There's so many reasons why people run – to improve their physical health and mental health, to forge new friendships, to explore new places, to test their physical and mental limits – the list is endless. Everyone's reasons are completely unique and the decision to start can be genuinely life-changing.
Here, 19 famous faces share why they started running and why they'll never stop...
‘Sometimes it feels like the desire to run is beyond my control, more powerful than mere choice. I need to run because it makes me happy. I run for freedom and adventure. And so I can eat more cake and nut butter (yes, together).
I’m a classic midlife-crisis ultrarunner. I discovered the joys of running long distances around the same time as I became a parent. I was introduced to a new world of sleep deprivation, cake being a perfectly legitimate breakfast option and teary tantrums. Parenting, on the other hand, has been quite straightforward. Why do I run? I’m running away from my problems. It’s definitely the best way.’
Sophie Raworth, BBC newsreader and marathoner (@sophieraworth)
‘I didn’t discover the joys of running until my early 40s. Before that I was too busy working and having children. Now, after more than a dozen marathons and a few ultras, including the Marathon des Sables, I couldn’t imagine my life without it. Running is empowering, liberating, challenging, real, joyful, painful. It has given me some of my best friends, and some of my biggest highs. There is something about pulling on my shoes and heading out into the hills – no music, away from the crowds, just the sound of my feet and my breathing, the here and the now. I would be bereft without it.’
Vassos Alexander, radio presenter and author of Running Up That Hill: The Highs and Lows of Going that Bit Further
‘I run for fitness. I run for escape. For therapy. Self-discovery. I run for the simple childlike joy of running when I could be walking. Running has given me some of the best friends I could ever hope to make. It’s taken me to weird and wonderful places. An ever-unfolding adventure. It’s restored my faith in human nature. And most of all, you never regret a run.’
‘I love running for lots of different reasons. Over the years, it’s provided me with so many wonderful experiences and I’ve met so many great people through running. I love the feeling of freedom that running brings, especially out on the trails surrounded by beautiful scenery. It’s so uplifting and I find it gives me such a boost both physically and mentally. When I get back from a run I feel motivated, energised and more able to cope with a busy day.
I also love being part of the running community. The many events around the country, parkruns and social networking sites have really increased the feeling of camaraderie amongst runners. And as a busy parent I’ve also found that running can add quality time to family life by exercising together; and it’s great to show the kids that it’s fun to be active.’
‘“Why are you going running again,” my six-year-old daughter asked.
The emphasis was on the word again, as if she was inwardly frowning at some sordid habit of mine. We were on holiday in Annecy [southeastern France] and I was reading the novel Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami. His memoir What I Think About When I Think About Running might have been a more appropriate searching place, but the answer to my daughter’s question came quite unexpectedly. In the novel, Kitaru was explaining why he wanted his beautiful girlfriend to date other people: ‘It’s like, we graduate from college, get married, we’re this wonderful married couple everybody’s happy about, we have the typical two kids, put ‘em in the good old Denenchofu elementary school, go out on the Tama River banks on Sunday. “Ob-la-di, ob-la-da"… I’m not saying that kinda life’s bad. But I wonder, ‘y’know, if life should really be that easy, that comfortable.’
It was beyond me to explain Murakami’s notion to a six-year-old, but this was why I was going running again. Because, in 25C heat, I wanted to climb the 1,300m mountain that stands over Lake Annecy. Because I wanted to leave my life of comfort and control – air conditioning, food and drink, the security of my family – for a little time, for a little discomfort. And that is why, I suppose, I run again and again: because, as Kitaru asked, should life really be too ‘easy’, too ‘comfortable’? But here is the irony: in running, discomfort brings tremendous comfort. My last race was Philiphaugh Hill Run in the Scottish Borders, seven miles of rough, wild moorland. It rained incessantly. Paths were gushing streams. The world seemed in tears. There was nowhere I would have rather been: standing at the very pinnacle of uncomfortable comfort.’
