The reason I run

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Early morning birdsong, crisp clean air, my favourite music on the ipod and my eyes are focused only on the ground immediately ahead of me.

For the next 45 minutes I will test my body and clear my mind; I will feed my soul and liberate my spirit; plan my day, organise my thoughts, prioritise my task list, and possibly even create a recipe or two.

But more than this: I will generate the energy I require to get through a day that is packed from end to end with what would otherwise be energy-sapping activity. An early morning run gives me my va-va-voom. This is the reason why I run.
If you had told anyone I went to school with that I would ever run a marathon, they would have laughed you right out of town.

That’s because throughout my school career I was an off-the-chart sporting disaster. In fact the opportunity to create the word sportless was sadly overlooked because I would have been the perfect candidate for that description.

So hopeless was I at sport that I couldn’t even master the so-called “fat girl” sports like netball and hockey. Somehow balls would just mysteriously escape from me into the hands of the opposition. The one area that looked promising was tennis, but only if I kept hitting the balls at the wall. Put another human being on the other side of the net, and it would deteriorate to, well . . . nothing.

So given my chequered sporting past you can see why I was not the most likely candidate for being part of the Zimbabwe team that ran the Comrades Marathon in 2006.

The Comrades Marathon is arguably the world’s toughest road race. Now more than 80 years old, it is run in the month of June each year and attracts a field of over 23 000 runners each year, all of whom hope to cover the 90km route within the finish time of 12 hours each year.

The big lesson of my Comrades experience is that anyone can become a runner — even me . . . and therefore even you!

When I started running I really wasn’t thinking about becoming a long-distance runner. I was just trying to lose weight. The first magical discovery I made was that if I ran very slowly I could run for a long, long time.

The longer I ran, the more I enjoyed it, and the better it made me feel. The second magical discovery was made months later, when I had finally decided to aim for the Comrades: I discovered my iron will.

To finish the Comrades Marathon you have to have a strong mind and a solid mental plan. You have to know the reasons your belong on the road, and remind yourself of them regularly, even when you join a running club and regularly come in last in every trial and training run (which happened to me too many times to recall). You must remember the reason you run, and you must hold on to the joy you feel at the end of every run.

Running has to be the world’s most accessible sport. Anyone can do it, and you need not have any special equipment. Just some space, and a little time. It really is as easy as it sounds.

Running is also one of the easiest ways to burn calories. Even if you don’t change the way you eat. Website, Runner’s world (www.runnersworld.com) promises that you can be transformed into a lean, mean, calorie-burning machine — without a single day of dieting.

All this just from running and adjusting your running routine to suit your weight-loss goals. By making some incremental changes to mileage and intensity, you can literally run off those extra pounds without changing anything in your diet. Don’t believe me? Try it and prove me wrong.

The health benefits of running have long been told. But high-intensity running offers even more benefits. Research has shown that individuals who ran more than 80km per week had significantly greater increases in HDL cholesterol (the good fat) and significantly greater decreases in body fat, triglyceride levels and the risk of coronary heart disease than individuals who ran less than 16km per week.

In addition, the long-distance runners had a nearly 50% reduction in high blood pressure and more than a 50% reduction in the use of medications to lower blood pressure and plasma cholesterol levels. (www.medicinet.com)
The human body is a formidable machine, and becoming a runner helped me appreciate my body in a whole new way. I developed as they say, “enough respect”!

Beyond the health benefits of low cholesterol and normal blood pressure, among others and the visual benefits of losing weight and being able to ditch your “fat” clothes for your regular ones, running is simply good wholesome fun.

Ever noticed how kids will run even when there is no hurry? Its an expression of their joie de vivre!
So next time you see me panting up a hill at six in the morning and are tempted to run me over in your four-by-four, think of my much needed va-va-voom and proceed with caution. At the end of my journey my endorphins will be singing with glee. What will yours be doing?

lThembe Sachikonye writes in her personal capacity. Readers’ comments can be sent to localdrummer@newsday.co.zw. Follow Thembe on www.twitter/localdrummer

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