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Ritual of Running
My dear Readers:
Now that summer has burst upon us, I have begun my annual ritual of running for exercise. It seems I begin this each year when the weather turns warm and quit again when winter rains begin. I tell myself that I do it for my physical health, but I know better. I do it for my mental health. You see, in my youth and early adulthood, I had allergies and hay fever so bad that running was impossible. Years later when I was cured, I was able to run long distances, (which proves that if your nose is running, your feet can't be). The ability to run now heightens my self-esteem.
Some of my acquaintances, however, tell me I don't run now either. They lecture me about the fast-twitch muscles of sprinters and the slow-twitch muscles of long-distance runners. Then they tell me I must have no-twitch muscles. True, I am so slow I can't herd turtles, but I am running.
You see, for me running is not a competitive activity -- I use competitive here in the sense of competing against others. I compete against the forces of nature and myself which try to restrain the activity. I run to clear my head; I run to get the juices flowing within my body; I run to detoxify my body and spirit. It is part of my warrior training. I do not run against a clock or against anyone or anything.
Well, the latter is not totally true. I occasionally run against dogs, more specifically from them. That is one of the disadvantages of running alone. Let me explain that with a story. Al Boyer, a friend and former boss, was out camping with a friend. One morning while strolling along the nearby stream, he chanced to make eye contact with a bear. The bear took exception to Al's presence in its territory and started to chase after him. Al hurried back to camp, yelling to his companion that a bear was on its way toward them. As he stopped to hastily put on his running shoes, his friend yelled out that Al could never outrun a bear. Al replied: "No, but I can outrun you."
By running alone, I do not have a partner to outrun when chased by a dog. Fortunately most large dogs have not considered me worth the effort -- for either food or sport. I am not sure why they do not think me a good meal prospect. Over the years I have actually increased in weight; I should be twins by 2030. You would think that my presence might at least arouse a herding instinct -- I am as big as a cow and fuzzy as a sheep (grey wool too!). Perhaps I move so slowly they may figure I am not going to get away.
My biggest problem, however, is small dogs, very small dogs. Many of these dogs have not exceeded my foot size. They always seem to emerge from behind some bush or geranium plant and give chase. These dogs are all bark and no body. What they expect they would do with me if they caught me is anybody's guess. Perhaps they are trying to impress their owners or other dogs as to how tough they are by driving this large creature from their territory. Actually my biggest fear is stepping on them and injuring or killing them. Would I then be charged with a hit-and-run accident?
In addition to improving the self-esteem of small dogs, I provide several other public services when running. I often am asked by lost travelers for directions. I consciously try to oblige their requests, but sometimes, because my running routes take me along paths prohibited to cars, I have to tell them in all honesty: "You can't get to there from here. I also have assisted golfers locate errant balls. I even helped one improve her lie when I accidentally kicked her ball from the path onto the green.
My greatest running accomplishment was completing a marathon at the first World Master Athlete Games. I was slow (4 hours, 38 minutes) and steady, but contrary to popular myth did not win the race. (Sorry turtles!) Unfortunately I wasn't slow enough to finish last and warrant media attention. To bad because the final finisher received more publicity than the winners.
By the way I did receive a prize for training and running that marathon: bigger feet! When I began training my shoe size was a petite 12D. The next spring when I went to buy new running shoes, I found I had become a 13EEE. I thought the shoes had just shrunk in the closet over the winter. A logical assumption since many of my running clothes also shrunk during that time span. (We all know that clothes shrink when left in a closet too long. Right?) At least my favorite cool weather running outfit did not shrink: red sweatpants with a bright yellow nylon windbreaker. Some of the neighbourhood kids called me the ketchup and mustard man -- that proved I was visible, an important consideration when running at twilight, at night or in bad weather.
Running in bad weather can provide unexpected impediments. One late November evening while on a run, the weather suddenly changed and large, wet snowflakes began to fall. They filled the space between my glasses and my eyes, and I could not see. I had to run home without my glasses, one of the few really scary experiences I have ever had while running.
Well, that in a nut shell is why I only run in the summer. I admit to being the nut in that shell, but, hey, it's fun and my slow pace gives me a chance to enjoy the scenery.
Your peripatetic but weary servant,
p. Keith, PbH
Poor Keith's Almanac: Ritual of Running by Keith C. Heidorn, PhD . ©1997, All Rights Reserved.
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