The ‘To’ and ‘From’ of Running


OK, first I just have to say … WOW! My blog totally blew up yesterday, and for me the biggest thing is I hope it means that the important message I was trying to talk about found a few new ears to land on, and hopefully will slowly spread until we no longer need special safety considerations just because you are a women.

The ‘To’ and ‘From’ of Running

When we go out for a run, we generally go nowhere – we start and end at the same place most times, whether it is our home, car, work, hotel, or whatever. The ‘To‘ and ‘From‘ is the same. But I have found from talking to and reading stuff from many runners that the majority have integrated running into their lives as adults – and almost always for an explicit reason. They are either running ‘to‘ something or away ‘from‘ something.

For example, for the longest time I was simply running ‘from‘ obesity. That was my goal – I was thin, healthy (my eating is always better when I run), and fit, but all of those were secondary to just NOT being fat anymore.

And that is really how I started back again in 2012. I knew I was at least 75lbs overweight, and the goal was running away from that … but something happened. Suddenly I was running to understanding my body, learning about hydration and training and speed work and tapering and on and on; I was understanding macronutrients, eating for fuel, what was actually good and bad for my body, etc. In other words, I was running ‘to‘ the healthiest version of me.

As I have run races – especially half- and full-marathons, I have talked to many people who started running to get away from something, including:
– Escaping a bad marriage/relationship
– Dealing with pain from the death of a loved one
– Coping with depression
– Overcoming fear
– Escaping the grips of obesity

And I have also met some people who are running to things, such as:
– Wanting to run a Boston Qualifier
– Being healthy
– Completing a ‘bucket list’ item
– Finding the happiest version of themselves

And so on. For people who were never runners as kids – and in particular those who never were much into competitive sports after middle school – running as an adult is an adventure unlike anything else we encounter. Most other things we do are focused on SOMETHING – our jobs, relationships, and even most hobbies are fairly focused things involving others. They require scheduling, planning, working with others – but running is entirely self-contained, and entirely self-motivated, and entirely self-paced.

So why does it matter?

As I said, running is a very different thing for most of us. Because there is no coach, no team, no schedule, no games/meets … just you and the road. If you want to stop – go ahead and do it. Stay in bed, sure. Walk for a while or not give full effort – it is all your choice.

But once you DO get out there, you will likely discover something – you.

Even for those who run in groups, blast music with lyrics to sing along with, and do everything else possible to avoid it – you will end up learning about yourself.

And if you really try – turn off the music, go out alone (safety permitting, of course) and just open your mind to the beauty of nature … you will find out more things than you ever discovered possible about yourself.

For me, I have worked out so many things – technical problems, personal issues, decisions, addressed emotions, sorted out discussions, and so much more. Even this morning I fully designed a complex experiment for my group to run the rest of this week.

I remember being around mile 21 on my first marathon, and we had a wonderful pacer who was very chatty and encouraging. She was asking everyone about WHY they ran, and many of the topics above came up – divorce and death were the biggies. But she also asked what people thought after training for a marathon – and for many it was an amazingly transformative event in their life.

Running is like that for me – what started as just part of dealing with weighing more than 375 pounds has ended up 25 years later as an integral part of who I am. It has changed my life, and made me better in many different ways.

Did you start running ‘to’ or ‘from’ something? Where are you now?

26 thoughts on “The ‘To’ and ‘From’ of Running

  1. Not really sure if I’m running one way or the other; probably a little of both. Sometimes it’s hard to tell exactly what my motivations are. I pretty much just decided one day a few months ago that I was going to run a half marathon and that was how I got (re)started. Some days it’s for health, some days it’s for sanity, and some days it’s so I can have pancakes 🙂

  2. For me it was both I think. I started running just as a longstanding relationship was ending and I felt as though I was running from that and toward the rest of my life and where I wanted to be. For me it seems running is usually a from and to during times of change in my life. and life is always changing of course! I think running helps me make decisions and take action when there are challenges in life.

    • Interesting perspective, Michele – I definitely feel the ‘focusing’ effect of running as it helps with decisions and actions. And I have definitely heard the ‘running away from a relationship’ analogy before – one person I know didn’t even realize the extent of her running, or the root cause, for a while …

  3. I started running from (when my dad was diagnosed and then died from lung cancer) and sometimes I still find myself running from things, but mostly now, I am running to…better health, clarity of mind, achieving goals I have for myself, etc.

    • And apparently also running to win! Congrats again on that! It is sad to have the loss of your father so entwined with running, but it also forms a foundation of self-support, something you can always go back to. Amazing stories, and now with an expanded family that better health helps … and more clarity of mind is needed at times! 😀

  4. This:

    “For people who were never runners as kids – and in particular those who never were much into competitive sports after middle school – running as an adult is an adventure unlike anything else we encounter. Most other things we do are focused on SOMETHING – our jobs, relationships, and even most hobbies are fairly focused things involving others. They require scheduling, planning, working with others – but running is entirely self-contained, and entirely self-motivated, and entirely self-paced.”

