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I used to run every day as part of my job in the military. And every month, I was tested on how fast I could run two miles. So every morning, I went for a jog.
I hated it.
I was slow. It was hard. Often it was cold outside. Cold air burned my nose.
Every time I had a fitness test, I dreaded it. The thought of running two miles was disgusting, and I knew my score wouldn’t be good enough.
In training, I had heard others talk about the “runners’ high”, but I was sure it was bullshit. There was no way that it was possible to get so lost in running that a person could feel any kind of joy.
Fast forward to 2021. I started running again at 33 after a spinal injury, a new ankle, and being out of the army for 8 years.
I’m not really sure why I started. I guess I wanted to get out of the house and get moving and maybe strengthen my knees and lose a few pounds. When I first started, I couldn’t even run an eighth of a mile. I didn’t have any time or distance goals. I just went outside and jogged.
Two months later, two miles was practically easy.
And I’d found the runners high.
So why did six years of army running not get me to the high, but two months of civilian running did the trick?
When I was in the army, I thought that running required speed. (It doesn’t.) I thought that real runners had to do longer distances. (They don’t.) I used to always tell myself, “you should run faster”, “you should be run farther”, “you should be able to feel that runners’ high”…
I recently learned that “should” is a judgement on the self. And by comparing myself and judging myself to be less than those “good” runners, I was ruining my chances of success.
At 33, I finally realised that comparison truly is the thief of joy. With that, I learned that I can run as slow and as short as I want. Now, when I’m just casually jogging along, I often find myself relaxed, my mind wandering. I feel like I could do this forever. Yes I’m cold, my knees hurt, and the wind burns my nose. But it doesn’t matter. All that is hidden behind the joy of a loosened jaw, relaxed shoulders, and the rhythmic impact of my feet on the ground.
So despite having been running since 2008, only since 2021 do I call myself a runner.
And sometimes when I’m only running a really slow mile on my lunch break, I still have those thoughts: I should run faster, I should try to beat my record, I should go longer distances…
But the only should that matters is “I should do whatever the hell I want”.
And that’s when I start riding that high.