Growing up I enjoyed playing sports, most kinds of games involving physical activity. I wasn’t especially good at any of them, certainly not enough to generate interest from any of the school teams. I was a good student, not an athlete. It seemed like you were one or the other back then. But like the others who did make the team I still loved to play whenever I could so I always got plenty of exercise. As I got older and life got more complicated I eventually looked for a simpler way to stay healthy or some way of staying active.
I didn’t know it when I started to run daily but I was living in Houston where a large and growing running community was well established. The most popular running routes in the city began and ended at a large inner city park that was the closest semblance of wilderness in the inner city. It was a shady place to gather even in the hottest days of summer and it was host to several thousand runners a day. Some times of day the wide running trail would get so crowded that passing slower runners and walkers took some patience. It seemed the most serious runners ran early in the morning to avoid the more casual crowds. It made me happy to see the same faces day in and day out, year after year. Not knowing someone’s name didn’t keep us from developing a connection. There were many people I spoke to regularly that never became more than a friendly face. I saw people on my runs from all walks of life and some with the oddest variety of humorous quirks. Out on the trail it didn’t matter what you did for a living or whether you were rich or poor, elderly or young, you were just another person in shorts and running shoes (and not much else most of the year) and you were measured by the effort you put in. I ran with a President (the elder Bush), a professional heavy weight boxing champion (Holyfield), the mayor, professional baseball, football and basketball players, bankers, brokers, lawyers, judges, doctors, as well as undocumented workers, minimum wage earners and anyone else willing to get out and run.
I was never a great runner but I realized it was the easiest form of exercise I could participate in regularly and the benefits necessary to fulfill the criteria for fitness under the Cooper Aerobic point system. I didn’t realize the many other ways it would help, particularly mentally and emotionally. Runners often talk about the glorious inspirational solitude of a long run alone in wilderness or city streets and the strong sense of community from participating in group runs and running with a friend. I found both to be true. Over time you get to know strangers by their faces because you see them at the same time and place on a regular basis every week. Those are side benefits of a small investment of time.
Eventually I even joined a club. In my running club we had a saying that went “there’s nothing that a 10 mile run can’t cure.” I joined because I kept running into the same group of runners on my Sunday long slow run and they all belonged to the same club. I liked them, I drank their Gatorade and water they stashed for club members along the 12 mile route. So I joined.
I went through a couple of decades of caring about how fast I was running but those days are long gone. It was fun to run fast and I treasure those memories but I love getting out now and seeing how much cold, snow and wind I can tolerate. I love the steep hills that take everything I’ve got to get up and force me to walk a while to catch my breath. I have a good day even when it feels like I can barely move my joints for the first mile or so and then things loosen up and I start feeling comfortable again.
My latest realization about running is that I find joy in small wonders and all it takes is a bird call I don’t recognize or a type of native grass I’ve never seen before to stop me dead in my tracks. So in a way I’ve begun to combine the love of running with the love of discovery, whether it’s a bird or a species of grass I’ve never seen or and insect I want to look up when I get home.