    Is me. I LOVE this post.

    I starting running to better my health and because it just made me feel AMAZING. I always joke that there has never been a time in my life where I’ve stepped off an elliptical trainer with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. When I started running I never thought that it would lead to so much self-discovery. I have learned so much about what I’m capable of over the past year, but I’ve also learned that I’m not invincible. I do run away from stress sometimes…work, home, etc…but I always come back with a clearer head. 🙂

    • That is actually a really great point, Lauren – elliptical is something I do ‘to exercise’, whereas running is something I do because I love it!

  5. I don’t know what I’m running TO or FROM, both now and also a few years ago when I started running.

    My mind is a blank slate before any given run and I use the time to allow it to wander. Some days that results in solving technical problems, some days I stew in anger at something bothering me, some days it results in writing a mental book or film or music video, some days it results in an intense hyper awareness of my own body, some days the slate stays blank and the run becomes a moving meditation.

    I guess I’m running TO a mental happy place, whatever form it takes on any given day.

    • I remember reading about how we should seek to ‘improve performance by stopping monkey mind’, in other words not having our minds wander while we run … personally, like you say, my running time is wonderful for freely working through just about anything. And I am all for a mental happy place!

      • Fair enough. When I’m working on performance, those are the runs I tune in to my body and pay attention to cadence, breathing, posture, etc. That was yesterday’s run, trying to see what kind of speed is in my legs following the marathon, mind focused on every stride. Today’s recovery run was nice and easy, bask in the sun, enjoy the sights, mind all over the place.

      • Exactly – and even then I am not consistent … sometimes wandering mind means losing focus on running, sometimes I am heavily thinking but hyper-focused on the run at the same time … it all varies.

  6. So happy your blog blew up yesterday – so well deserved! Was such a great post. I think I began running ‘to’ something … mostly to health, and to an understanding of what drove my new boyfriend (now husband) to have so much passion for the sport. Very interesting to think about!

    • Hey – aren’t you supposed to be relaxing and off-line?!? 🙂 Seriously, thanks so much for all of the support. And I can definitely understand outsiders seeing it as curious what we runners get all excited about! 🙂

  7. I ran x-country in high school and for me it was about the camaraderie. As I grew older, my reasons evolved from releasing stress in college, getting fit for my wedding, losing the pregnancy weight after my two kids, and now simply to have my own “me” time. I like that whatever stage in life I may be, running is always there 🙂

  8. Personally, I run towards goals. I, too, have met plenty of people that run for different reasons and love living vicariously. I think it’s a way for people to focus on the now – there’s no past or future – just putting one step at a time and choosing what you want to be at that moment.

  9. Such a great consideration for the day. When I was young, I said I would only run if something was chasing me. So I guess that would be “away.” Then I ran for weight loss/management. Now, I just run. Especially after the injuries that i have had, I think about 80% of the steps I take on a run while I am taking them. I am thankful for each one. I don’t think I am, or have for a long time, been trying to run for a particular reason–I really do run for the joy, the challenge, and the privilege.

    • Thanks Suz! I think that injuries can really focus our risk taking … though my risk aversion is more about maintaining non-injury status as I get older.

      “joy, the challenge, and the privilege.”

      Yes, just plain freakin’ YES! 😀

  10. Another great post 🙂 I started running FROM a very stressful job, and – as things have never gotten better there – I started focusing on myself – losing weight and running more and more.I was a fat kid and young adult, and nothing scared me more in school that the measly 800 meters run we had to do every year… 800!! meters.. if only I could tell my 10 year old self that now I can run 45 times that and more!
    Slowly I started to run TO… the thinnest I’ve ever been in my life, the biggest confidence in my physical abilities I’ve ever had, the belief that I can indeed do anything I want as along as I practice. Within 14 months of starting running, I quit the stressful job and I started positively focusing on myself. I turned from a workoholic into a person who takes every day as it is and is grateful, not bored or worried.
    I look forward to running for the rest of my life 🙂

  11. I began running when my son was born to lose weight, get active and improve my health. I didn’t want to be the mom on the sidelines. Running soon became an escape from a tough night at work or any stressors that may be on my mind. I love what running has done for me physically, but I never expected the psychological benefits. Although I may set out with the intention of running from a problem, running almost always helps me arrive at a solution to help deal with the problem. I really miss running right now.

    • Thanks for sharing, Aimee. It really is amazing all of the roles running can fill – and I feel bad as I type that … as I know being injured really sucks for you and I hope you heal up soon! How are things progressing on that front?

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