I was watching FOX news last night (don’t ask). The lead story featured a bird’s eye view of a white SUV flying down the middle of a multi-lane street. Cars parted like the Red Sea to make way. Without warning the white vehicle entered an intersection and t-boned a black SUV on the driver’s side. The runaway vehicle slammed to a dead stop; the black SUV was tossed 90 degrees. As smoke and steam began rising and unidentifiable car parts rolled along the street, two seemingly untroubled dogs jumped through the window of the black SUV and simply ran away.
What the hell? What the hell. Running is an instinct. Running is an escape. Running is freedom. Running is awesome… for dogs and humans.
In grade school I wanted to run in the worst way; unfortunately I did. As a teenager in high school I dreamt of being on the cross country or track & field teams; the closest I ever came was a hoodie I found after a meet. As a young man I became obsessed with Jim Fixx and began running (jogging), but gave it up in my late 30s because my knees kept swelling up. Then, at the ripening age of 53, I started running with my teenage niece; it was the summer of 2009. She quit running with me when school started up (teenagers!) in September, but my knees held out, so like Forest Gump, I just kept running.
Anyway, if you are seriously thinking about running, and I hope you are, I would like to offer some thoughts (not advice). On the one hand, it is just running, so you shouldn’t take it too seriously. On the other hand, it is running, so you shouldn’t take it too lightly.
1. If you are overweight and/or over 50, it would probably be a good idea to check in with your doctor before you get started. If you decide not to – and this especially applies to stubborn men with Peter Pan complexes – then at least take it slow and listen to your body.
2. It’s all about the shoes… and the socks. Sure, it is important to be comfortable in the running clothes you will be wearing, but a good pair of shoes and a good pair of socks will help prevent unnecessary and/or premature injuries that stop you from running. A good pair of shoes are not necessarily expensive, but they are rarely cheap. Buy shoes that are designed for running, ask for help at the store, try on several pairs and don’t be too proud to walk around the store a few times to see how they feel. And if you get them home and they don’t feel good when you run, take them back. I also like socks that provide additional cushion on my feet.
3. Just get started. Then stop, then start and repeat. Here’s the thing, running is perfectly normal and easy for some people and painful and difficult for others. Either way, you just need to get started. You can pump yourself up or bitch and complain… just get started.
4. Set a goal and a course. A man (or woman) without a plan is planning to fail. I decided from the beginning that I wanted to run every other day (preferably outdoors) and set a goal of three miles per run. Running every other day was easy; getting to three miles was not. But I kept at it. On my very first run, I measured out a mile course (using my car odometer) and just started running. About a third of the way through I was bent over catching my breath. So I walked it off for 60 seconds and started back up again from the spot I stopped at and ran another one-third of a mile. I was pretty convinced I could not finish, but I did. And despite the two stops, I ran a measured mile. And every time I ran it got easier (well, sort of), so I added a little distance until I eventually got up to and exceeded 3 miles.
5. Bring along a few friends. I rarely run with other people because it is so difficult to maintain your own pace and match up with someone else. That’s something I learned early on: everyone has their own unique pace. However, I never leave home without my iPod and one of my favorite running hats. My iPod has a perfect blend of high energy and cool down music, which I flip through accordingly. My favorite running band: OAR. My favorite running hat: whichever one I am wearing at the moment.
6. Never give up… never surrender! I continue to run every other day, almost without exception. Call it discipline or call it OCD; I call it essential. The body is weak, so the mind must be willing. Even when I don’t feel like running or it is too cold and rainy or I can think of a dozen more interesting things to do, I run. And I am almost always rewarded for my effort. Don’t quit. Don’t even take a break unless your doctor makes you.
7. Give yourself credit and enjoy your achievement. Every time my wife tells someone that I am a runner, I literally cringe with embarrassment. Because I know what a terrible runner I am. No one will ever confuse me with the Tarahumara Indians. But I also know that I am doing something I really enjoy… and I am doing a pretty good job. I have lost and kept off 20 pounds of unneeded and unwanted weight since I started running 2-1/2 years ago. And I still go out for ice cream at least once a week… because I love that also.
Remember what Christopher McDougall said: “You don’t stop running because you get old, you get old because you stop running.”