12 Mind-Blowing Things Nobody Told You About Running
Run; you will love it, they said. You will gain energy and lose weight, they told you. All you need is running shoes and motivation, they declared. If your friends or family members are runners, you have likely heard these lines. While running is a great way to lose weight, gain energy, and have fun there are definitely a few things that runners learn the hard way. Listed here are 12 things no one told you before you took up running.
1. Running is an expensive sport.
In theory, running is an inexpensive sport. There is no special equipment to purchase (besides running shoes) and you don’t need a fancy gym membership in order to participate. What many people fail to mention is that race entry fees will set you back anywhere from $25 – $200, comfortable running clothes aren’t cheap, and the running shoes themselves often cost more than $100 a pair.
In order to stay healthy, you will need to participate in recovery activities such as foam rolling, yoga, and regular massage. Compression gear isn’t cheap, either. In fact, according to Runner’s World, a runner might spend anywhere from $14,000 – $213,000 over a lifetime of running!
2. Runners don’t always lose weight.
Some runners decide to train for a marathon as a way to lose weight. However, many athletes find they gain weight instead. What gives? First of all, running is stressful on the body which can cause acute and chronic inflammation1. A runner may gain 2 – 10 lbs of water weight alone, especially when not mindful about taking rest days. Second, runners often overestimate the calorie burn from their workout and take hunger cues as an excuse to make poor nutrition choices. In reality, one mile of running burns approximately 80 – 120 calories (depending on the runner’s weight and efficiency). While an athlete should be conscious to refuel, he or she should do so with wholesome food sources.
3. Running will make you face personal demons.
Running will challenge you in new ways. There will be days that bring you to tears, and other days in which you have to work through mental barriers. These situations may bring up past experiences when you felt a similar way. The mental side of running5 can be a dark and scary headspace, but conquering these demons will result in a stronger, more powerful, confident you.
4. Micronutrient levels can control how you feel about running.
Running can be hard on the body, and if you are not already eating a diet that is nutrient-dense you may deplete your stores of iron, vitamin B12, magnesium, zinc, and vitamin D, among other necessary nutrients. When this occurs you can experience feelings of depression, loss of motivation, and general fatigue – particularly when it comes to an energy-intensive activity such as running. If possible, have a blood test performed every 6 months in order to keep tabs on your nutrient levels, and always be mindful to eat foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants4.
5. Being unable to run might cause depression
No matter how much you sometimes dread going for a run, you will never be prepared for having someone tell you that you can’t run. Whether you become injured, mentally fatigued, or ill, having the option to run taken away can be devastating. Much of this has to do with our brain chemistry. Running stimulates cannabinoid receptors in our brains2, and we can literally become addicted to running. Feelings of withdrawal can result in mood swings, anxiety, and feelings of depression, particularly when a runner is laid up for long periods of time.
6. Running might make you become superstitious
If you enjoy racing, you might develop some weird habits. Did you eat a certain meal before your most recent PR? Expect to eat that same exact meal the night before every race, and have serious anxiety if you are unable to replicate the food exactly. From a special pair of underwear to a specific type of hair ribbon, runners develop strange rituals and superstitions when it comes to their performance.
7. Running doesn’t get easier, but you become faster
There is a misconception that running for an elite is easier than for a beginner. Sure, it might take less effort for an elite runner to complete 10 miles from a metabolic perspective, but both athletes are putting forth the same effort during a race. Why? Running at maximum effort never becomes easier. The only difference is that you become faster and learn to better handle mental and physical discomfort.
8. Running will make you reconsider your relationship with food
Many people have a complicated relationship with food. However you view your diet, running will help you realize the importance that fueling plays in the life of an athlete. You will realize that your body is a machine, and in order for it to function properly you must provide it with the proper ratio of carbohydrates, protein, and fat3. While you may initially run to eat, you will quickly learn it is better to eat to run.
9. You will plan your social calendar around running
If you have a race on the schedule you will find yourself turning down invitations to parties and happy hours. Friday and Saturday nights will no longer be nights spent partying and instead you will focus on rest and recovery for races and long runs. Vacations will be planned around your running schedule, and you might even plan important life events – like your wedding – based on when it fits best into your rest period.
10. You may discover uncomfortable truths about yourself
While you are building your endurance and becoming a healthier and more confident version of yourself, you might discover uncomfortable truths along the way. Perhaps you aren’t as dedicated, motivated, or mentally tough as you had assumed. You might find that success – and the hard work involved – is intimidating. You might even realize that you are unhappy with other aspects of your life. Running will force you to face these issues head on; sometimes in an uncomfortable, but ultimately rewarding, manner.
11. You will chafe
Whether you are overweight, underweight, or the perfect weight, you will experience chafing at some point in your running career. After this first experience you will never leave the house without Vaseline or body glide again. The areas most likely to chafe include thighs, armpits, and nipples.
12. You will learn discomfort is controlled by your brain, not your body
Finally, you will become well acquainted with both mental and physical discomfort. During this process you will learn that physical discomfort is controlled by your brain. The secret to running fast and breaking through “the wall” isn’t becoming more fit, but learning how to control the voice inside your head that says, “slow down, you’re tired.” By controlling your breathing rate and working on your mental game you can learn to better handle discomfort and overcome fatigue, even during the later stages of a long run or ultramarathon.
Ultimately, even though no one told you these things about running, would they have changed your mind about wanting to become a runner? Many of the lessons you learn are ones based on unique experiences and are perhaps best left to learning on the fly.
1. Beavers, K. M., Brinkley, T. E., & Nicklas, B. J. (2010). Effect of exercise training on chronic inflammation. Clinica Chimica Acta; International Journal of Clinical Chemistry, 411(0), 785–793. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cca.2010.02.069 Link
2. Fuss, J., Steinle, J., Bindila, L., Auer, M. K., Kirchherr, H., Lutz, B., & Gass, P. (2015). A runner’s high depends on cannabinoid receptors in mice. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(42), 13105-13108. doi:10.1073/pnas.1514996112 Link
3. Schröder, S., Fischer, A., Vock, C., Böhme, M., Schmelzer, C., Döpner, M., … Döring, F. (2008). Nutrition Concepts for Elite Distance Runners Based on Macronutrient and Energy Expenditure. Journal of Athletic Training, 43(5), 489–504. Link
4. Ajijola, O. A., Dong, C., Herderick, E. E., Ma, Q., Goldschmidt-Clermont, P. J., & Yan, Z. (2009). Voluntary Running Suppresses Proinflammatory Cytokines and Bone Marrow Endothelial Progenitor Cell Levels in Apolipoprotein-E–Deficient Mice. Antioxidants & Redox Signaling, 11(1), 15-23. doi:10.1089/ars.2008.2092 Link
5. Callen, K. E. (1983). Mental and emotional aspects of long-distance running. Psychosomatics, 24(2), 133-151. doi:10.1016/s0033-3182(83)73239-1 Link