Why I run and why I can't stop after 30-plus years
Wednesday is National Running Day, according to an emailed news release that arrived this morning at 6:14 a.m.
Not that it really matters to me. I was going to run anyway.
At about 6:45, I finished my paper and coffee and got ready for my daily run. Just like I did the day before, and the day before that. In fact, I've got a little streak going that I have no intention of ending because of my sore leg and the light rain coming down.
I'm a runner. I have been for more than 30 years. Actually running might be too strong of a word. Sometimes my 10-minutes-per-mile pace is more of a fast walk. But whatever you call it, I enjoy doing it, and I'll keep going, rain or shine, whether they name a day for it or not.
As I pulled on my cap, laced up my running shoes and grabbed my two Beagles' leashes for my morning run, I thought about why I do this. What makes someone like me, who wasn't a runner in high school and isn't going to win any races, go out and do this to myself? A lot of greater runners/philosophers than me have tried to answer that question.
For me, there are several reasons.
First, I enjoy the simple act of sweating, getting the heart pumping and running myself close to exhaustion. Whether I run three miles, six or 13, I enjoy running. That probably sounds weird to a non-runner who thinks you have to have a ball or keep score to make it worth the effort. But I enjoy the act of putting one foot in front of the other because it doesn't require a scoreboard, a partner or teammate or any equipment other than a pair of shorts, socks and shoes. I'm basically a minimalist when it comes to running. I listen to an iPod sometimes and always wear a watch, but that's about it for gadgets. Just the basics.
For me, running is a solitary escape. I rarely run with anyone and don't like races. I have my best runs when I'm lost in thought. Plotting my day, replaying the previous night, getting ready for a meeting in my head. I even wrote this column while I was running. Sometimes I'll get so lost in my thoughts that I hardly feel like I'm running. Most days, of course, it's not so easy.
My Beagles seem to like to run, too. Actually, Willie, my 8-year-old male, is like me. He often doesn't WANT to run until he's out there doing it. Then he makes it look easy and can run as far as I want to go. Most of the time, I have to bribe Willie with a treat and even carry him downstairs to coax him into joining me. Gracie, my 3-year-old female, loves to run. She always waits for me at the top of the stairs, barking as I carry Willie down. She can't wait to get going.
This morning, I took them three miles together in a cool, light rain. Then I dropped them off at the house and ran three more miles. The rain had stopped by the time I was done. And this blog post was finished, too. Easy. I gave the run a B-plus.
I dutifully write down every run I've ever taken, grade it, and even mark down a few notes about the course or which dog or human I ran with. I have 16 years worth of running diaries stashed away — unfortunately, I tossed out the first 15 years of running history during a move — and can tell you all about almost every run I've ever been on during that span.
Weird, I know. I lot of runners are like that. Part of the allure of what we do is the routine. Getting dressed, going out over and over again, day after day. Stretching after you're done. It gives a little predictability to a sometimes-chaotic world. Or if life gets a little boring, you run a different route and add some variety.
So I ran again today, and I'll do it again tomorrow, most likely.
In fact, I have run for 59 straight days. The Seattle Times asked employees to compete for a few weeks in something called Spring Training. I signed up almost as an afterthought, but it was the motivation I needed. My competitive juices were flowing again, and for a while I was running an hour and lifting weights for an hour every day.
At the end of Spring Training — my team, the Sweat Hogs, finished second — I had a streak of 48 straight days of running. I thumbed through my running diaries to find my previous record (PR we runners call it). It was 56.
Imagine that. Joe DiMaggio and I each had streaks of 56.
Since I'm 58 years old, I had to reach that number. But why stop there? I'll go for 60 tomorrow, and then who knows? That's not so many. I've heard of runners who have measured their streaks in years, not days. I figure I'll just keep going for a few more days and see where it takes me.
I realize that my best running days are way, way behind me. I'll probably never set another PR at any distance. I don't mind. I beat Joe's record.
So tomorrow, I'll pull on a cap and shoes, strap on the running watch and grab the dogs for another run. Just like today. Just like yesterday.
Start out slow and tight. Let the blood flow. Feel the muscles loosen up. I won't go very fast or very far, but who cares.
I'm a runner.
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