Aaron Sumner

Why I run

I took up running in earnest this year. I've mentioned it a few times here, first in a list of goals I'd set for myself back in January, then a few weeks ago as I reflected on those goals. But I never really said why I decided to do this, and why now.

I tried running in high school, off and on, for two years. I was on the junior varsity track team (they pretty much accepted anybody), ran the mile at a couple of meets, hurt myself, stopped running and became a team manager (mostly in order to stay out of gym class). This happened both years. By junior year, I just went into the season knowing I was going to manage, and that'd be it. I will say, managing was fun, and I enjoyed it a lot–but it's not the same.

There were a lot of reasons I quit each of those two seasons, and some of them are viable. My body wasn't cut out for that sort of thing back then. Our facilities sucked (dirt track and/or running in snow and rain in late winter conditions). And while I'm not all that competitive by nature, finishing last or next-to-last every time got to me–and in retrospect, I must've lacked the will to do something about that.

Anyway, between then and my mid-40s, I dabbled a few times at running, including a couple of stints with Couch to 5K. If you've ever done that program, you know there's a point where the expectations skyrocket after about week five. I don't think it's a smart program for beginners, in terms of the necessary physical conditioning to run long stretches, but especially in terms of incremental improvement.

I'm glad I discovered Jeff Galloway's Run-Walk program last fall, though. It's what's made my most recent dalliance with running stick. Earlier, more frequent walk breaks have kept my joints from grinding and muscles from cramping, to the tune of two completed 5Ks and weekly long runs of four-plus miles. I didn't finish last (or next to last, not even in my age group) in either race, haven't once puked in that time, and have possibly put in more mileage in that time than my entire high school track career. I wish I'd known about this years ago.

But I still haven't talked about why.

The way I see it, I could live another 50 years, or another 50 minutes. My guess is it'll be somewhere in the middle. I want to make sure I can take care of myself, and be dependent upon as few others as possible, in that stretch of time. From a physical standpoint, that means move, move, move. It's not death that scares me, so much as the notion of living out my years unable to do what I want, when I want, and lacking any sense of purpose.

I didn't make this up–Dick Van Dyke will be 92 this year, and has looked pretty darn good the last several times I've seen him. On an appearance on Conan a few years ago, he attributed it to one mantra: always keep moving (to be fair, he was plugging his book on the topic–but it still seems like sound advice).

I'm not an actor. My job keeps me sitting around a lot. So if I'm going to follow Mr. Van Dyke's advice, I need to take it upon myself to find ways to move. And for me, that's running.

It's got its drawbacks. We're getting to the time of year in northeast Kansas that's not the most conducive to being outdoors for long stretches of time. It's taken time away from other things I should be doing, like writing and working on side projects. On the other hand, I can't tell you how many times I've left the house with a muddy brain, and returned with muddy shoes, but much-needed clarity on something that had been nagging me–whether it was a writing project, a programming project, or just something in life that had me down. (To wit: chapter ten of my book gave me lots of logistical problems, all of which got sorted out over the course of a couple of long runs on the North Lawrence levee.) And I really do feel physically better than I did this time last year.

That's why I call myself a runner now, and hope to for the next 50 minutes or 50 years, whichever comes last.

. Questions or comments? Let me know what you think.