door knobs. But if it was the fear of death that was inspiring me to run, then why didn’t I, instead, start with breaking bad habits that are detrimental to my health? Why voluntarily torture myself for 45 minutes, when an easier fix is simply putting down the bottle and picking up a nicotine patch? That couldn’t be it.
Next, I turned to history books. Running has been an inherent part of the human condition for millennia. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, when we were pack hunters that hadn’t even learnt the use of tools, we stuck together, and we ran. We chased down megafauna twice our size, tearing them apart with our bare hands. There was nothing more metal than the Homo Erectus at dinner time.
I share next to none of their sentiment. Although, admittedly, tearing apart a sabretooth sounds better than doing the dishes.
Living in the 21st century affords certain luxuries that I wholeheartedly indulge in. It means I don’t have to chase antelope over hills for days on end to get a meal. Hell, I don’t even have to get out of my chair. A couple of finger tut routines and I’ve got a cheeky Maccas a 20-minute wait away. So why do I do it? Why do I leave the comfort of a pristine room, with meticulously controlled temperature, to go slogging around in the summer heat?
I ran another 5k outside of my weekly routine in the hopes of coming to a conclusion, only to draw a blank. Out of breath and empty-handed, I met some friends at a pub, in an attempt to vent my frustrations and get another perspective. I was greeted with roars of reasons, ranging from the logical to the absurd. One of my cohorts admitted to picking up the sport because he wanted to get in shape before meeting his girlfriend's parents for the first time — logical. Another, said he did it for the runners high you get after an hour of constant exercise — absurd.
The conversation then erupted into a flurry of whys and wherefores, and like Frodo from The Fellowship of the Ring, who saw the corruption of Man in its concave reflection, I saw another possible reason why I run. Definitely not as profound as recognising the crookedness of mankind, but arguably as satisfying.
Perhaps it was friendship? Here we were the lot of us, the same friends I go running with every weekend, without fail. Most of these people I’ve known since secondary school, some longer still. Was it Stockholm syndrome or some convoluted sense of belonging that was the driving force of my running? I’ve seen any one of these people at least once every alternate day, so you would think I'd be dog dead tired of seeing their ugly mugs, day in, day out. Surprisingly, I can’t get enough of them.
But, at the same time, I have no interest in meeting new people. When I run, I run alone. At my running club, everyone’s either a lot faster or a lot slower than I am, which means if I run with people, I’m either immediately out of breath or trudging through the muck like a sick soldier. Don’t even get me started on people who want to have conversations while running. Not only is it nearly impossible to hold a conversation between gulps of imperative life-giving oxygen, these anarchic conversationalists are incidentally the same type of people who build up your trust with talk, banter, and a shared tough experience, only to leave you in their dust at the last kilometre. No sir, thank you very much, I’ve had my heart broken one too many times.
So why do I run? The conclusion I’ve arrived at is this: I run because it’s something to do.
To illustrate this, one Thursday evening, for no reason at all and with next to no prior training, I accepted an offer from a friend to do a half marathon after work. Against all odds, I managed to finish, in a semi-respectable time no less. It was all “for the bants,” as that same friend described it. The truth is, there are a million reasons to get out of your house to run. But there is no good reason why you shouldn't.