I don't naturally enjoy running.
I purposefully avoided it, playing goalie on my high school soccer team, in part, to avoid sprinting up and down the 100-yard field, red-faced and winded like the rest of my teammates.
I've since shaken my absolute disdain for the sport, completing a few races and now training for a half-marathon. While I can list the benefits — cardiorespiratory fitness, stronger bones, stress relief, endorphins, confidence — I still struggle with motivation. I don't run with any focus on speed. I run with the desperate hope I can complete whatever specified distance and not collapse in the process.
So I'm the clear target audience for the wave of activity-filled 5k runs flooding Tampa Bay.
Organizers lure participants to run with any gimmick they can conjure: color run, flavor run, mud run, obstacle run, zombie run, scavenger run, run for beer, run for wine, run for chocolate. I've seen advertisements for all of these in the past few months.
Earlier this week, I experienced my first themed run, a Veterans Day Color Run at Nativity Catholic Church's Novemberfest.
The smart concept relies on quirkiness to attract participants while yielding the same result: Run a mile or three, get your blood pumping and kick off the day with exercise Americans need.
According to an August report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than a third of Americans are obese. That number is slightly lower in Florida at 25 percent.
We struggle to embed healthy choices into our lifestyle. Many people recoil at the idea of running a 5K. But tell them they'll get chased by zombies and, suddenly, panting in the Florida sun seems more appealing. These creative events result in more people going out and running.
At Nativity, the upbeat personalities that greeted me at 7:30 a.m. impressed. The annual race drew its highest numbers to date: more than 200 people, with a number of families and children likely enjoying the freedom that comes with a day off of school. The youngest participant was 2; the oldest, 76.
Not everyone appeared to be an enthusiast logging 20 miles a week, but they shared a desire to celebrate the holiday in a healthy, active way.
I praise anything that encourages people to be more fitness-focused. Advertising surrounding working out centers on losing weight. While that's a great payoff, too much emphasis is placed on the negatives — whatever we don't like about our body — instead of the empowering positives —the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.
Fitness should make you happier, stronger and more engaged in your community.
That's why I enjoyed the Novemberfest Color Run. The atmosphere proved upbeat and community-focused. Kids ran alongside adults. A man pushed a stroller and jogged with a dog. Friends shouted words of encouragement. And during the final .2 miles, runners dashed through clouds of red and blue powder that clung to their skin and coated their clothes.
People celebrated running instead of dreading it. They embraced the challenge and enjoyed the adrenaline rush that lasted through the goofy photo booth sessions and the piles of healthy snacks that awaited them.
Running doesn't have to be a chore. The mud pits, obstacles and zombies distract us, but ultimately, our bodies crave motion. Whether you sign up for a themed run or jog through your neighborhood, give your body a gift: run.