Part of what keeps me coming back to running year after year as I get older lies in the sport’s versatility. I can run hard sprints, as though I were a child, or I can plod along leisurely, running long distances that a younger me would never be capable of understanding. I remember a time in my life when, when I’d say to others that I run long distances for fun, they’d quip with some smart commentary like “from what? Or from whom?!”
These people, obviously, don’t know the beauty and magic, or the challenge and frustrations, that all come hand-in-hand with long distance running.
Fortunately, long distance running appears to be going through a popularity surge right now. It seems that more people than ever are signing up for races, for anything from 5ks all the way through ultramarathons, and the secret must be getting out that long distance running is not only enjoyable but also a great way to get — and stay — in shape.
Below, I’ll talk in further detail about some of the many benefits of long distance running. There are tons more that I simply don’t have the space to include here, so I’d love to hear your perspective!
The benefits of long distance running include, but aren’t limited to, the following:
Long distance running builds enormous cardiovascular health
Running is really good for your heart, since it’s a cardiovascular activity. You can get your heart rate up by running hard and fast, or you can keep it on the lower end by running at a steady, more comfortable clip. Medical professionals agree that including cardio-focused activities in your regular exercise routine can help with your overall health and wellness, and long distance running can be an excellent avenue for that.
Training for a long distance running event can be great for your mental health
It’s odd, but even though we are so super-connected these days, many people report feeling more depressed and isolated than ever. It can be really tough to meet people outside of the workplace, too, which may exacerbate feelings of depression or isolation. When you’re training for a long distance running event like a half marathon or a marathon, you may have the opportunity to hook up with local running groups, which becomes an excellent way to meet other people who are similarly like-minded as you. Plus, it’ll make those super long runs even more fun than usual, and you’ll have something to look forward to each week/weekend, which can also be a great boon for your mental health.
Long distance running can be really therapeutic.
Many long distance runners love “running long” because they say it helps them work through their problems or make sense of the world. Many runners find long runs to be really therapeutic, even, particularly if they’re working through challenging situations in their home life or work life. While long distance running isn’t a replacement for traditional mental health therapies, you may find the repetitive nature to be a bit cathartic if you have a lot of stress and chaos surrounding you on a daily basis.
Long distance running allows you to experience nature more fully.
Long distance running can literally take you places, and this is especially true if you’re a long distance trail runner. There are tons of places in nature that are accessible only by foot — no cars, ATVs, or bikes allowed — and if you run long distances regularly, you’ll be lucky to be able to get yourself there and back powered by your own body. The most beautiful sunrises and sunsets can be seen from mountaintops and hillsides the world over, and more often than not, these spectacles are closed to motorized traffic. If you’re a long distance runner, the world really becomes your oyster. You’ll never again feel bounded to society.
Long distance running can be advantageous for the creative types.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that many acclaimed writers and other “creative types” have written and/or talked about how they use running as part of their creative processes. Many famous writers of yore (and today) have written before that when they’ve gotten stumped on a particular piece of their prose, they’ll go for a run until they have figured it out, and for some, they’ll even say that they’ve thought of even more (or better) ideas on the run to include in their writing. If you’re a creative type, like an artist, a writer, or a filmmaker, you may find a lot of benefit in unplugging from the rigor of daily life and going for a run for a while. Simply “silencing” the proverbial noise that surrounds us all day (and all night!) long can be really helpful for all of us, “creative type” or not.
Long distance running can grow with you.
Finally, perhaps one of the biggest benefits of long distance running is that it’s a sport that can grow with you. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow you are; if you are in shape or not; or whether you’ll continue to sign up for races or if your racing days are over. With long distance running, the sky’s the limit. You can run 5 kilometer races, 100 kilometer races, 100 mile races, none of the above, all of the above, or something else entirely. Once you’re a runner, you’re a runner for life. You can adapt running to your current life situation, so if you’re itching to run long distances as fast as you can and race your way to the top of your game, you can! Conversely, if you just enjoy the pleasure that you get from running for a few hours each week, without much concern for your pace, you can do that, too. Part of long distance running’s beauty lies in its scalability. It can meet you where you are, at any stage of life, and you can still benefit immensely from it, both physically and psychologically.
Long distance running has helped shape the course of my life, particularly over the past decade, and I’m so glad that I jumped headfirst into this sport that I knew relatively little about. It’s through this activity that I’ve found some of my dearest friends, whom I treat like second family, and it’s through this sport that I’ve learned how I can challenge myself day in and day out to be not only a better athlete or runner but also a better human being. It gives me concerted blocks of time each day to reflect, react, and anticipate, and it’s time that I protect with my all.
Long distance running changed my life for the better, and I think any long distance runner will tell you the same, too.
Give it a try, and see what happens.
AUTHOR’S BIO: JANE GRATES
A cyclist, sporty and travel geek. Performing at the fulcrum of beauty and purity to develop solutions that inform and persuade.