Why Are So Many Programmers Runners?

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Chair to 5K

Earlier this month, I attended the 30th anniversary of my town’s annual 5K. Throughout my 3rd mile, I considered how it was that I and so many other programmers found running.

Of course, this is merely anecdotal. I don’t have statistics on the world-wide Venn diagram covering programmers and runners.

But, a striking number of people in the tech world (and academia) that I’ve befriended either continue to or used to run.

I thought about why I enjoy running.

Growing up I experimented playing many different sports. My lack of hand-eye coordination made basketball challenging. I joined a swim team, but even when I thought I was flying through the water, I was usually among the last to surface at the end of the lane.

When my best friend suggested I join the track team, I imagined myself lagging behind the pack, trying to figure out how I would breathe and talk at the same time. But, something unexpected happened. I loved it.

During a run my body is moving quickly, but I find my thoughts slow down, providing me time for reflection and renewal. The time I dedicate to my daily run provides respite from deadlines and exams, offering only the road ahead of me and one foot to place in front of the other.

Beyond the health benefits, running gives me time to reflect and relieve stress.

I never expected that so early in my life time would become my most valuable resource. And yet I take an hour out of every day to do nothing but run down the road, clearing my head and contemplating my next steps.

I think about my research, that tricky question on my physics problem set, or different ways I could approach coding a new project.

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I think this feeling of freedom is shared by many other developers. We spend a lot of time in front of our screens, typing away in dimly lit rooms and lounging in our chairs.

Running provides opportunities to get away from all that, even for 30 minutes a day. I know this is a large part of why I look forward to my daily 5K.

But running is also an opportunity to push ourselves. It's a highly individual sport. For the most part, you’re running against yourself.

I find that this meshes well with the intrinsic motivations that drive working on personal programming projects. You do it because you enjoy doing it, even when it’s painful.

In this way, running can be even closer to coding - both can be agonizing at times when you’re in the thick of it.

But the feeling of euphoria that comes afterwards, the “runner’s high” you’re chasing; I feel that thrill when I’m in the “flow state” and finally patch a bug, or push an update, as well.

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So, why are so many programmers runners?

As I’ve discussed, a lot of the qualities of the programming experience are also found in running.

There’s just a ton of overlap in the type of person that participates in both activities - independent, driven self-starters eager to meet their next personal milestone.

In some ways, becoming a software developer in the first place is a lot like running a marathon. It takes months to years of preparation and practice for the final payoff.

But it’s definitely worth it.


Thanks for reading 🙂

If you’re a programmer in the middle of this Venn diagram, why do you enjoy running? Let me know on Twitter!

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