Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Runners In the Springtime OR Spreading Guilt for Fun

I'm seeing more of them. They're all over the place. The weather gets warm and suddenly they're swarming the roadsides. It's as if the hard winter and cool spring have kept them in hibernation until now.

I'm talking about runners and cyclists, of course.

They're out there with their high-tech athletic clothing highlighting their lean and sculpted forms, working their craft along the sides of the busiest roads where they have the greatest chance of making as many passing couch potatoes as possible feel guilty about their own sedentary lifestyles.

Cycling I understand to a certain extent. I have a good mountain bike that I ride from time to time. I can get to many good trails within a mile of my house. Unlike one of my die-hard friends that likes to ride all day, I usually ride for half an hour to an hour. My main purpose is exercise. The cycling experience offers some variety to my regular indoor workouts.

I try to avoid busy streets as much as possible. A man I knew was killed several years ago while biking on a narrow but fairly busy road not far from my home. But don't worry too much. Knowing his personality he was likely joking about it as soon as he got to the other side.

Some cyclists I see are very serious about their hobby. They have top notch equipment and clothing. Some are very casual. And there's everything in between. They're all out there riding along the busiest roads, sucking in all of that vehicle exhaust and putting their lives at risk. It's got to be exhilarating.

Then there are the runners. What can I say about this? I have never understood the penchant for running.

There is a scene in Back to the Future III where Doc Brown is in an old west saloon regaling the hard bitten cowboys in the establishment with tales of what the future will be like. After telling them about modern transportation, one asks if anyone in the future walks or runs. Brown responds, "Of course we run. But for recreation. For fun." The old timer (played by Pat Butram) responds, "Run for fun? What the h*** kind of fun is that?"

That about sums up how I feel about running. I do it when I must. But the idea of actually choosing to run for leisure boggles my mind. Especially when I hear people talking about their 10-, 15-, or 20-mile runs. (Or 100-mile runs, as one of my former assistant scoutmasters undertakes on a regular basis.) What in the world are they thinking? Do they really enjoy the incessant injuries, the stresses on their bodies, the dogs, the gravel, the cars, etc?

A doctor acquaintance of mine tells me that he runs to escape from the stresses of life. When he's running he gets to disconnect from the office and focus on something entirely different. Others tell me that they run for their health. I wonder what they tell their bunged up feet, inflamed shins, and aching joints.

Recent research is calling into question how healthy running really is (see WSJ article, London Mail article). It would seem that people that run more than an average of eight mph or that run more than about 20 miles per week erase any longevity benefits that might have been gained by exercise.

One physician and exercise advocate says, "If you are running more than 15 miles a week, you are doing it for some reason other than health." Hmmm.... I question whether you're doing it for some reason other than health if you're running more than 200 yards a week.

If running a marathon does about the same thing for your heart as smoking a daily pack of cigarettes for a year, you have to question why in the name of Gondor (to borrow a Tolkien phrase) you are doing it. If it's just for escapism, as it seems to be for my doctor friend, maybe recreational chemicals would be safer.

If you are running so that you can feel superior to others, well, I'm sure there are at least 50 other ways to fulfill that vanity.

Of course, I am writing all of this mainly to assuage my own non-runner's guilt. On occasion I have entertained the idea of doing some grand feat like running a marathon to spite my increasingly obvious mortality. (Isn't that why all middle-aged and older people run?) Fortunately for me, sanity has so far always kicked in.

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