Welcome to a blog series called “Why do you run?“. I hope to publish inspiring insights from runners I know, on why they started running and continue to do so.
I met Andy when he was working for Fleet Feet in Morrisville. He knows my weird feet intimately and introduced me to Altra shoes. I still bug him from time to time for shoe advice, even though he’s moved on to bigger and better things in Washington, DC.
Thanks to Andy for sharing some great thoughts below. I really wish he’d expanded on his animal taming habits — there just may be a Netflix documentary about him some day.
Why did you start running?
I wish there were a good or happy story to tell you here, folks, but the truth of the matter is that I started running due to vanity and a bet. Almost ten years ago, I was by definition morbidly obese and my ex-wife would mention things like, “You sound like you’re going to die when you sleep” or “you stop breathing in your sleep.” None of this really bothered me.
BUT! One fateful Labor Day as we and her two siblings and their significant others were relaxing, a friendly wager was made: we would all run the local turkey trot and the couple with the slowest time would have to sit with the ‘crazy’ Aunt (we all have one in our family…) at Thanksgiving.
I started running the next day with just one mile with a mix of walking and running. Every week I would add 1/4 of a mile, and by the time the turkey trot came around, I was able to run the entire 5k distance and we didn’t lose the bet, ha!
What keeps you motivated?
Some people say that running is their cure or therapy, which I feel like de-legitimizes mental health issues. Earlier in my career, I was using running as mental health management and effectively running away from the things in life that I didn’t want to address head on, whether they were in my personal or professional life.
My motivation was to try to reach a level of stasis where I could be at peace with myself, but it was a prime example of hedonic adaptation: I would have to run farther or longer in order to reach the same level of peace. This was terrific for my ultramarathon and trail races, but wasn’t sustainable in the long term.
Having the physical capability to go on new adventures or spend time with my friends and loved ones is my main driver for running these days. I don’t want to be in a situation where I would ever have to say, “Doing this hike/Going on this ride/Rafting down this river, etc. sounds and seems like it could be a lot of fun, but I’m not physically or mentally able to enjoy it.”
I also have a nephew and niece I see often who are 10 and 8 and full of energy, so having something in the reserves for pool time or catching crayfish in the creek or fishing or whatever else that you people with children are constantly subject to is really helpful.
What is the most important thing you’ve learnt as a runner?
I couldn’t decide on one, so indulge me with two.
1) Being an awesome runner doesn’t make you an awesome person. Fast does not equal kind. Farther in 24 hours than the competition does not equal joy. All your workouts on Strava and IG where you clearly put in the work does not mean that somehow, you are equally as talented navigating life with friends, family, and loved ones.
Build relationships. Be kind to others. Provide normalcy. Teach. Share your gifts. Own your faults. Understand that life is a symphony with high notes, low notes, percussion, winds, strings…and that it all…works together. And then you’ll slowly realize that great runners don’t make great people. Great people who understand the nuances of life make great runners.
2) Run what makes you happy and what works for you. I spent four years of my professional life working in run specialty as an operations manager and coach. The best part of that job was unequivocally being the trail camp coordinator and coach, and a close second was getting to know people for who they were outside of running.
You know what didn’t bring me as much excitement as I thought it would? Having access to the latest and greatest shoe/apparel/nutrition/accessory/wearables technology.
Some quick examples which I hope can resonate with anyone reading this:
i. Two mattresses can be the same thickness or volume but have much different feels, i.e., “soft” vs “responsive.” Which one is “better?” It’s a question that has caveats and nuance based on body weight, shape, pre-existing conditions, personal preferences, right?
Customers who run tend to associate comfort with soft or soft with higher volumes of cushioning, which can both be fallacies. Because of how I specifically run and how my body mechanics work, anything that is too high volume in cushioning or too soft will immediately send sharp pains through my knees.
People can run just as well and comfortably in shoes they find at a run specialty shop as they would in a large department store with lower price points, but I do think it’s a good idea to go to run specialty stores for general starting points, advice, and for education.
The same goes for things like apparel, accessories, wearables and nutrition: I have a $10 shirt that is just as comfortable as a $65 shirt and it wicks moisture just as well (socks are the one thing where I think it’s worth spending the extra money); the accessories that I find invaluable aren’t the most expensive, but they’re things like body glide or nip-eaze; I run with my cheap Casio wristwatch just as much as I do with my Garmin because both tell the time, and I don’t always need to know how far/fast/HR, etc.; and, especially with nutrition – you can adapt this for race day/long training runs and not have to buy gels or bloks or chews or powders: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”
ii. Dovetailing into technology a bit more: social or quasi-social media can be useful for encouragement/motivation, e.g., “Oh cool Alastair ran a 10k today and his pace looked great, and I want to run soon too!” but it can also be very polarizing where it feels like a rat race or like a competition where you’re constantly being judged.
On those days/weeks, uninstall or have someone else change your password for you, and run without a plan. Don’t use Strava, don’t use a smart watch, and go run/walk somewhere fun. A mile is a mile regardless of how fast you go, and the constant barrage of seeing what other people are doing can do more harm than good sometimes.
If you couldn’t run, what would you do instead?
Try to tame wild animals that I find in the back yard…
I wish I were better at swimming. I enjoy snorkeling lots, and being able to better navigate waves/currents or hold my breath for longer would be lots of fun.
What’s your biggest running goal?
To run on all 7 continents.
You can follow Andy on Instagram at @andychang.simpleton