Why do I love running? That’s a question I sometimes get asked by people who witness my jogs through town and the surrounding countryside. I often reply that I don’t exactly love to run. I do, however, enjoy the benefits.
People seem to believe I hit the streets and county roads every day. Though I might wish that were true, I actually run between three and four days per week for total distance of between 12 and 18 miles, depending upon whether I am training for a race.
Perhaps Valentine’s Day week is a great time to examine what it is about this sport that has kept me participating all these many years. I can’t speak for the millions of other Americans who join me in this pursuit, but perhaps I can shed some light on my own dedication to this athletic endeavor.
I run because I still can. I used to play basketball. I used to play softball. My skills have declined in those sports as my athleticism has dropped off. But, my success in running seems to be bounded only by the amount of preparatory effort I am willing to expend. The more I train, the faster I run. Besides, in foot races, we are separated into age divisions.
That brings me to my second point: I run because I am competitive. Those age divisions allow me to still have a chance of winning. I don’t have to be young to be successful. Unfortunately, my age division is still one of the most challenging. We 50 to 55-year-olds are from the golden age of running. We are products of the Jim Fixx era.
I run so I can eat the Friday night buffet at Main Street Cafe in Durham practically guilt free. I don’t exercise enough to lose a lot of weight. In reality, I am more than 50 pounds heavier than I was in high school. And, it is a myth that running long distances will help the average person drop a huge number of pounds. But, it is still a healthy hobby.
I want to stay ahead of the aging process. I can feel the benefits in terms of lower blood pressure, a stronger heartbeat and more powerful leg muscles. I started jogging recreationally in my early 40s because I felt fat and sluggish. I began by walking, but that simply took too long to get anywhere. So, I increased my pace and, eventually, my distances.
Being a goal-oriented person, I soon needed a purpose for running, so I entered my first race, the 2002 River Run in Wichita. It was the first time I had worn a bib number since my cross-country days in the 1970s. There is an adage that the only difference between a jogger and a racer is filling out an entry form.
I run because I enjoy being part of a culture and something larger than I am. Accurate statistics have proven hard to find, but estimates put the number of runners nationwide at between 35 million and 50 million.
A run in San Francisco in the late 1980s reportedly drew 110,000 entrants. The largest running event I have been a part of was the Oklahoma City Memorial Run in 2008, which drew more than 25,000 entrants for three distances. Watching all those heads bobbing up and down as we headed into the sunrise was a sight I will never forget.
Marathon and half-marathon participants are treated like celebrities by the organizations that court them. The pre-race expos, where all ages, sizes and shapes of people gather, is a great time to get to know others who share your same passion. It’s also a chance for vendors of shoes, apparel and equipment to improve their bottom line and help the economy.
I also enjoy running due to the isolation it provides. I can catch up to the news, boogie to my favorite tunes or just enjoy the quietness. More than once God has spoken to me while I was in the midst of long-distance training.
I keep running year round because if I stop, I might not ever start again. Fear of failure is a strong motivating factor for me.
I run to see things from a new perspective and to gain new experiences. The countryside looks different as I travel along at 7.5 mph through places like Dublin, Ireland, Washington, D.C., and Logan, Utah.
I have come upon a family of young coyotes north of Hillsboro and a herd of buffalo in Yellowstone National Park. I have been greeted by deer, possums, skunks, cows and dogs, both friendly and belligerent. I have been flipped off by farmers, nearly run over by angry cyclists and forced to take to the ditches by inattentive teenagers. Running keeps my reflexes sharp.
If I didn’t run, I wouldn’t have any excuse to buy a new pair of cool shoes every six months or so.
And, finally, I have covered all those miles because deep down in the depths of my soul, I have always known that this hobby that has become such an integral part of my life would someday rescue me at a time when I didn’t have a clue what I would write about for my monthly column.
That time is now.