It seems like yesterday that running really wasn’t that popular of a sport or activity. In fact, when I was in Jr. High and High School (1990’s), running was not considered a popular sport to go out for but I was in the midst of a running boom that was spreading nation wide. We seemed to get a lot of the teens that didn’t have any chance of making the football, basketball, baseball, and soccer teams. Running didn’t have the prestige of the golfers and tennis players either. If you looked around my cross-country team you found some teens from other sports but they were not on the team because they loved running but it was a good idea for them to use cross-country to help them get in shape for their main sport. Coaches encouraged cross-country to help soccer or basketball players to get in shape. In the spring football players were asked to run track to stay active and work on speed. All this means that my cross-country team didn’t have very many year round devoted runners. We had a few and they were usually one of the top five guys but we had to rely on quite a few soccer and basketball players to fill out the rest of our roster and add depth.
Who loves to run? I can remember a lot of my peers in high school who tried to avoid the “running” part of training for their sport. Yet, today running has exploded as a national sport and activity. In the USA alone there are over 60 million people participating in running now. In high school there are more teens than ever devoted to the sport from an earlier age. This increase of loyal runners in high school is increasing the quality of runners you see emerging into the college ranks. The professional runners for the USA are now becoming more competitive against the worlds best and the depth of great runners existing in our country is very deep. This depth includes runners who are both young and much older. This goes to show that runners are training harder at earlier ages and still training and competing at a high level well into our later 30’s and even 40’s. Records are breaking all over the country.
Back in the 1980’s and 1990’s you could commonly find 5k, 10k, 15k, half marathon, and marathon events. Now you can find ultra distances like 50k, 100k, 50 miles, 100 miles, 200 miles, 250 miles, 3,100 miles…..let’s just say almost every imaginable distance is now a race.
Not only do we have more distances than ever to compete in but we different types of things happening in these races. Some races have themes, obstacles, or activities. The Tough Mudder and Spartan races are now popular if you like obstacles and physical challenges as you run. Then you can find costume races, races that involve lots of food (like doughnuts) or drink (like beer or wine). There are trail races, multi-day stage races, races where you find out who can run the farthest in 24 hours, and races where you even run till your the last person standing! If you don’t find the type of race or challenge that interests you, more people than ever are making up their own challenges and races. For example, some people seek to run across countries or desserts, run marathons in every state, or use running to raise money for specific causes.
What is your niche? What interests you? What are your goals? What distances are enjoyable and doable for you? Most people only have time for 5k to 10k type of distances. Occasionally people will venture into a mini marathon (13.1). Running is found to be a very “social” sport for many. There are hundreds of running clubs and people enjoy just getting together to run and converse. Running is also family friendly. At a lot of 5k to 10k fun runs there are also a kids 1 mile run.
It really doesn’t matter for most of us what distances or what races you choose to focus on. Obviously it is wise to pick something that fits your lifestyle and time to train for. Most of us don’t have the time to train for 100 mile races well. Yet, most of us could easily train for a what is a good time for us in the 5k’s to 15k’s. If you like the total body challenges of obstacle challenges then look into those races. If you prefer being out in the woods or high in the mountains then look into training and racing those events. I personally love running on paved and dirt roads. My favorite distance currently is the marathon but I also have an interest for ultra distances.
Long distances has always been in my blood. I’ve always loved to just go out and run as long or far as I could. In high school and college I did sprint and middle distance races but I also made sure my coaches put me in the long events as well. As I have gotten older, my speed is not what it once was. I can’t go run 10 second 100m dashes anymore or 51 second quarter milers. However, I can run a 6 minute mile with ease. In fact, I could run a few 6 minute miles back to back to back with no problem. Sometimes it is wise to pick a distance or type of running event that fits your natural body type. This is especially true when you are young and want to be competitive. For example, some people have more fast twitch muscles and excel in shorter distances while others have slower twitch but can excel in the distances.
Yet, running for me isn’t about winning or setting records. As an older runner, I don’t have to run the distance best suited for me as much as I run the distances I enjoy most. I enjoy spending quality time out on the roads wandering around in God’s creation. When I do race, I don’t have a lot of interest in 5k or 10k distances. A lot of my running time is spend praying and meditating on God’s Word. I also love how long distance running challenges my mind, body, and spirit. Long distance running is my niche because it helps to make me a stronger person.