It’s no wonder why over 16 million individuals in the US alone are runners; this seemingly magic exercise has been found to lower the chance of heart disease, help maintain a healthy weight, strengthen bones, and even increase sex drive. While these individual health benefits have long been discussed, much less has been said about the positive impact that runners have on people other than themselves.
Perhaps the most direct way that running helps others is through benefit races. Thousands of benefit races pop up around the country every year, and between runner entry fees and sponsor donations, revenues add up to a substantial amount donated to the cause of the race.
Take for example the Women’s 5K Classic hosted in the Lehigh Valley annually since 1993. The event donates to organizations that support women who suffer from debilitating diseases, including breast cancer. In its inaugural year 250 runners signed up for the race, which raised $2,500; now, the race averages $250,000 in donations with over 5,000 runners annually. Other benefit races follow a similar pattern, with runners’ entry fees being donated directly to the selfless cause of the race.
Additionally, runners inspire others to make healthier choices, including the choice to take up running. By running outside and in public, whether it be through the streets of Scranton, Nay Aug Park or the Lackawanna Heritage Trail, onlookers observe a person dedicated to being healthy, and that can only influence them positively to make a similar choice in their lives.
A personal anecdote here: as a consistent runner for about three years during my time at The University, my friends constantly observed this aspect of my life that kept me fit. Nearing graduation, one of my closest friends grew a strong desire to join the Air Force, and quickly learned that he had to drop over 50 pounds to meet standards. We talked about ways he could reach his goal, and he decided to start running consistently. Today it’s been four months since he started running, and I’m proud to say that he lost over 50 pounds! My running habit inspired my friend to take the first strides that would lead him to fulfill his dream of serving as a pilot in the Air Force.
Furthermore, running with others develops a sense of belonging and motivation for everyone involved, and local running communities serve to benefit the entire group. There’s no getting around it: running is hard. But when two individuals team up and attack a run together, each does the other a favor. When the run gets tough and a runner’s body accumulates a significant oxygen debt, he’ll look to his left and see that his friend hasn’t quit yet, so neither can he.
Like many other local running shops, Scranton Running Company hosts weekly group runs where runners of all abilities meet to debate the effectiveness of the latest running tech, give training advice, and exchange playful banter, all while embarking on yet another run. These local running communities benefit all people involved because of the diversity of thoughts brought to each run, which is only possible if each individual runner partakes in the run.
Finally, “running for those who can’t” is a seemingly cliché phrase that actually holds truth in the sense of running altruistically. The phrase is usually used to mean that a runner runs simply because he can, and that he realizes he may not always have the physical ability to do so; this identifies running as a privilege.
However, the phrase’s diction indicates that people who can no longer run benefit from people who do run: people who were once runners but have lost the ability to run, whether from an injury or illness, find fulfillment by watching others compete in the sport. Current runners act as a gateway for past runners to get one more taste of the emotions that they are no longer able to experience firsthand, and assure them that the feelings they long to experience one more time will be felt long into the future by generations of runners to come.
Running rewards a wide variety of people with numerous benefits; perhaps runners are running more altruistically than they initially thought.