|image by Chris Sharp|
A good friend of mine here is a runner. He cycles as well, but it’s running that’s his passion. He runs mostly off road - on wooded paths, through forests and up mountain trails, along rugged shorelines. And when he talks about running, he makes it sound wonderfully appealing. So much so that, willfully suppressing awful memories of my own tortured attempts at running in the past, I began to ask questions and to consider giving it another try.
So we had a chat about it, at the end of which I said that I'd like to try running again - making a comment to the effect of “I think I'm going to enjoy it this time.” To this he quickly replied “Oh no, you’ll hate it at first for sure!"
"But stick with it," he added brightly. "Once you pass the tipping point, you'll not be able to live without it."
Okay, not exactly what I had in mind. But I remained optimistic. "So how long did it take until you began to enjoy running?"
"About three months."
"Three months?!" Okay, definitely not what I had in mind. But the idea of willingly doing something that feels awful until that point where it begins to feel good intrigued me. What motivates people to run for 3 months if they don't enjoy it? And how does the experience transition from an unpleasant to a pleasant one?
When I started asking these questions, my friend turned the subject to cycling. "Well didn't you feel the same way on the bike? Is the pain not terrible until you get used to it?"
It never occurred to me to think of cycling in that way. Because no, it never felt terrible. It felt good from the get go - wonderful even - which is why I wanted to do it again and again. Sure I was sore and out of breath after my first few bike rides when just starting out. And even now I feel plenty of pain whenever I push my limits. But I would compare this to the experience of dancing all night: While I don't get to do this as often as I'd like nowadays, in my 20s I used to love going to clubs and dancing until near-collapse. I'd feel the physical stress toward the end, and definitely the day after. But while I'm dancing, the fun of it and the getting lost in the moment overshadow the pain. On a bike - whether toodling along a river path or taking part in the most grueling of training rides - I feel something akin to this. But at no point had I ever felt it while running; at no point during any of my attempts to run did it feel "fun," and at no point had I been able to lose myself in the act of running to the extent that the pain and discomfort of it would get tuned out. I had always thought this to be a sign that running was simply wrong for me, and assumed that dedicated runners got that way because they did enjoy it from the start. But now here was a runner telling me that he too was miserable in the beginning. I have since questioned a few other friends who run and got similar feedback. Their description of running as initially unappealing, but habit-forming, reminded me of the stories people tell of how they began smoking or drinking: "I hated the taste at first..." When it comes to stories of how people got into cycling, there is instead a theme of love at first try.
So, does running tend to be an acquired taste, whereas cycling is innately pleasurable? Or is it more about the person, the intensity, and other factors? I've stuck with cycling for 5 years because I loved it from the get-go, so the idea of running "until I grow to like it" is hard to wrap my head around - but I am not closed to the idea. There is considerable overlap between cyclists and runners, and I am curious how those who've done both feel about these activities.