I would be gasping for air, have pains in my sides, sweat rolling down my face, and aches in my leg muscles. In elementary school, I was a track-and-field star, and in high school I tried out for the team in the ninth grade. Back then, I could run laps for hours and I loved that feeling I got when I was finished; as if the wind had been knocked right out of me. Panting was a positive thing and pain was an almost pleasant feeling. Dripping in sweat was a sign that I had given it my all.

Now years later, the most running I do is when I’m rushing to catch the subway. When I flop down on the seat, winded, in my work clothes, and a little too sweaty for comfort, I wonder how I could have loved it so much.

Why do people run?
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The recreational runner

Some runners run to lose and maintain their weight, reach other athletic goals, or for the company.

Joallore Alon, who is in his 30s, has a hectic work schedule and uses running as a stress reliever. He also said it helps keep him young because it’s constantly “kicking his butt.”

“I run because it’s convenient and great for cardio,” said Allore, a digital content specialist.

Jermaine James, a 23-year-old who is on the roster to be signed to a professional European basketball team next year, runs to stay in shape.

“Most of why I run is to keep my endurance,” said James, who currently plays for the University of Guelph. “It helps me stay in the shape which helps me stay in the game.”

Gwen Elliot, 21, runs recreationally now but she didn’t always love running.

“I ran cross country in public school because I had to to play basketball. And I hated it. It was awful. It was the worst,” said Elliot, a former radio and television arts student at Ryerson University.

She was the worst of all of her friends, always coming last in relay races and getting the most winded.

“When you’re the worst at something, it doesn’t really encourage you to keep going,” she explained, but she decided to revisit it recently in order to take on a new challenge and get into better shape.

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“I started running again because my friend encouraged me to try it,” said Elliot. “She was having a lot of fun and it was like, ‘Why not?’ It was ultimately for the challenge and the camaraderie between runners. Runners are the happiest people I’ve ever met. They’re all just happy and cheering you on and asking you how you did.”

Heather Dianne Torres, 29, started running in the summer of 2004 as a way to stay fit. It became such a positive part of her life that she decided to push herself to the next level. She ran her first race, the Bluewater Bridge Race, a 10 km run in Sarnia, in the fall of 2005.

Since then, she has ran in six half-marathons — three in Canada and three in the United States.

“Running is such a great feeling and a way to clear your mind and compete with yourself and with your personal goals,” said Torres.

Torres is an example of how recreational running can easily evolve into something more.

The competitive runner

When a runner decides to get competitive about the sport, it indicates that they enjoy running for the challenge.

Andy Johns, who runs and writes about running, is one of those runners. He runs marathons to explore and compete.

“I run because I want to see what I’m capable of doing,” Johns wrote in a January 2009 article entitled “Why do people run marathons?” It was written for MadeToRun, a website designed to aid runners in learning more about running as a sport, a pastime, an innate human ability, and to share this passion with runners of all types.

“Sitting in an office 50 hours a week doesn’t necessarily give me the opportunity to find out what I’m capable of, physically at least. Nor does sitting in an office all week allow me to see the world, which is another reason why I love to run. I can’t think of a better way to see the world and interact with it than to do so by foot,” said Johns.
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Richard Koo feels the same way. He started running in high school, but stopped through university and didn’t manage to integrate it in with his work schedule for some years.

When a coworker recommended he get back into it, Koo joined the Running Room.

“Once you get out of university, you sort of lose the opportunity to meet new people,” he said. “When you’re in the office with people eight hours a day, you’re kind of drawn together out of necessity as opposed to common interest. Once I joined the Running Room, I met a lot of new people through the running. It’s a bit of a social network.”

Koo has now found time to fit running into his lifestyle and takes it quite seriously. He knows the level of commitment it takes to run in marathons. For him, it’s an annual process.

He typically focuses on fall marathons. In the winter, he takes a bit of a break, still running, but not long distances. Then he starts training again in January leading up to heavy training during the summer months in preparation.

He has since run six marathons in various cities that include Toronto, Ottawa, London, and Chicago.

“Other than being crazy, which I certainly attest to being, I run because I enjoy it,” said Koo, laughing. “There’s something a little OCD about running marathons, I think. I freely admit that. But there’s something somewhat addictive to being healthy. You get into that cycle where you’re fit and you don’t want to lose it.”

The varsity runner

Chloe Conlon has been a track star at school for the majority of her life. She started running when she was just 7 years old. Conlon is currently in her last year at Notre Dame Catholic High School in Brampton and once she graduates, she hopes to go to the United States on a track scholarship.

“I do it because it’s a good workout and every time you finish, it’s like you’ve accomplished something,” said Conlon, 18, who has been running at the school and provincial level since she was four. “It’s exhilarating and it works every muscle.”

Conlon currently holds three Ontario records. In 2006, she won the 1600 meter run at the Hershey’s Track and Field Games in Pennsylvania while representing Ontario.

Conlon believes that the reason she does so well at running is because she focuses on her goal.

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“When you run, you don’t think about anything, you just run,” said Conlon, adding that she gets in the zone by keeping her eye on the finish line.

“I dream about going to the Olympics, but for now, I just hope to do well and keep it in my life,” she said.

Much like Conlon, Eadaoin Quinn, a University of Toronto Varsity Blues runner, started running when she was just 9 years old, with her elementary school track team.

“Everyone in my family had done it at some point so it was just kind of natural,” she said. “I remember when my dad told me what cross country was, saying that you get to run through the forest and over the logs and stuff, and I just thought that sounded like the coolest thing ever.”

She’s been running ever since, almost completely without a break — until last year. Quinn ran for four years at McGill, while taking her undergrad in Biology and International Development Studies.

When she came to U of T, Quinn thought she was done with that part of her life, but after spending her first year doing her Masters of Forestry, she decided she needed it back and joined the Varsity Blues cross country team.

“It just feels natural for me to be with a group of people, training every day,” said Quinn, 24. “Track is usually thought of as an indivudal sport, but there’s some really intense bonds you experience when you have to put yourself through a lot of pain.”

Taking some time off from running made Quinn realize how much she really wants it in her life.

“I’ll run my whole life,” she said. “I have hopes that I’ll be an old lady with crazy coloured shorts and be still running.”

Photos by Nathaniel Dart, Rich Gibbs, Hester Sharpe, and Cynthia Black