What Is Running?

All About Running and Its Many Benefits

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Depending on whom you ask, the definition of running can vary. Some people see it as a sport while others think of it as a mode of transportation or something they'd do if they were being chased by a rottweiler.

You'd probably get just as many variations when posing the question, "Who is a runner?" While some people would argue that everyone knows how to run and anyone can do it, others believe that the term is reserved for Olympic-caliber track and field stars. Even after logging hundreds of miles in preparation for a marathon, some of the beginner runners I coach have confessed to me, "I still don't consider myself a runner!"

Do you run or do you jog? What's the difference? Most people would say that jogging is just a slow form of running. The late Dr. George Sheehan, a best-selling author from the 1970s running boom, once wrote that the difference between a runner and a jogger was a signature on a race application. That reference is somewhat outdated now, since most people register for races online and no signature is required, but the meaning still holds true. If you're motivated and enjoy running enough to train for an organized race, you're a runner -- regardless of your speed or experience in the sport. I'd argue that anyone who likes to run, whether they've run a race or not, should be able to proudly call himself or herself a runner. There's no pace test to pass or required amount of mileage to reach that status.

Types of Running

Most runners participate in one or some of the following forms of running:

  • Casual Running
    • The majority of runners do it casually for the physical, social, and mental benefits of running. Casual runners usually love the accessibility of running -- you don't need any fancy equipment, it's relatively inexpensive, and you can do it almost anywhere. And it's never too late to start running, as many people who have taken up the sport in their 50s, 60s, and even 70s have proved.
  • Treadmill Running
    • A great alternative to running outside when the weather is bad, treadmill running is usually easier than outdoor running and can be gentler on your joints. Most treadmills allow runners to change their pace, incline, and resistance so they can simulate outdoor running and vary their workouts to prevent boredom.
  • Racing
    • Some runners enjoy the thrill and competition of participating in road races, from 5Ks to half and full marathons. The vast majority of people enter races not to win (or even come close), but to set a personal goal and achieve it. Many former couch potatoes have become hooked on the sport after training for their first road race.
  • Trail Running
    • For those who love to enjoy the scenery and peaceful surroundings while exercising, trail running is a fantastic option. Trail running usually takes place on hiking trails of varying terrain, from deserts to mountains. Trail runners may find themselves sidestepping roots, scrambling up rocks, running through streams, or traversing up steep hills. For the trail runner who loves to compete, trail races take place throughout the country.

Why Run?

Ask 10 runners why they run and you'll most likely get 10 different responses. Many of the reasons people run fall into the following categories:

Running for Health Benefits

  • Studies have shown the health benefits of running to be tremendous, reducing your chances of everything from the common cold to cancer. Running is among the best aerobic exercises for physical conditioning of your heart and lungs. It helps ensure the efficient flow of blood and oxygen throughout the body, things that are proven to help to decrease the risk of a heart attack. The mental benefits of running are tremendous. Running -- like other types of exercise -- is a great stress-reliever and may even relieve mild depression. Many runners enjoy reaching the "runner's high" -- that euphoric, clear, and calm state they feel after a long run.
  • Research shows that healthy adults who exercise regularly are generally happier than those who don't. As a runner, you'll likely feel more energetic and creative.
  • Running helps you improve your fitness and stamina. As a weight-bearing exercise, running also increases bone density, which can fend off osteoporosis.

Although running is a healthy activity, you should get medical clearance before you start a running program.

Running for Weight Loss
Weight loss is one of the biggest reasons why people start running. As one of the most vigorous exercises out there, running is an extremely efficient way to burn calories and drop pounds. Running burns about 100 calories per mile for a 150-pound person. Because running also builds muscle mass, your resting metabolism will increase, which means that you'll burn more calories at rest. If you combine running with a healthy diet, you'll definitely notice a difference in the way you look and feel.

Running for Social Benefits
Many people run because they like to socialize and be part of a running community. Running clubs and charity training groups give people the opportunity to meet and train with other people. Some runners participate in local events or travel to race destinations with their running buddies.