‘Thirty years ago, I went for a run. Little did I know that this simple – yet not easy – physical activity would play a central role in my life. Not a hobby, not a career, but a calling. Running has enhanced my life in so many ways – physically (I’m healthier), mentally (it keeps me sane), socially (most of my friends are runners) and geographically (I’ve raced in some far-flung places) – and I’m grateful for it. But the reasons I run today aren’t the same reasons why I ran one, two or three decades ago. Before, I ran to race. And I raced to set PBs and beat as many of my opponents as possible. Terms like “fun run” and “jogging” made me shudder. These days, I run even when I have no race to train for. Sometimes I walk for a bit, or stop and look at the view, or take the dog instead of my Garmin. And I race – even when I have no PB to aim for and won’t beat many of my opponents. I run because I’m a runner. Because it’s a way of experiencing the landscape I’ve come to value so much – not just seeing it through a car window but feeling it under my feet, inhaling it with every breath, hearing it in birdsong and leaf rustle. I run to be part of it.’
‘I started running because a friend asked me to do cross-country with him at primary school. He lasted about four weeks, but I’m still running 27 years later. In that time I’ve loved and hated running, experienced elation and crippling disappointment, depended on running for my livelihood, had surgery to bring me back from the brink of stopping altogether, stopped altogether anyway, and more recently rediscovered what it was I loved about running in the first place. Running has a huge positive impact on my mental health, but conversely, during my professional career it often left me battling depression and anxiety. As a friend of mine loves to say (quoting Theodore Roosevelt), “Comparison is the thief of joy”, and for me this epitomises my running experience. I love running with people, I love running to see improvement, I love finding out how fast I can go and I love time not spent thinking about work or responsibilities. None of these things that I love requires comparison to other people – my love for running comes from personal goals and motivations, from exploring new places and testing new limits. Those limits have just shifted a little bit – I can’t (or don’t want to) run 100 miles a week, anything faster than seven minute-miling feels fast and all pace judgment has deserted me. But I love running, chatting, sweating and sharing the experience with friends and the rest of the running community. I love escaping with a podcast or an eclectic playlist, and it turns out that I still love a challenge. I’m just trying to work out what my next one will be!’
‘Over the years, my reasons to run have evolved and changed. It's a bit like having a favourite song: it's never quite the same one year to the next. Reasons have varied from getting fitter, to PB hunting, to challenging myself in other ways. Throughout all of my runner’s life, the one constant reason to keep running has been the perpetual support, inspiration and friends made in the running community.’
‘I run to keep myself sane and happy. I think it works – but I don’t want to take the risk of seeing what happens if I stop. Winning things doesn’t come into it: I’m not good enough. Nor, these days, do personal bests: I’m too old. As for staying in shape, that’s just a fortunate side effect. I enjoy the company of other runners: it’s a sport that seems to help people find the best in themselves, and I rarely meet a runner I don’t like. But that, too, if I’m honest, is just a bonus. What gets me out of the door, morning after morning, is the knowledge that, if I don’t, I’ll regret it. I run for myself: to top up my life with energy and optimism. I’m lucky. I live in the countryside. I do most of my running in green, beautiful places. It would do me good even if I was only walking. Running, it’s pure delight. Sometimes I push myself; sometimes I just float along. Either way, I’m almost always happy, during and after. Most days, I feel that, in addition to the physical satisfaction of the actual running, I’m hoovering up spiritual and emotional refreshment from nature.
Sometimes, like any runner, I feel sorry for myself: my legs are tired, my joints are hurting, I’ve got a stitch… When I do, I try to remind myself that not everyone is lucky enough to be able to do this. I hate the idea that running is a chore or a form of self-punishment. It isn’t. It’s a joy and a privilege.’
‘Running is my sustenance and I'd be lost without my daily miles. When I started, it was all about times and T-shirts, but these days I run to be in nature and feel the seasons change. I lace up my trainers to celebrate good news and I've taken to the trails to remember loved ones. Around 10 years ago I started fastpacking; you can't beat days immersed in the landscape, exploring on your own two feet. And I’ve found that my best creative ideas usually arrive unbidden while out on a run. I don't recall why, as a sedentary student I ran-walked my first mile all those years ago, but it was one of the best decisions I ever made.’
‘Running has made me realise things about myself that a whole lifetime wouldn’t have taught me. My personal growth and running ability seems to grow simultaneously. Running is a physical, mental and spiritual journey that I just CANNOT get enough of!’
‘I run for the joy of being in the hills and mountains, for the freedom of moving fast and light, and for the exhilaration of the descent. Running is my form of mindfulness, a sense of perspective, and inner happiness.’
