[This is an installment in a series I’m writing on living long and living well. I expect to take about fifty years to write it. Go here to read the introduction. At this point I have no plans for scheduled installments and I’m not following any couch to marathon plan. I write about fitness and food but am also deeply interested in more nuanced things that make life good. If you would like to know when I publish please enter your email address in the follow button at the top right of any page. Thanks!]
Copyright 2015, Dennis Mitton
Some of us are voluntary lonely soldiers when it comes to exercise and fitness. In all the years I’ve run I’ve only gone out once with someone else. I don’t consider myself overtly social and running is one way that I reset a little bit and let the dross of daily living wash down the road behind me. I guess I prefer to do this by myself. I have no real beef about running with someone else but neither do I have any real desire to do so. Now my wife? Exercise for her should be a group affair. Preferably with catered dessert and aperitifs. If there are other people involved then it’s a go. If not. Ugh. Not her cup of tea.
Whichever side of that line you fall on, if you are working on improving your fitness please consider signing up for a local 5k run/walk/race and play along. I can almost guarantee that you will find one near you on almost any weekend of the year. I use Running in the USA to look up races. Bring some friends along and dress goofy if you want. Walk a bit if you’re tired. But get a sweat going and get some oxygen pumping. You’ll have a great time and will feel better for it. (Note: ‘5k’ is shorthand for five kilometers which translates to 3.1 miles.)
Here are 10 reasons why you should run a 5K in a local race no matter your level of fitness:
- It gives you a tangible and reachable goalThere will come a time when you enjoy your work outs. You will look forward to running. You will schedule your day around yoga. You might even pass up a date because it’s leg night at the gym. It took me about a year to come to that place. Until then? Well, it can be a bit of a grind. One way to get through the it’s-not-really-that-fun phase is to set small and easily achievable goals and this one is perfect. It’s easy, requires a minimum amount of training, provides a real benefit, and can be lots of fun.
- You’ll see that there is nothing to be intimidated aboutShe that woman running on the side of the road? She how fit she is? That woman is just like you. She worries about all the same things. Some days she likes her workout and some days she can barely make it out the door. She will embrace you fully at whatever place you are. There is an almost universal attitude among the running crowd that ‘doing’ is the goal. The goal is to get off the couch. Walk, trot, or push a walker. If you show up you are one of the cool kids. You’ll be accepted and encouraged wherever you are in the continuum between couch and finish line. It can be nice to find a group like this.
- You can walk that far if you can’t run – and no one caresLots of people walk at 5ks. Lots of 5ks are advertised as a run/walk event. There will be speedsters there but they’ll be so far ahead that you can ignore them. You probably don’t even need to train for a 5k. If you can work in the garden, or vacuum the house for an hour then you can walk 3.1 miles. It’s not that hard. And if you go with a couple of friends it will be even easier.
It is fun – dress up like a turkey if you like
A lot of local 5k races are themed. It’s entirely acceptable and encouraged to goof off, dress up, and have some fun along the way. So dress like a turkey or wear your Santa stockings. Put on a wig. Wear a tutu. Enjoy yourself! Why the hell not?
- You will get a huge shot of confidenceHow many times have you set a fitness goal and felt lousy as it slipped right by you? This one is easy. Pay your entry fee, show up, have some fun walking or trotting, and mark it off your list. You’ll feel good, you’ll feel motivated to accomplish your next goal, and you had fun doing it. It’s a win all the way around.
- It’s easy and not too time consuming to train forThis is one of the reasons I run 5ks. I know folks who start out with the goal of running a marathon. Running – by necessity and I’m not complaining – takes over their free time. It has too. They will learn all about toe nails falling off and just how stiff you can be the next day. They will either miss the birthday party or run laps in the dark around the neighborhood for two hours. “Gotta get my fourteen miler in!” This is why I don’t race over 5k. I have that kind of personality and pretty soon I will be weighing a nice lunch with my wife vs. a sixteen mile training run. And I’ll be in trouble for making the wrong decision.If you haven’t run before then you’ll probably want to do some kind of training plan. Even if you are fit enough to do the running it’s a good way to train your mind for the task of putting foot in front of foot for half and hour or more. There are too many good running websites to count but a good place to start is Runner’s World where they have advice for everything from diet to clothing to running plans. If you’re a more serious beginner consider reading Build Your Best Running Body. It’s a great book that covers the gamut of fitness running. Go here for my quick review.
- It’s easy on the bodyThis is especially important if you’re just starting out. I suppose it’s possible to run marathons or half-marathons without undue stress and injury but it’s tough. Everyone I know who runs marathons deals with foot, knee, and hip aches that I just don’t feel when training for a 5k. Aches and stresses come with any workout but you just aren’t beating your body up on short runs like you would for marathons This is just easy math: compare possibilities for strains and stress between running maybe six miles a week vs. twenty or more. Probability is on your side.
- You’ll feel like an athlete
There’s some truth to the adage that you start to look like the people you spend time with. If you do a bit of training and then run a race or two you just might begin thinking of yourself as an athlete. And if not an athlete then at least as someone interested in fitness. This will bleed over into eating habits, sleep habits, confidence, and might just make you better at conversation. Do it enough and you’ll start looking pretty good in your sweatpants?
- Your brain health increases
Over the last couple of decades we see more and more research that shows how much exercise contributes to brain health. Your brain – that little eight-pound ball of fat in your head – is only a small portion of your body but uses over 25% of your oxygen and nutrition. The more clean blood you can get pumping through there the healthier it is. Strengthen your heart, clean your blood vessels, lose a few pounds, and oxygenate your brain and you’re on to a new you who can live longer and enjoy life more.
- You can build new memories with friendsThe component of health that we rarely hear talked about is the importance of happy and meaningful relationships. Getting together for a race is a great way to enjoy each other’s company, do something a little bit difficult, encourage each other, and accomplish goals together.Maybe my wife is right? Maybe the best exercise is done in a group with fresh canape? rewards afterward?