For the life of me, I can’t figure out how long distance runners do it.
Being someone who has never run more than three miles at a time, I have always been a little curious about what drives those peculiar souls I see out running everyday. While I may not understand these folks, I do feel compelled to tip my hat to them.
So here’s to you Ottumwa cross country and track and field runners — and anyone else who regularly frequents the city sidewalks of Ottumwa. To the Sydney Strunk, Spencer Hammack, and Ben Kramer’s — all state qualifiers on this year’s Ottumwa track and field team — of the world, you have my deepest respect.
Although I have yet to develop whatever it is that compels people to run every day, over the years I have become at least familiar with the practice. Recently, after a lengthy weather-related hiatus (it’s been really hot out and I’ve been unwilling to wake up during the times when running would be tolerable), I’ve returned to my regular running schedule.
I can’t say exactly what made me start running again. Probably a curious blend of that Protestant guilt that, despite my best efforts, I’ve never been able rid myself of; and a long-held fanciful illusion that I will eventually get that six-pack that has eluded me for the past 28 years.
Whatever the reason, I’m back haunting Ottumwa’s sidewalks again looking like I just had a big fight with my best friend or, even worse, been kidnapped and forced to listen to Sarah Palin rants for hour after mind-numbing hour. A person can stand only so much folksiness from Alaska’s famous hockey mom.
Before I go any further, I feel obliged to admit that I’m probably stretching the truth a little bit when I describe what I do as running. Jogging rather slowly would be a more apt description. Walking really fast while trying not to fall on my face wouldn’t be too big an exaggeration.
Anyway, I woke up Friday for my 25-30 minutes of self-punishment. I live near the bottom of Washington Street so I took my usual route, which is to go up the hill — which is quite steep — to Court Street and turn left. From there I usually run to the Ottumwa Cemetery before turning around and huffing and puffing my way back home. Going by the cemetery is always a somber experience for me, no matter how out of breath I am. You hope and pray that all the people buried there got everything they wanted out of life before they passed on while, simultaneously knowing that not all of them did. It’s a sad thing to ponder.
While running, as a form of motivation, I try to tell myself that Bulldog girls cross country coach Jeff Smith, who is a heck of a nice guy, runs twice this distance every day. But, alas, my legs and lungs don’t seem to care how far some other guy can run.
“Maybe if you didn’t eat that bacon cheeseburger yesterday, we would work a little harder for you,” they are probably thinking.
And I have to admit that they have a point.
Well, to make a long story short, the run was no worse than usual. And after I was finished, I got that pleasant feeling that comes when you actually do get a work out in, instead of merely thinking that you really should work out. An important distinction.
Any time I go for these pleasure trips I gain more respect for people who run for a living. Here I am practically dying after running a little over a mile while people like Ottumwa’s new girls cross country coach Angela Berry run in the Boston Marathon. Such realizations can be rather humbling.
What impresses me about runners is that they enjoy running for the sake of running. Most people run as a means to achieve some particular ends unrelated to being a great runner. This I can understand.
For example, I can understand running to get in shape. Or running from your older brother after you did something not so mart. I, being the slower one, never made it far when I tried to pull this trick on my older brother Erik. While getting a good punch in and making a run for it always seemed like a good idea, I don’t recall ever not being caught and given a couple of Charlie Horse-inducing punches for my youthful indiscretions. I’m not sure what I was thinking back then. I mean, there was never a time when he wasn’t faster than me. Oh well, just another one of life’s great mysteries.
Anyway, I’m getting off track, back to this whole running for fun idea. It’s quite intriguing when you think about it. Sure, it’s fun to run after catching a football pass. Or on a fast break in a basketball game. Or while dribbling a soccer ball. Or trying to steal home in baseball. Or when the pizza man rings the doorbell.
But running just for the sake of running? Now that’s a whole different story. But it’s also a very commendable story. Through hard work and perseverance, these runners have developed a work ethic that has eluded many of us. And for that they deserve our respect.
So for those who like to run, I salute you.
Got a sports challenge for Courier sports writer Andy Heintz? He can be reached at email@example.com.
For the life of me, I can’t figure out how long distance runners do it.
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