It is the endorphins that do it every time. There is always a sense of well-being among runners. No-matter what the armchair critics say, running is good for you. In my line of work, it is a given that I will meet at least one person a day who will tell me how bad running is for you. “I mean, a guy actually died at Comrades one year. You see that’s why I don’t want to run, I don’t want to die. And besides what do you think of when you run? Running is boring.”
Here I sit across a desk and I am getting this lecture from an overweight lass who is busy smoking, she has two telephones under her chin and she is yelling at her secretary to bring her an ashtray. She is younger than me but you wouldn’t have guessed it.
I think of the cold mornings when I used to meet with a small but hardy band of fellow runners, I think of our jokes and the light hearted banter that takes place while we trot along. The only smoke present was our warm breath hitting the morning chill. This is what life is all about; this is a moment to savour. Pretty soon the sun will come up and we will be treated to yet another moment of sheer bliss.
There is no doubt that as you become fitter and better trained you change. I have witnessed this change at the Comrades Panel Talks a few years ago. Early on in the programme I made a promise to the audience; “you will not view life in the same way ever again if you follow the programme and finish the race.” The uncertainty was palpable in that lecture theatre that night.
I recall the last lecture just before Comrades; yes there was excitement in the air that was to be expected. But there was something else, a quiet confidence, a calmness and an inner strength. Under all the bubble and noise there was a tangible silence that is easily sensed by fellow runners. Clearly I was beginning to make good on my promise, and when I talked to those runners after the race I knew the promise was good.
Distance running seems to do that. It knocks off a lot of the rough edges; it rounds a person off and gives a definite sense of well-being. There are times when I feel elated, even when I am hurting and tired. And so our running group rounds a corner, chatting and laughing and someone lets out a loud fart. We all burst out laughing and sprint to the top of the hill, steam rising from our breath as we yell “morning” to fellow runners coming in the opposite direction.
I look across the desk at this poor girl, now looking for her lighter, yelling once again for coffee, an ashtray and fumbling with a ringing cell-phone.
What do I think of when I run? Hell, I don’t know, I just run.