THE BLOG
01/31/2014 03:15 pm ET | Updated Apr 02, 2014

Go the Extra Mile: Run for Yourself, Run for a Cause

Running. You either love it or you hate it. You love feeling the wind on your face, the pounding of your feet against the pavement, the rush of blood through your veins and the way your post-workout endorphins make you feel. You hate feeling out of breath, getting out of bed in the morning when it's still dark out, the fatigue that builds in your legs and the soreness the day after a run. I used to be one of the haters -- until I gave running a chance.

I'm not what you typically imagine when you envision a runner. I'm not tall and slender with long legs, and you were more likely to see me running late to a dinner reservation than to see me running in the park near my apartment. But in a quest to become healthier and lose some weight a few years ago, I joined New York Road Runners, an organization that coordinates dozens of races a year in and around New York City.

My first race was a four-mile loop of Central Park, known for its intimidating hills. I ran/walked around the park at a slug-like pace. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to go from couch to four miles, but the sense of accomplishment I felt once I completed the race, coupled with the fact I had run four miles before most people my age rolled out of bed, was enough to keep me going. I had to run more races.

I signed up for a handful of New York Road Runners races on Saturday and Sunday mornings and I began running a few times a week after work. I started slowly and my endurance improved. After a few weeks, I noticed I had more energy. I was losing weight and feeling great. Throughout my training, I learned that the health benefits of running far exceeded weight loss. Not only is running one of the most efficient ways to burn calories, lose weight, trim body fat and increase lean muscle, but it also helps reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack and has been found to lower blood pressure and reduce stress, emotional strain and even mild depression.

For me, the benefits didn't end there. What started as a solo journey to improved health had a reach far beyond my personal goals. Almost every race I ran was sponsored by a charitable organization to raise money and bring awareness to a specific cause. Breast Cancer. Lung cancer. Heart Disease. Anti-Gun Violence. The Parks. Every race promoted a valuable cause, and every race was put into perspective. Magically, I wasn't just running for one anymore. I was running for something greater than myself. I was running to raise money for charity. I was running to raise awareness for those whom we've lost, for survivors, for our environment and for those who celebrate equality. These races became more than just races: they became causes and incentives to do my best for others.

After participating in shorter organized races, my running goals and mileage increased. I began taking part in 10ks, half marathons and after only one year, I ran the New York City Marathon for New York Road Runner's charity, Team for Kids. The feeling of accomplishment was immeasurable. Not only did I feel great both physically and mentally, but I raised money for a great cause.

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With Spring right around the corner, now is the perfect time to hop on the treadmill or bundle up and run outside to train for a race. Websites like Active.com and local running clubs like New York Road Runners provide comprehensive lists of upcoming races of all distances. You can also reach out to your favorite charity to see if they are participating in any upcoming events. To prepare, just lace up your running shoes and go. It doesn't matter how fast at first... Your pace, your race.

So, whether you're setting a goal for a new year, a goal for a new you or a goal to be a part of something bigger than yourself, RUN. Whether it's a 5k or a marathon, setting a goal to train and participating in a race is a wonderful way to begin a fitness journey in a meaningful way. Not only will you achieve your fitness goals and earn a great sense of empowerment and accomplishment, but you will also be giving back and helping others in the process.

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