June 6, 2014 10:20:16 AM
There was a jogger the other day trotting down Starkville's Main Street and he conjured up a dreadful case of jealousy that lingers even now. I have not been able to get out to pound the pavement in years. Normally I don't dwell on things I can do nothing about but my nostalgia for running grabbed me and hasn't let go.
I have bad knees that keep me from jogging; an activity I loved to hate. I first took it up when I decided going into the Navy was to be my future, and I had to get in shape for the "O" (obstacle) course and the running test that was the physical requirement for getting through the flight program.
Back then I had never exercised for the sake of exercise. There were school programs, and I was always pretty active with summer sports and just being outside with horses and swimming and various country type explorations. I never did like track in high school and only participated because the track meets would get you on the out-of-town trips.
It was 1973 and it was before James Fixx made running an accepted activity with his 1977 best seller, The Complete Book of Running. It was before you saw anyone but the MSU track team running on the local streets. It was certainly before exercise was embraced as an important part of a full and healthy lifestyle. Smoking was the after dinner activity and fried chicken was at least a three-day-a-week meal.
It became clear that running was a necessary evil if I was going to make the grade for the flight program. I remember my first foray was starting out from my house on the knoll, crossing the cattle gap at the end of my driveway and onto street. From there I began jogging toward town. I think I got about a tenth of a mile before I had to start walking. I wasn't in as good shape as I had fooled myself into believing.
It probably took me a couple of weeks to get where I could put a mile in and not have to start walking. I would go from one point to another point as my incentive. If I could just get to the next bridge or the next mailbox or the next whatever, I would let myself stop. It worked as a great way to push just a bit further each time. It was a trick to get the lesser fatigue of mind over the greater fatigue of matter.
When I was growing up we lived on Old West Point Road which was mostly outside the city limits of Starkville but it still had a good bit of traffic on it for a country road. I know my neighbors considered my running as seriously unconventional behavior. At first they stopped to see if I needed a ride to town or home. They ultimately got used to seeing me and just waved when they went by.
Over the years I never found a better source of personal introspection than running. I never found a better source of stress relief or calm for mental unrest or answers to my questions. Unlike many you see these days, I preferred running alone but running was good no matter the company. I have run at midnight in Anchorage, through the streets of Hong Kong, along the beach in Puerto Rico and through the streets of most of the Navy bases in the western Pacific theater. There was no place that I didn't enjoy running except Corpus Christi, Texas. The cursed wind never stopped blowing in that town, and even when I changed direction and headed back home I always had a headwind.
There is no high like a runner's high. I kept running until after three knee surgeries I was forced to conclude that the price of that high was too high. I reluctantly and regretfully gave it up but I never gave up the need for the exercise. Twenty years of running made exercise an addiction. I have gone through three exercise bikes and two elliptical machines over the past years. Never were they as good as the pure joy of running but they served the purpose of making you feel better and clearing the mind. I have always wondered if it feels better because of the increased blood flow to the brain or because it just felt so damn good when you quit.
If you have had a crappy day, exercise will make it better, if you have had a great day, exercise will help you celebrate it. The physical benefits are always talked about but the mental is what will keep you coming back to make it part of your lifestyle. And those benefits don't even take into account the additional hot Krispy Kreme donut.
1. Ask Rufus: Coming home at Christmas LOCAL COLUMNS
2. Dana Milbank: Marco Rubio's fury NATIONAL COLUMNS
3. Birney Imes: A Christmastime ramble LOCAL COLUMNS
5. Michael Gerson: A global conspiracy of health NATIONAL COLUMNS