‘My relationship with running has changed throughout my life: At the age of 12 discovering running was an experience that tilted the axis of my existence. I’d found a lifelong friend. From 13-17 was our honeymoon period. Running was everything to me, my very identity. I was fiercely competitive, 50 miles a week, twice a day, utterly driven, obsessed. In my 20s focus shifted. We still got on but it was complicated. My 30s and 40s saw a gradual reconciliation and by my late 40s we were aflame with passion again, we recommitted and renewed our vows with a sub-three marathon. Perhaps now, at 50, my relationship with running is at its most comfortable. I’m running as much as ever but mostly for pleasure, for the value it has in itself. I enjoy the physical and mental feelings it gives me, the people it brings me into contact with, the connection I feel with nature as I run at ever declining speeds through the woods. That’s where I’m happiest. I want others to run too, to feel what I feel when I’m 35 minutes in and feel like I could run forever. That timeless zone, the eternal joy that's waiting for us all on the other side off our front door.’
‘When I wax lyrical about the wonders of running to sceptics, I tend to bang on about what a sociable sport it is. And it’s true: I’ve made so many friends through running. Either through physically running with other people – in my club, in races, at parkruns – or through a shared love of the sport. But what really got me running was the sheer bliss of being by myself. A short period of the day when you are uncontactable, alone, and beholden to no one. Heaven. I was on maternity leave with my youngest daughter and her toddler sister. Conversation revolved around snacks, and how long until Ben and Holly was on CBeebies. Early motherhood is exhausting – the hours are shocking, the pay appalling, the bosses tyrannical. I wanted to get back to some kind of fitness, sure, but perhaps what I wanted most was just a precious half hour to myself. Perhaps that’s why, years later, I still love running by myself. The mental space, the silence that running gives me still feels very precious. Ironically, in having – by accident not design – provided a running role model to my two girls, they are now pretty keen themselves. So my once-peaceful, solo recovery runs are now often accompanied by nonstop chat – and my eldest can now thrash me in a sprint.’
‘I started running years before I had a pressing reason to do so. It used to be about coping with work stresses and generally trying to keep fit. Then, in February 2016, I was viciously mugged in Cape Town, stabbed and left helpless in a pool of blood in a grim and desolate suburb. I soon discovered that the trauma was far worse than the impact of the injuries. But, equally, I soon discovered that running unravels so much of what trauma does to our minds. Running takes me away from the moment of the attack and brings me back into the present. It also give me control. Lying there, looking at my blood on the pavement around me, I felt total, utter powerlessness. Running makes me feel me again. It also nibbles away at the isolation you feel with PTSD. It pulls you back into the happy family of runners. I love that bond runners always feel between them. You are never alone as a runner. Finally, and crucially, running helps me sleep. Night is the worst time. I will never escape the moment I was convinced I was going to die, but if I knacker myself enough during the day, then I don’t lie there all night thinking about it. That’s what my book, Outrunning The Demons, is about – how running can restore us all in moments of crisis.’
Laura Fountain, running coach (lazygirlrunning.com)
‘Why I run has changed over time, and what actually gets me out the door can be different on any given day. I started running in 2008 because I wanted to get fit. Sixteen marathons later it’s fair to say I’ve achieved that. Now I run because I enjoy it, it’s part of my identity and as much a part of my week as a Friday night beer. I run because it makes me feel strong, it allows me to challenge myself, because it gives me time by myself and because it brings me together with friends.’
‘I run because I love it. It's a humbling discipline that not only keeps me fit, but grounded. I also cherish the opportunity to inspire other women who look like me to take it up via my running community, Fly Girl Collective, especially if they never felt they could.’
Adharanand Finn, author of The Rise of the Ultra Runners
‘I still wake up some mornings and question why I do it. “Stop pretending,” I tell myself. “You’re not a runner. Stay here in bed where it’s warm.” But 10 minutes into my run, it all comes flooding back. The freedom, the joy of movement, even the rain, the heart racing, the sense of being a child again. And then, afterwards, the feeling of wellbeing that washes through the body. This is why I run, I think, happy, tucking into breakfast. And for a few moments everything is right in the world.’
‘I like the movement of running, it’s playful and fun and I think most people can loosely understand that. But why we race and push ourselves to the limit is a different matter. If you have ambition and want to do something that pushes you, it’s hard not use that drive. For me, at this point in my life anyway, all the strongest emotions I feel derive from running. The highs and the lows I experience are just more intense than in any other area of my life. I guess this heightened stimulation is a chemical thing, similar to a drug addiction.’