Why I started running as a 14-year-old and never stopped. Two things running has taught me I am forever thankful for.
Why I started running as a 14-year-old and never stopped. Two things running has taught me I am forever thankful for.I would like to take you way back to the start of my running journey. Instead of offering you a beginner's guide, I want to share what kept me running. Maybe it’s useful for you or someone you know. I continue to learn and grow as a human through running. There are, though, two things I did not expect running would give me, and they keep me going.
First, I want to acknowledge though:
Running is a damn hard sport. And at the same time it’s so easy, all of us if we can walk, we can run. And it’s exactly that which makes it so hard and confronting. It’s just you. There isn’t much technique or equipment that will help. Yes, comfortable and quality shoes are a must, but they won’t make running much easier. They could be golden or the lightest ever, but it won’t make it magically easier. You still have to put in the work. You can’t just float like in water, or enjoy the downhill rush on the comfort of your saddle when biking. There is never a break when you run and that makes it so hard. It’s willpower and an unconscious decision to move forward, over and over again.
20 years ago
I started running 20 years ago and it has become so dear to me. I run often and long and have done quite a few marathons and ultramarathons. I do so because I love running and what it has offered me. The space to be, breathe, and move just with myself. The space to reconnect. Space to reflect, space to dream and to relax. Space to be outdoors and to be so immersed in the moment I forget I am running. Maybe that’s what they call the runners high, I call it ‘the flow state’.
When I was 14, everyone in my class had to run 3 times a week. We were training to get fit enough to cross the Alps by foot. I never crossed the Alps (that’s a different story), but I learned to run, and literally never stopped. This is not the story of love at first sight. Not at all. At 14, I just started smoking. Everyone did. This makes running even harder. Smoking and running are like trying to run backward. I started with a 2-minute run, 1-minute walk. It was hard. We had to, and there was no choice. I remember how heavy it felt to be so out of breath. It was the beginning of summer and it was hot. We always trained in the afternoon and ran laps on the track. No shade. Ever.
At the end of 3 months training and running in preparation for our alps crossing, every one of us was able to run 45 minutes in one go. It felt like such an achievement. It was still hard. I still felt hot and sweaty and out of breath, but I had put so much work into it that I did not want to let it go. So I decided to continue running on my own. I had no gear and started to run in an old pair of trainers I had been given by my grandma. I had no watch, no apps, no phone to take along. I took a regular watch to keep an eye on time and just headed out. I simply ran. I did that for the next ten years.
Two major motivators that kept me going
Being a 14-year-old teenager, I went through my share of struggling with my body. Counting calories and obsessing over my body and food just started to become important. Running felt like a new discovery to control my body. I know I am not alone in this and only when I was 26 — 12 years into running — I dared to train in shorts. So one of the major motivators in the beginning was to burn calories and to control my body. 12 years of running in long tights throughout summer, as I was too body-conscious. It sounds insane to even write it down. What changed at 26? I started to train for my first marathon and gained a real appreciation for my body. Ever since, I love my thighs. Without them, I could not do what I love: running. Running long, forever, whenever and wherever I like. My legs are awesome and give me so much freedom.
The second reason is maybe more unusual. I discovered quite quickly that running, this simple forward motion in connection with deep breaths, is incredibly relaxing. I have always been an angry child with a destructive level of anger that would overcome me like a dark cloud. I remember feeling the cloud and darkness of an anger tantrum overcoming me as quickly as the arrival of a tropical storm. And I would always be in such pain over what my anger had caused. I knew that I did not want to be like this. I did not want it to be so uncontrolled. But as a child, all I had was the wish to change, but no tools to do so. I remember looking for them and even actively asking for it. But what can you advise a 5-year-old that wants anger management tips? Running was one of the keys to a life where I can manage and channel my anger. It has become my fuel and life energy. I am still called ‘firecracker’ and surely seen as ‘energetic’, ‘impatient’ and a woman with a ‘high energy level’… but not aggressive or angry. As a teenager, I would come home from school and my mum wanted to know how my day was. I would tell her ‘I’ll first head out for a run, I’ll tell you everything when I am back home.’ After a brief 30 minute run, I felt less tense and explosive. It worked at 14 and still works 20 years later. Running has never let me down and always makes me more relaxed.
Running has taught me to love and appreciate my body for what it is. Strong, courageous, and able to achieve things I hardly dare to dream of. It has given me my very first tools in anger management that helped me in my quest to change.