I remember it well. It was a beautiful October morning on the campus of Hanover College in 2013. The sense of accomplishment I felt. The amount of self-confidence I gained. The feelings of inner peace knowing I had completed the not-so-easy goal I had set before myself. Something inside me told me that this was just the beginning.

That was the morning I became enthusiastically devoted to running. More simply put, I was “hooked.”

It all began about seven years ago when a college friend of mine suggested we not only return to Hanover for Homecoming festivities that would include visiting our old fraternity house and taking in the football game, but also tackling a new endeavor. He suggested we also take on a new tradition Hanover was starting – “The Scenic: A 5k With A View.”

In spite of both being decent athletes, the two of us were teetering on the verge of being miserably out of shape. Our athletic experiences included playing sports where running (in large amounts and for long periods of time) was used as a form of punishment. With all that considered, my initial thought was an emphatic “You’ve got to be kidding.” However, the peer pressure (in this case very positive) he applied finally got the best of me. I sent my registration in and let the torturous preparation begin…

While visiting my sister in Myrtle Beach in the late summer of 2013, my training began. The first few times I “ran” consisted of trying to keep going without walking for 10 minutes, then 15, then 20…. Those first couple of weeks were dreadful – but, somehow, in a good way.

I told myself, in spite of having thighs so sore it was quite the chore to rise out of bed, the aches and pains I developed were just signs that the effort I was putting in was worth it. The phrases “hurt so good” and “no pain, no gain” took on new meanings to me.

As the days (and my workouts) went by, the soreness began to subside. After only a couple of months of preparation, I felt noticeably better. I was able to shed a few unwanted pounds. I was, no doubt, getting myself “in shape.”
I was getting what I had hoped for – obvious physical benefits – when I agreed to the crazy endeavor in the first place.

What I had not counted on, however, were the benefits I obtained “between the ears” in such a short amount of time. Running became something I looked forward to each day (and still do). It served as a release from daily stressors and anxiety. It gave me time to think. Sometimes it even served as a time to not think and to “just be.” It boosted my self-confidence. It helped me feel good – mentally.

Soon after crossing the finish line that crisp October morning in 2013, something inside me felt that was just the beginning…. I had been bitten by the “running bug.”

Granted it was a small group of runners, but I was able to win my age group and my sense of competition had been reawakened. Seven years after becoming an “addict”, that sense of competition is still there. However, it is not so much with others than it is from within. The years have taken their toll and age has become more of a factor, whether I like to admit it or not. However, setting new goals and seeing them through never gets old.

Since that first leisurely competition approximately seven years ago, I have been off to the races (literally). Setting goals and giving me something to shoot for keeps me going on that rare occasion when I’m just not “feeling it.” I remember several runs when I was not overly eager to get out of the door. However, I can never remember completing a run and asking myself why I did it. I remain very thankful for each “refreshing” run that I remain able to complete.

Knock on wood, injuries have never sidelined me for long. I guess maybe all the time spent stretching and doing yoga have been worth it. Consequently, I have been able to complete 150 races with lengths varying from 5k (3.1 miles) to 50k (31 miles) over the last seven years. I make a real effort to maintain variety in my routine – whether it be scenery or level of effort exerted – to keep things “fresh.” When I feel it becoming a bit monotonous or a nagging injury getting worse, I am able to step away from it for a short time. A short time away can help me reflect and be thankful for what I otherwise began to take for granted.

The number of ways running parallels life itself continues to amaze me. Phrases such as “life is a marathon – not a sprint” have taken on new meaning to me. As George Lucas, of Star Wars fame, once said – “You simply have to put one foot in front of the other and keep going.”

In spite of seeing my times level off, each race remains special and I look forward to each one of them. It’s not just about the times any more. It’s about the process. The joy and increased self-confidence/esteem it brings can’t be measured with times.

If someone had told me years ago that I would ever run multiple miles at a time, I would have thought they were delusional. It was never anything I wanted to do. The thought of it would have been laughable. If only I had known then what I know now.

The gift of running has provided me a real sense of peace and ample time for reflection over the course of these past several months during the pandemic. As a professional educator for the past 30 years (my first 15 were at Hauser), many new ideas to utilize in the classroom have come during longer, contemplative runs. Running (about 1,400 miles this year) has served me well as a release from much of the anxiety/depression I likely would have otherwise felt.

What I might do if I ever have to drastically cut back (or – dare I say it – even stop) running has entered my mind. If I have anything to say about it, that won’t ever happen. The thought of not being able to enjoy the sights, smells, sounds and securing the sense of physical/spiritual well-being that running brings me is more than a bit unpleasant. Far more painful than those original aches and pains that have led me to such a “runner’s high” since then.

If the day does arrive when I can no longer run, I am certain I could accept walking or riding a bike as ample “therapy” to keep me moving on.