Why Do We Run?

By Mario Fraioli |

I love asking people I meet why they run because the answers never cease to surprise (or amaze) me. It’s also a question I force myself to contemplate from time to time as a reminder of why I’ve kept at this crazy pursuit for over two decades now.

Parts of my own answer to this question have evolved over the years but the foundation has held pretty solid: I run to use my body and celebrate the fact that I can push it, test it, and see what it’s capable of. I run because it challenges me to look deep inside myself on a regular basis and helps me work through problems that nothing else can seem to help solve. I run because it’s something I can do alone or share with others depending on what I want to get out of it. I run to explore the world around me, to better understand it, and to connect with it on the most intimate level. I run because it provides me an outlet: personal, competitive, spiritual, and social. But mostly I run because it brings me a joy that nothing else can match.

The reasons why we run are vast and varied, which is part of what makes it such a special and beautiful practice. Check out this compilation of reasons we run from readers of the morning shakeout. (Some answers lightly edited for length and clarity.)

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To continually challenge myself as I age so I can maintain both physical and mental fitness…At 66, my goal is to still run a sub-2:00 half at age 70 by just “keep showing up,” and also accept the fact that I am getting slower. I stole Des Linden’s mantra on those days I needed a mental push while training for the two half marathons I ran in 2018. —Mike P. 

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“So that I can race hard (whatever that is personally); so I can race 8K XC and go back and forth with the guy just ahead of me in the standings in the local series, with him passing me on the ups and me getting him on the flats; so that I am able to finish 2 seconds up in this race, even though he wins the series, and we can laugh together after.

So I can run comfortably hard on those runs when life is compressed into that moment of pushing the pace and feeling like I’m gliding down the road.  

So I can cruise the streets and woods with friends, sharing and laughing.” —Peter L.

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— Because I feel unbalanced when I don’t.
— To justify eating yummy stuff.
— To cover a lot of ground in beautiful locations, which I wouldn’t see if only hiking.
— To helps me understand my place in the world (slower than many, faster than many others, small compared to Nature, a big achiever compared to non-runners).
— To get faster, of course (even if it’s just faster than last week) —Nuno L.

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“I run because it brings me joy and keeps me mentally strong. I fought my way out of depression a few years ago with the help of running, so in part I run to prevent depression from returning. But there is also nothing that compares to the feeling during a long trail run, when I’m feeling strong, the scenery is beautiful, and I know I’m lucky to be out there!” —Christine A.

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“I run because I can. I’ve had asthma since I was a kid, and I avoided running whenever possible because I couldn’t breathe when I did. In my senior year of high school, my gym teacher taught us how to actually train to run a mile (not just grind one out once a year for the President’s physical fitness tests) and that was so eye-opening and encouraging. I started running more consistently, and it’s been a regular thing for the past 20 years. Now I train for, and run, half marathons, and I’m starting to dream about longer races. Although I took dance lessons and rode horses as a kid, I never thought of myself as an athlete; I excelled in school, so my identity was as a smart kid. It’s fun and exciting to be something as an adult that I never imagined I could be when I was young. I feel like I have to make up for lost time—what might I have been capable of when I was younger if I had known the joy of running then? As a 38-year-old, there’s no time to waste. I want to find out what I can accomplish while I’m still young and fit. It’s also nice to be a part of a community of people who support each other like runners do, after so many years of not really fitting in anywhere.” —Jessica P.

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“I run to be present and to put my worries aside…No matter how long the run is, running has always allowed me to be present in that moment and put all my worries and stress on hold. Although there are many reasons why I run, as I’m sure there are for every runner out there, that one reason seems to be very applicable to my life at the moment.” —Andrew M.

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“I run because, despite never being athletic, and despite not coming from a family of athletes, I found running, fell in love with it, and realized I could be a runner. Now, after on and off injuries, and a crazy life, I am thankful for the sport that I can bring with me anywhere, especially as I learn gratitude and appreciate even the bad runs. 

The simpler answer: I run because I can, and because I am thankful for what the sport has brought me.” —Jasmin R.

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“I run because I am constantly showing myself that I am stronger than I could have possibly imagined. If you ever told my 20-year-old self that in a few years I would be willing waking up at 5 AM to train with the D1 girls I idolized in college, I would’ve laughed in your face. Running has given me the confidence to chase my dreams and has truly shown me the meaning of getting out what I put in.” —Anoush A.

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“My wife Barb was always a more consistent runner than me—even through her five pregnancies—and is my inspiration! I run for both of us since her paralyzing accident in 2001…I run in order to enjoy and endure the journey, especially with Jesus!” —Doug M.

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“Trail running is my church. I know it’s the right thing to do and it works. It humbles me and keeps me honest with myself in a world of distractions that lead one astray from what truly matters…others.” —Jason G.

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“It makes me a nicer and better person, calmer and better able to process my thoughts and emotions. Running can also bring me joy through exertion. I feel accomplished after a run and ready to handle whatever the world has to throw at me. Running (and training) is my constant. Whenever my life is in flux, I always have running as a steadfast part of my day.” — Lizzie Sager

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“I run because I always come back in a better mood than when I went out.” —Stuart S.

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“I run to celebrate what my body can do. I run because exercise has previously been a form of oppression, of making my body smaller. But now, it is a way to be present in my body, as it is, and to enjoy the thrill of speed, the feeling of the wind blowing my too-long leg hairs, the challenge of a heart-pounding interval workout. I have done a lot of work to get to this point, to truly view running as a celebration, not a punishment, or a need. I run to be outside, to breathe. I run to be present in who I am, with my body as exists, and to test what it can accomplish, not what it can look like. —Grace J.

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“In short: because I can!  

At length, running is my practice of gratitude. It is my meditative practice to hop out the door and not be plugged into anything but my own mind and body. There are times when I am running that I feel an alignment and deep connection between my body, mind and spirit. In these moments I close my eyes and am overcome with gratitude for what I am able to do physically, emotionally, and spiritually. There was a time when I was so sick that I physically could not run and doctors were unsure that I would ever run again. Every time I run I am reminded that nothing is certain. I am able to achieve something, that at one time, was believed impossible. How cool is that? Through running I am able to face and conquer challenges I never thought I could achieve. I can hit times that at one point I thought were unobtainable. I run to express gratitude and in return I am empowered.” —Emily M.

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