Updated 08 August 2019

Not another weight-loss story – how running is changing my life, one stride at a time

Running can literally transform lives. For Marelize Wilke, this journey affected her in many ways that had nothing to do with weight loss.

If you ask anyone how and why they started running long distances, you are sure to hear an interesting story – whether it’s for weight-loss, a health overhaul, in remembrance of someone close to them, for a good cause, or fighting an addiction – runners tend to have inspirational backgrounds and a reason why they adapted their lives to include running.

My initial reason was for vanity. I wanted to look good in a wedding dress, but I also wanted to join some form of activity in my community as I was always immersed in work, with little interests beside, well, work. I actually don’t have a great story about overcoming a battle, and I’ve never even been overweight.

Somehow, while dreading those early, cold mornings, I needed to find my own “why”. I thought hard about the ways running is still changing my life – I use the present tense as I’m still in the middle of this journey.

1. Running helps with my anxiety

General anxiety disorder makes me dread crowds, traffic and meeting new people. Running exposes you to all three of these elements, especially if it’s a big race. Somehow, I found that immersing myself in these situations I generally hated before, helped me cure my fear of people. There is nothing like lining up for a half marathon with 20 000 other people in the dark to help you get out of your comfort zone – and nothing like friendly banter with the person next to you to help you shake the fear of meeting new people. I also found that regular exercise helps me control my general anxiety much better.

2. Running is changing my perception about my body and food

If you asked me if running transformed my body, I can’t really say yes. As someone who was initially quite skinny and didn’t eat a proper meal during the day, I had to come to grips with a “heavier” self over the years. But instead of seeing extra kilograms, I see strength – a body that can complete 42.2 km with relative ease. And for me, food is no longer viewed as either “sinful” or “healthy”. I now see food as fuel and a celebration. After running, my food tastes better, my digestion is better, and I simply generally feel better.

3. Running is introducing me to people outside my circle

Running is all about learning to run alone and learning how to run with other people all at the same time. Joining the running community, I was introduced to people I wouldn’t have met under normal circumstances. Out on club runs, you hear life stories, you laugh, you stop thinking about your own life and start genuinely listening to other people. You also meet some of the most inspirational people you can imagine. Whenever I get stuck in a rut, I think of all those people who managed to change their lives for the better.

4. Running is helping me cope with intense migraines and sinus headaches

As a health writer, I need to back up anecdotal claims with specific studies. In this case, I can’t say with certainty if there is a link between decreasing migraines and regular exercise. All I know is that the intense headaches I used to suffer from are fewer than in the past and they tend to go away more quickly. 

5. Running is helping me to plan better

When following a training plan, it makes it easier for me to prioritise other things around that. It makes the time you plan with friends more valuable and helps you organise your days. It generally helps me manage my time better.

6. Running is making me take better care of my health

Where, in the past I would have ignored any niggles, pains, sniffles and ailments, I now address health issues as they pop up, as I don’t want to sit out due to any untreated health problems. I also consider my future health as I see so many people older than 60 still running long distances. This inspires me to stay active for as long as my legs will carry me.

7. Running is making me take better care of my skin

Hitting your 30s makes you pay more attention to skincare. As someone who didn’t give sun protection a second thought, I now see pigmentation and fine wrinkles popping up. As running exposes you to the sun for extended periods, I now pay more attention than ever to applying and reapplying sunscreen, going for regular mole mappings at my dermatologist, and introducing good anti-ageing ingredients into my skincare regime.

Image credit: iStock




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