The reasons people hate running are understandable. It’s hard. There’s physical discomfort. There’s sweat, and there’s definitely stinkiness. There’s the fear of being judged for having wonky form or not being “fast enough.” And did I mention it’s hard?

A lot of people ask me why (or more accurately, Whyyyyyyy?!) I choose to run so much in situations that don’t involve being chased by a bear or chasing after a taco truck. And honestly, it’s a fair question. Running used to be the bane of my existence, and I swore it was absolutely not for me. Somehow, that shifted to running marathons.

When talking with other runners, I very often hear refrains like “I run because beer,” “I run so I can eat pancakes,” and “I run because I really love ice cream.” And honestly, that makes me sad. I am a strong believer in the idea that you don’t have to “earn” your calories. If you want to eat a pancake, you should eat a damn pancake regardless of whether or not you’ve run that day. Whether or not the person in question has an eating disorder, the thought pattern of “I have to exercise to make up for eating” feels like a disordered way of thinking, and it can lead down some pretty anxious, guilt-ridden paths.

I strongly believe in running for reasons that don’t involve trying to control or punish my body. I run as a way to care for and celebrate my body, so running ends up playing a really positive role in my life. The following are my big five reasons why:

1. Running makes me feel powerful.

As someone who is 5’4”, I don’t often get to feel physically powerful. Running (particularly running fast) gives me a feeling I never experience otherwise, and that allows me to celebrate and appreciate my body in a new way. The sense of accomplishment I feel when I get faster or become able to run longer distances is pretty great, but even if I were to never do more than slow two-mile loops, the sense of empowerment I get from running is something I love in and of itself.

2. Running helps me process thoughts and emotions.

As a millennial who’s quite busy and also admittedly glued to her phone, I don’t always set aside the time and space to really be present with what I’m thinking and feeling. I get distracted easily and feel a constant pressure to “be more productive.” When I’m running, I get to really wade through my thoughts as fully as I need to.

What’s more, I get to connect with my emotions (which is a really hard thing to do!) Running allows me to process and feel everything from exuberant joy to anger to sadness—and there’s something powerful about embodying those feelings through such powerful physical movement. It’s not a replacement for therapy, but it can be profoundly cathartic.

3. Running makes me feel alive.

There’s an incredible sense of exhilaration and invigoration that you can get from propelling your own body forward through space. I don’t think any runner feels that all the time— it’s normal even for pros to feel slow, bogged down, and challenged by certain running days. But when you do get that feeling of being so vibrantly alive, it’s a wild adrenaline rush.

4. Running is “me time.”

Getting to blast my music and run through beautiful scenery is definitely one of my favorite ways to unwind. Even if I’m just running through the streets of the city, the process helps me to get to know my city better. Best of all, I get to completely retreat into my own little world, where I feel a beautiful synergy of my body, my thoughts, emotions, my music, and the world around me. Sometimes I even like it better than Netflix.

5. Running makes my body feel awesome.

In the big picture of my overall fitness and healthy-eating choices, running plays a really positive role in helping me feel amazing and as healthy as I can be. It’s not the only type of workout I do, but it’s always a favorite because its impact is invaluable.

I love my relationship with running because I get to enjoy this badass sport and not get burned out by it. I don’t have to be strict about my running schedule (except when I’m in serious training mode for a race), and if there are long periods of time when I’m practicing other forms of fitness and barely running at all, I don’t stress about it. I know that I always can pick running back up when I’m inspired to, and I find that I always end up coming back to it because it makes me happy. If I ran because I wanted to make my body skinnier or to compensate for the beer and French fries that will always be a part of my life, I don’t think I’d have stuck with it all this time.

Katya Weiss-Andersson is a vegan chef, freelance writer, and Team Palestine marathon runner based in Denver. She writes about politics, sociology, and wellness, and helps folks cook and eat plant-based foods that don’t make them want to die inside. Follow her on Instagram @notanothertofuscramble or find her recipes on her website.