In the Long Run

I began running at the height of the running boom when Jim Fixx’s The Complete Book of Running** was a fixture on the best seller list.  I started slowly, running two or three miles at a time but was eventually seduced into a 10K race by tales of the joys of competition in Runner’s World and books by Dr. George Sheehan, the running guru.  I joined a group of lunchtime runners at work and began to hear about running marathons.   The Long Beach Marathon is a good first marathon, Frank, my friend Fred told me, using my work-name.  I’ll run it with you.  He did … for the first 12 miles when he started to feel sick.  I continued on alone, deciding at 18 miles that I could stop drinking water and get the race over with, a misguided decision that earned me a full body cramp at the finish line and sixty minutes on the massage table before I could move again.  I did 13 more marathons.   Looking back, I can imagine God whispering, Why are you running marathons?   Look at the body I gave you! I was an oak among willows with tree-trunk legs and broad shoulders built through competitive swimming, both of which are just dead weight to the distance runner.   Eventually, my body said No Mas via constantly aching knees and a swollen Achilles tendon.

So why is a sixty-six year old ex-runner reliving his not-so-glory days?  Well, I found my old race scrapbook and was admiring what I looked like with _?_ less pounds gracing my frame.   And Terri’s running posts on Into the Mystic have been reminding me of those solitary runs I loved.   I decided to try alternating  short jogs with walks in the park a bit to see what’s possible … painful, dude, painful … probably not gonna happen.  Long bike rides aren’t the same, either.  There was a lot of talk back in the seventies about a runners high and speculation that the high was produced by endorphins, a secretion of the pituitary gland.   Maybe it was just endorphins but for me there were days … only certain blessed days … that something happened between 8 and 15 miles that could be best described as spiritual, like a meditation … alone with myself and at peace.  I miss that.

Marathons were another story.   Once you’ve run one, you know what you’re in for so the adrenaline rush at the start is amazing.   It’s like a party … particularly in the back of the pack where everyone’s charging into insanity together.  I’d cruise along, very social, talking to other runners and spectators, on the good days feeling like I could go on forever.  I only felt that way all the way to the finish once, my best finish ever, 3:34.  Usually, there were obstacles to overcome … maybe a few little cramps at twelve miles, a harbinger of bigger cramps to come or the temperature rising into the nineties or an upset stomach from too big a gulp of warm Gatorade.   And somewhere after twenty miles, The Wall was usually waiting, where my body ached and my mind screamed stop and I couldn’t imagine why I’d do this to myself.  Then I’d see it, up ahead … the finish line.  There is nothing like crossing that line after wondering if you would.

It sounds a lot like life, doesn’t it?   I’ve always suspected that’s part of the attraction to those who keep going back for more.  It prepares you for life.   When work sucks and you want to quit, you’ve been there, limping along with leg cramps in Long Beach.  When life throws obstacle after obstacle in your way and you wonder why you bother, you’ve been there at mile 23 in L.A.   If life lasts roughly 80 years, then 61 is the 20 mile mark and The Wall lies up ahead somewhere but I know how to finish.   I like to think that God’s there at the finish line, hopefully saying, Nice race.  Maybe He’ll say, Want to try another?

Would you?

** Great article here.

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6 Comments on “In the Long Run”

  1. granny1947 Says:

    Hello Bud…Man is not designed for long distance running…we are designed to say…oh shit…a lion…a short sprint and up a tree….

  2. Oscar Says:

    I used to run a lot until my knees went south. I have a lateral tilt that makes them pop out if there’s too much stress.

    I did cross country in school!

  3. territerri Says:

    I’ve been running for almost two years now, and I’m just not a good runner. I’ve yet to do even a 5K. Not sure if I ever will. And as far as marathons go… I can’t even imagine. I’d love to feel the runner’s high too. The closest I’ve come is just having a good day, with no stomach issues and no endurance issues and running solid until the end. But now, if I understand you correctly, I can’t necessarily expect that at some point I’ll get “good” at this and it will be easy from there on out…
    Argh! BUT… I’ll keep running because it just does something good for me.

    • oldereyes Says:

      I was never a good runner but I was doggedly persistent. What happens is when you get to, say eight miles, the first four or five start to get easier … and when you can run fifteen, the first hour or hour and a half gets easier. And easier certainly doesn’t mean always or that it doesn’t hurt. Do what works for you.

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