Running vs Drinking

It’s a lifestyle choice

I’m often asked about my lifestyle choices: why don’t you drink? Don’t you miss meat? Claims then follow of dying for a bacon sandwich. “I couldn’t live without caffeine.” I hear all these things a lot. They are usually followed by how boring my life must be. Well, here’s the thing. My life is neither boring, nor lacking for not eating meat, drinking caffeine, smoking or drinking alcohol. I’ve done all these things and at certain times in my life I’ve made the decision to stop doing them. Equal disbelief is often uttered when I mention some of the challenges I’ve done – especially the long distance running or walking events. I’m sure we all realise that we’re all different – I’m just a little more different than others!

How it began and quitting smoking

I began running before I started martial arts – by three months. My first run was in April 1981 on a Friday evening. I went out in jeans and a leather jacket with shoes on so that no-one would actually know what I was doing. I slowed down a couple of times as I went past strangers walking towards me so they wouldn’t think I was a ‘jogger’. Running wasn’t done as much back then. When I had completed my mile ‘run’ I was exhausted. ‘Starsky & Hutch’ used to be on tv on a Friday evening – when I collapsed in the chair to watch it, the programme had just started – by the time it had finished 50 minutes later I had just about got my breath back. Undeterred I kept going out, feeling a little better each time. Two turning points were getting onto Ventolin to help my asthma and stopping smoking. Can you believe I was asthmatic and smoked? My god, I’ve made some stupid decisions in my life. Quitting cigarettes and cigars was one of my best. It wasn’t too long before I discovered races and began with half marathons, then marathons – I ran 5 in all, with so many shorter races I can’t remember how many I did. I did my last marathon in 1986, but continued to run shorter races, on and off, all the way up to today.

Born to run

This year I learned new things about running; things that amazed me after doing it for such a long time. Things like we are born to run, designed to run with the nuchal ligament (it’s in the neck), achilles tendon and muscular buttocks. Animals that don’t have these things don’t run – like chimpanzees for example, our closest DNA match in the animal kingdom. I’ve also learnt about Scott Jurek and other ultra distance runners and more importantly I’ve learnt about the Tarahumara – the running people of Mexico. With members of the tribe who can run 50-60 miles in one go at age 70-80 years old; of the younger members who do 48 hour races and cover, on average, 300 miles at a time. These ideas blew my mind a little and made me think that I can at least do a marathon. As it’s turned out work has prevented me from doing the mileage necessary to complete a marathon this year (I did get up to 18 miles in the summer), but I’m still out there 3-4 days per week notching up the miles.

Why running makes you happy

The point about running is what it gives you, other than just muscle tone and good heart and lungs. First of all it raises your serotonin level, this means a gentle feeling that the world is ok; this in turn leads to more positive thoughts so that when you run the ideas that come to you don’t tend to be depressing ones. Infact, having just thought about this I have never come back from a run with negative thoughts about a challenge I have been trying to solve. Contrast that with the sadness that can come from a night on the booze, after the initial high. It’s not that I’m against drinking, I’m not; it’s just not for me. I also feel that when the weekend comes around I get two days of it, not one. How often do I hear, or read Facebook statuses that claim a hangover, or couldn’t get up until the afternoon. I thought about this last week when I ran through a park in Antwerp: 8am on a Sunday morning and I found a small castle, complete with moat. It was beautiful and perfect and took me completely by surprise. It’s highly unlikely I would ever have seen it if I wasn’t a runner; it’s just one of the many experiences I’ve had because of running. I guess then, my thought is, that you live your life how you see fit. For me it’s about exercise, health and in particular, running. if your lifestyle choice is Friday and Saturday night out, drinking with your friends, I’m cool with that, I just prefer my way to yours.

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