A Question Every Runner is Asked: Why do you run?

Posted on June 18, 2012


Runners are asked a lot of questions about their “addiction” to a way of life that seems absurd to the non-runner. Non-runners seem to ask these questions in hopes of understanding why anyone would choose to run. In my opinion, there are three commonly asked questions:

1. What’s your mile time?
2. Have you ever run a marathon?
3. Why do you run?

The last question is the question that inspired Ben and I to eventually create the start-up company, The Run Project (therunproject.com). We’ve been asked the questions so many times before, but we’ve never truly reflected deeper than any reason that reached below the surface of a considerably superficial response. Below I explore the often asked, yet seemingly overlooked question why do you run? to show how our own answers to the question helped us to discover our belief that running could save the world.

Why do people run today?

During the summer of 2011, I told my friend Ben I believed running could save the world. I know how ridiculous this statement sounds when heard for the first time. And I expected Ben to laugh at the statement and brush it off as nothing more than a passing thought of mine. Surprisingly, he didn’t. Instead he asked me to explain my theory.

We began to explore the quiet social phenomena of how the sport of running was being used throughout the world to help save lives. We recognized that running has become a sport that is now synonymous with charity. Thus, why people run extends beyond the desire to improve their own personal well-being. A lot of people are running because they want to save the world.

The interesting thing about this quiet phenomena is that no one was saying ‘running is saving the world.’ And we were quite confident a lot of people don’t view their efforts in running as being heroic on such a magnanimous scale as we do now. The more we talked about the history of running positive influence the more inspired we became to unpack its’ history and tell its’ story to who ever would listen.

We discussed the amazing influence the Olympic triumphs of American marathoner Frank Shorter during the 1970s. He inspired a running boom of the 70’s in the USA. A boom that ushered in a wave of new runners who believed they could run and that it was beautiful and meaningful because he showed them what that looked like. Countless lives were changed simply because he could run!

More relevant today are the growing aspirations and increasing financial ability of the people in east African countries like Ethiopia and Kenya to rebuild their country because of their international success in the sport of the middle and long distance running. They believe in themselves and in the possibility of a better life simply because they can run.

I found out about the significance running is given in Japan through the stories my former college teammate Bryan would tell me from his time teaching English while living there. He continued his running lifestyle while there and discovered that the Japanese have an enthralling love affair with long distance running. He was surprised at both how much they loved distance running and how much respect distance runners received by others. He didn’t know the history of this love affair, but he recognized that it was in full bloom during his time there.

There are countless stories about how running has positively transformed individuals, countries and social problems. The amazing thing is  a lot of these stories aren’t being told (or at least, not in a way to build on the success running is having in helping make a positive difference) because they’re not being looked at as being a big deal. And I guess that’s true if you’re not looking for a weapon of mass solution.

We are looking for that weapon. And we believe that weapon is running. Most runners don’t see what they do every day as a big deal. They don’t see every step they take as a step in the right direction (towards their health and happiness) no matter how fast or how far they go. They don’t see their lifestyle as a runner as something that matters greatly to the health and happiness of the world. By finding and telling these stories we hope to change the perception or lack thereof, about the power and importance of running in the world.

We assumed that even though there’s evidence running has made a positive difference in the world it was still far-fetched to state it was saving it. It’s hard for people to believe things can change so drastically as to eliminate a problem altogether. We believed, however, that running was saving the world and that it could be used to solve many of the world’s current problems–if more people ran.

Why do we run?

In order to get anyone to consider our theory we needed to find a way to help others see what we believed. So we began to unpack the question why do you run? for ourselves. We believed if we could better understand how running was positively influencing our own lives we might better understand how running could do the same for the world.

We asked each other why we run (a question we’ve been asked many times before) only this time we really dug deep for an answer. We discovered each others reasons for running were more compelling than we had ever realized. We recognized that running was more than a sporting activity for either one of us, it had become a tool we’ve used throughout our lives to help us overcome challenges and get the most out of life.

For me (Jon) running helped pave the way for a degree from UCLA, a career as a professional athlete and the opportunity to see the world. Running gave me the confidence to believe in my dreams; and it provided me with a way to make many of them come true. And because of what it has done for me I want to share this with others, everywhere.

For Ben running helped him to find balance in his life during times when he had to face some great personal challenges. Running provided him with an outlet by which to channel his emotions and to find peace within himself. He’s told me, that for him, without running, he isn’t sure how he would have been able to mentally cope with some of the surprises his life’s journey thus far. Running was and continues to be something that provides him with inner strength to live his life passionately and without fear.

In many ways, running was saving our lives, but we didn’t realize this until we asked each other the question and honestly tried to answer it.

The connection we made to the power of running in our own lives helped us to believe running could save the world. Seeing how it was saving our own life made it easier for us to embrace the notion that it could do for the world what it was doing for us. This discovery was extremely influential on both of us. We felt compelled to discover the stories of why people around the world chose to be runners. And we wanted to share these stories with both runners and non-runners.

Why we created The Run Project?

We believed the sharing of these stories would provide a great deal of connection between individuals and communities throughout the world. And that they would provide inspiration for anyone who ventured to hear them. So we chose a medium (videos) to capture these stories and created a platform (therunproject.com) to help us share these stories. We hope to help other runners discover how much running has helped make their lives better. Our intentions are very simple: we want to inspire others to not just run, but to run for the greatest cause–to save the world.

For us, this is just the beginning. There are a lot more questions that are left to be answered. Some of those questions include: How many runners would it take to cure cancer? Or How runners would it take to end a war? The one we are most eager to answer with an emphatic yes is: Can running save the world?

What do you think? Do you believe running can save the world? We want to prove that it can. Our job will be to find ways to bring running into the mainstream. And to find ways to inspire others to lace up their shoes, and join us. That’s why we run. Why do you run?