I’ve always enjoyed running, but only casually, and at my own pace. I suffer from tilted hips, knock knees, and flat feet so I’ll never be able to run particularly fast and I won’t ever be able to run a marathon, no matter how much training I do. But my god, do I enjoy running. It’s the perfect opportunity to be alone with my thoughts; to go through everything that’s rushing around in my head and to mentally sort through my life. It’s almost as good as a night’s sleep when it comes to resting my brain. I also enjoy the feeling of freedom it gives me; I could run wherever I want with no limits (apart from when my legs and feet are giving me grief!)

But running gets a mixed review depending on who you talk to. Unfortunately, I’m one of those people who is very easily swayed and I’m very impressionable. If someone tells me they don’t like something, suddenly I don’t like it either. There are obviously people out there who share my love for running, but there are also those who absolutely hate it. You find that a lot of bodybuilders, powerlifters, and strongman competitors will all have something to say about how awful running is. Bodybuilders and bikini models will brag about how they stay lean and ripped without doing any cardio and by only lifting weights. So what happened to me when I stopped running for an entire year and only focussed on weight lifting?

Throughout 2015 and 2016 I got seriously into running, and completed several 10k runs and a half marathon in my local town. I joined a running club and was a regular at the local parkrun, completing 26 runs there. I couldn’t get enough of it! I loved the runner’s high and I’d never looked better either. I was lean and light and comfortable in my body. But then I changed gyms and made friends with powerlifters who completely changed my outlook. I started focussing more on heavy lifting and soon that was my primary focus. I found I was naturally good at lifting heavy and I progressed very quickly, hitting personal bests nearly every session. Being terrible at running had always frustrated me, so finding a sport that my body didn’t hate was a blessing and I wanted to make the most of it!

60kg squats turned into 100kg, and 80kg deadlifts turned into 140kg. I stopped running all together because all the powerlifters that I spoke to were avidly against any form of cardio and claimed that it stopped you getting stronger. But what I didn’t pay attention to was the fact that most powerlifters and strongman competitors are pretty overweight. Sure, they’re leaders in their sport and what they can do in the gym deserves massive respect. But I got to the point where I couldn’t even walk up the stairs without getting out of breath because I was doing no form of conditioning and my cardiovascular health was beginning to really suffer.

It wasn’t until I watched the documentary about Eddie Hall and how he needs a sleep apnea mask so that he doesn’t suffocate himself during the night that I realised I was glorifying something that wasn’t actually healthy at all. He is a fantastic athlete and is one of the best in the world at what he does, but he consumes an unbelievable amount of calories each day and his body fat percentage would have doctors losing their minds. I found that soon I was getting out of breath just walking from one end of the gym to the other, and that really got to me.

Eddie Hall holds the world record for the heaviest deadlift at 500kg

But what about those bodybuilders and bikini fitness stars who claim that you don’t need to do cardio to stay lean? Well, frankly, I don’t believe them. If you eat a normal diet and don’t do any cardiovascular exercise, you won’t be lean. These types of fitness models eat very restricted diets and they are unbelievably dedicated to their sport. I once had a bikini model ask for a sniff of my bag of sweets because she was so deprived in the lead up to her competition. Everyone knows that it’s not sustainable for a long time, but they still like to boast about how they need run or do any cardio. For someone like me, it would be neither achievable nor sustainable because I love to eat! So I need to make up for it by running.

When I stopped running, I gained nearly 10kg in weight, and that definitely wasn’t lean muscle mass. I missed the freedom of movement that running gave me, as lifting weights mainly consists of standing in one place and moving statically. Again, I am aware that certain sports such as Olympic weightlifting involve a lot of movement, but I was focussing very much just on the squat, bench, and deadlift disciplines that make up powerlifting. I realised that being able to show off in the gym and brag about how much weight you can lift is not as important as being comfortable in your own skin and fitting into your favourite pair of skinny jeans. Not to mention not having thighs that rub together when you walk. That’s the worst.

So I decided to start running again. And wow it was hard. My legs hurt, my feet hurt, my ankles hurt… you get the picture. I started off slow, running 1 mile each day. I then started pushing it a bit further and soon I was back to being able to run 5k without stopping. Back when I was at my peak, I was able to run up to 10 miles without even thinking about it, but that seems like a distant reality at the moment. I’m making great progress and will be running my first 10k in over a year this week. I still enjoy going to the gym, but I stick to lighter weights and higher reps, and I do lots of conditioning!

None of this is to say that I am against a certain type of training. I have a lot of respect for anyone who is elite in their field, but I just personally don’t like the thought of not moving! I love running, even if it doesn’t love me back.

Originally published at medium.com